I visited Chile for the April 2016 issue of Getaway magazine. It was a whirlwind culinary tour, from the sheep-scattered island of Chiloé to the parched northern vineyards of Limarí, but in the middle of it all was one especially memorable day and night, exploring the labyrinth of colourful streets that is the port city of Valparaíso.
With the nickname ‘Jewel of the Pacific’ you’d expect Valparaíso to be a sparkling kind of place. In fact the moniker dates back almost 200 years to the city’s flamboyant heyday, when it was a hub of Pacific commerce – a multicultural port like no other in South America. But it was not to last. The opening of the Panama Canal in 1914 signaled Valparaíso’s steady decline, and by the 1990’s ‘Valpo’ was run down and neglected – a working harbour town with a wealth of historical buildings but little in the way of tourist appeal.
In 2003, Valpo’s historic quarter was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site for its “excellent example(s) of late 19th-century urban and architectural development in Latin America.” The accolade seems to have galvanised local residents and officials alike and street art, which had been a part of the city’s makeup for some time and might well have been clamped down on by authorities, was instead seen as a strength – a cultural asset to be encouraged and preserved alongside the city’s more historic heritage.
Now, brightly painted 19th century churches stand alongside even brighter modern murals and Valparaíso has become a must-see destination on any visit to Chile. A hive of activity and colour, restaurants and cafés, backpackers, bars and boutique hotels, it was my favourite stop on a wonderful tour and I hope these photos convey some of that vibrancy and life.