A day or two of sightseeing is all it takes for visitors to Valparaíso and Santiago to fall in love. They'll find great places to eat, stunning architecture, fascinating museums to visit and myriad things to do in these diverse and extraordinary cities.
Color dominates the seaport city of Valparaíso: Brightly painted houses cling intrepidly to steep hillsides along labyrinthine streets that rise from the blue Pacific. The harbor is busy with fishing boats, cargo ships, and naval vessels. Rich in naval and commercial history, Valparaíso suffered from the opening of the Panama Canal, and this decline is still apparent in the ramshackle charm of many structures. Nevertheless, Valparaíso is having a renaissance on all fronts, and its bohemian culture and emphasis on the arts are felt and seen everywhere. For a visitor, the city itself is the main attraction, and a walking tour amply repays the effort: Street art abounds along the route to Pablo Neruda's house, La Sebastiana; the Iglesia de la Matriz; the Naval Museum; and even the funiculars that carry you up the steep hills. In 2003, validating the enduring pride of porteños, as the locals are called, UNESCO designated one-fourth of Valparaíso a World Heritage Site.
Stately and monumental Santiago, 120 kilometers (75 miles) inland, is encircled by the Andes. Santiago offers the visitor such important museums and public buildings as the Museo Precolombino and Palacio and Centro Cultural de La Moneda. A walk along Paseo Ahumada to the Plaza de Armas and thence to the old Mercado Central gives a taste of many different facets of the city.