By Bruno De Nicola, Contributing Reporter
VALPARAÍSO – Just seventy miles from Santiago is beautiful Valparaíso, a true paradise on Chile’s central coast. The colorful and picturesque hills, called cerros, almost seem to dive into the ocean, setting the perfect scenery for one of Latin America’s most prominent historical and cultural havens.
Valparaíso is Chile’s second most important city, and has been the country’s main port since 1544. Because of its strategic and commercial relevance over many centuries, a great deal of historical beauties continue to enlighten this southern Pacific pearl, which was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2003.
Valparaíso is Chile’s main stage for any kind of artistic event, with many festivals and cultural events taking place in the city. Many artists, both native and foreign-born, have called Valparaíso home, including Chile’s world-famous poet, Pablo Neruda.
The journey to Valparaíso begins with a cruise across Ruta 68, the highway which begins in Santiago and stretches towards the ocean passing through one of Chile’s most important wine-producing areas, the Casablanca Valley. Along the Ruta 68 are many signs for the Ruta del Vino (Wine Route). Tourists are welcome to visit the wine producers.
Once in Valparaíso, it is immediately apparent that the ocean sets the tone for the lives of its inhabitants. An international, melancholic port atmosphere blends with the beauty of the Cerros, which flash colors under the sunlight. Taking a closer look at the hills, you may notice the many old- fashioned funicular elevators, forever carrying people up and down the Valparaíso slopes.
Walk westbound along Avenida Prat to the Ascensor Concepción (Funicular Elevator), also known as Turri . After a short, shaky ride you’ll be on top of the Cerro Alegre, Valparaiso’s most famous hill, full of colorful, Victorian-style buildings.
Go for a coffee at the enchanting Brighton Café and then for a walk along the spectacular Paseo Yugoslavo (Yugoslavian Promenade). On the very same hill, you will have the chance to visit La Sebastiana, Pablo Neruda’s Valparaíso residence.
In the evening, walk back downhill and stop for dinner at the famous “Cinzano”, the most traditional restaurant in town, on Avenida Prat. After enjoying some delicious seafood and a great bottle of wine, if you wish to enjoy some music and dancing go to the renowned live music bar, La Piedra Feliz, on Avenida Errazuriz.
For your second day in Valparaíso, The Gringo Times suggests paying a leisurely visit to the Mercado Puerto (port market), in Echaurren Square. There, along with many fruit stands, you will find incredible seafood booths packed with impressively gigantic mussels and scallops, and a cornucopia of fish varieties. Stop for lunch at one of the many restaurants and be sure to have an empanada de mariscos (shellfish turnover).
Before going back to Santiago, stop at the bar named ‘La Vida en Verde’, to sample their unique Spicy Pisco Sour, a special version of Chile’s favorite drink. ¡Salud!