Study in Valparaiso, Chile

Study in Valparaiso, Chile

Valparaiso is a city and administrative subdivision in Chile, the core of the country’s third largest metropolitan area, Greater Valparaiso.  The city is the capital of the Valparaiso Province and the Valparaiso Region, and one of Chile’s most important seaports and cultural centers.  In terms of population, the city proper of Valparaiso, with just over 263,000 residents, is fairly small, ranking only 6th in the country, but its metropolitan area, Greater Valparaiso, which includes the cities of Viña del Mar, Concón, Quilpué and Villa Alemana, is second only to Greater Santiago by population, with over 800,000 residents. 

According to the last census, Valparaiso’s population is almost equally split between “whites” and “mestizos.”  Those who identify as “white” are primarily descendants of both Western and Eastern European settlers who immigrated during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, primarily the Spanish, followed by the French, Italian, German, British and Croatian. Those who identify as “mestizo” are people of mixed Spanish and Amerindian heritage, the latter belonging to tribes indigenous to Chile.  Residents of Valparaiso are commonly called porteños, or the female porteñas, and while Spanish is the national language of Chile and Valparaiso, other European languages can be heard in the various ethnic neighborhoods.  The most commonly practiced religion in Valparaiso is Roman Catholicism, followed by Protestantism, and a minority of other faiths.

Subsequent to Chile’s independence from Spain in 1818, Valparaiso’s seaport became home to the Chilean navy.  In addition, because the country was no longer bound to Spain, Valparaiso and its strategic coastline played host to most of Chile’s international trade.  Throughout the second half of the 19th century, the city continued to play a major geopolitical role as a stopover for ships traveling between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans via the Straits of Magellan.  These were primarily European traders, with nicknames for the city such as “Little San Francisco” and “The Jewel of the Pacific.”  During this prosperous period, the population and economic significance of Valparaiso as a major trading port swelled, but these thriving times would finally come to an end in 1914 with the opening of the Panama Canal, as most ships sought to avoid the straits of Magellan whenever possible.  While this had a major economic effect on Valparaiso and the country as a whole, these days the city has rebounded, and thanks to the Chilean government’s push to boost world commerce, Valparaiso has increased its trade traffic with fruit exports, and continues to serve ships that are too large to navigate the Panama Canal.

Although the glory days may have ended for Valparaiso with the opening of the Panama Canal, the city still boasts many memories of those early days and is still a great place in which to live, work and study.  Consisting of a labyrinth of streets and cobblestone alleyways, the cityscape of Valparaiso is truly unique, and housing prices, both within Valparaiso and the Greater Valparaiso Area, are very affordable, especially when compared to similar accommodations in North America and beyond.  Within the city people can find everything they need to live their day-to-day lives in harmony, along with a number of interesting diversions to help pass the time.  The city is home to several banks, grocery stores, shopping centers, beauty and personal services, and numerous restaurants, bars, and nightclubs.  Chile’s first public library is located in Valparaiso, as is Latin America’s oldest stock exchange and the oldest Spanish language newspaper in continuous publication.  Valparaiso regularly plays hosts to symphonies, dramatic performances and concerts, and is considered the cultural capital of Chile.

Getting around in Valparaiso is perhaps easier than in any other major Latin American city.  In 2005, the city introduced its first regional Metro, with service between Valparaiso and surrounding communities, including an underground section as it crosses Vina del Mar.  Most of the public transport within Valparaiso is provided by buses, trolleys and funiculars, and although several private companies own the bus service, it is regulated by the Regional Ministry of Transport—an agency that controls fares and sets routes that are most convenient for Valparaiso residents.  The trolley bus system has been in operation since 1952 and is very popular among locals and visitors alike.  Even today it continues to use some of the original vehicles, built in 1952 by the Pullman-Standard Company.  Funiculars, locally called ascensores, have been around since 1883, and today they still provide public transport service between the central areas of the city and the neighborhoods on the surrounding hills.

Finally, when it comes to interesting attractions and enjoyable activities, few places can compare to Valparaiso. With its various ethnic neighborhoods built into dozens of surrounding steep cliffs, the city is truly a sightseer’s paradise.  From the El Mercurio de Valparaíso building, home to the oldest Spanish language newspaper, to the Monument to the Heroes of Iquique, at Plaza Sotomayor, the stunning mix of various European architectural styles is truly mesmerizing.  Valparaiso is also renowned for its nightlife, rumored to be the best in the country of Chile. Students and sailors gather regularly at night, near the harbor and city center, enjoying beer, cocktails, snacks, and dancing at places such as Bar La Playa, La Piedra Feliz and El Bar Inglés.

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