Valparaiso defies simple definition and is easily South America's most unusual city. It's labyrinthine hills -- which overlook the enticing (but freezing) Pacific Ocean -- are constantly surprising and oh-so inviting for the avid photog.
Chileans tend to prefer the mundane and orderly Viña del Mar next door, but those that make it "Valpo" have trouble leaving.
The Unesco World Heritage site rises from the Pacific Coast like a kaleidoscope of color. It's as if town planners handed cans of pastel paint to the citizens of Valpo and said "leave no wall untouched." And that they did.
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Chile's second city is a jumble of cliff-hanging pastel boxes that fit together like a puzzle as they blanket the hills above the old port. Spiraling stairs and 100-year-old funicular elevators connect each dotted knoll to the port below.
The town beneath the cerros (hills) boasts an architectural treasure trove of 19th century buildings from Valpo's golden age when it was known as "Little San Francisco" and "The Jewel of the Pacific."
Valparaiso fell on hard times after the opening of the Panama Canal, but the ever-resilient city fought back and is now a vibrant center of Chilean culture. The fading grandeur only makes it all the more attractive to tourists who revel in its spontaneous, bohemian magnetism.
Valpo's slim on actual attractions, partly because the town itself is like a living museum. Of particular note are the sprawling works of imaginative street art hidden within the maze-like streets and cobbled alleys.