Located 70 miles, or about a two-hour drive, from the capital city of Santiago, Valparaiso is Chile's principal port. With a population ofclose to half a million, it is the commercial and administrative centerfor a vast region and the seat of a major university. A large part ofthe city is clustered along a crescent of hills in a maze of alleys,winding streets, connecting stairs and funicular railcars. The businesscenter at the foot of the hills lies partially on reclaimed land.Ingenuity has turned a piece of coastline into one of the world's mostpicturesque ports; it is especially striking when seen from the sea atdusk, with its semicircle of lit-up hills cascading down to the water.
Valparaiso has no clear date of founding. During the 17th and 18th centuriesthe port had only seasonal activity; for the remainder of the year itlay dormant. In the early 19th century, following the country'sindependence from Spain, the ports of Chile and the Americas wereopened to world trade. Due to Valparaiso's convenient location alongthe shipping routes circling the tip of South America, the portexperienced a tremendous boost. English, German and French immigrantsbrought foreign capital to finance development of copper, silver andnitrate mining.Valparaiso became the country's leading commercialcenter and established the first banks and a stock exchange.
Justsix miles out of Valparaiso lies Chile's main seaside resort, ViÑadel Mar, often dubbed 'the garden city' because of its beautiful parksand gardens. Excellent beaches are lined by fine promenades with arange of hotels, restaurants and a casino.
Santiago, with overfour million people, is the fifth largest city in South America.Standing in a wide plain 1,800 feet above sea level, Santiago boasts abeautiful setting. Snow-capped peaks of the Andes chain provide adramatic backdrop. Tastefully laid out public gardens contribute to thebeauty of the city. However, Santiago also suffers from horrendoustraffic and a high level of pollution. The heart of Santiago is thePlaza de Armas, flanked by the cathedral, the archbishop's palace, theNational History Museum and fine arcaded buildings lined with shops.The two-mile-long Avenida O'Higgins is the major thoroughfare, commonlyknown as the Alameda.There is a splendid view over the city from SanCristobal Hill, crowned by the statue of the Virgin Mary.