Santiago, Valparaiso and Central Valleys Holidays
The central heartlands of Chile are where the impact of 21st century modernity has been most deeply felt. With a first class infrastructure, contemporary skyline (albeit with a spectacular mountain backdrop), and a cosmopolitan culture, Santiago is as dynamic as any capital city. The nearby port city of Valparaiso – designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2003 – takes the role of Santiago’s trendy bohemian brother. Countless artists and musicians travel to the colourful streets and cobbled alleys in search of the inspiration that will bring them fame and fortune. The Mediterranean climate also makes the valleys of the region perfect for producing grapes. Consequently, many of South America’s finest wines can be found in this region.
With over 5 million people residing in its central and suburban districts, Chile’s capital city is also its most populous. The bustling metropolis is flanked to the east by the imposing Andes and to the west by the Chilean Coastal Range. It has played an important role at the heart of the country’s political and social existence since its foundation in 1541 by the Spanish conquistador Pedro de Valdivia, who also gave the city its name, Santiago – an evolution of the vulgar Latin for Saint James, the patron saint of Spain.
Today Santiago is home to a multitude of attractions including several examples of colonial architecture, contrasting, characterful neighbourhoods, a number of fine museums and art galleries, plenty of open parks and a huge variety of shops and restaurants. It also acts as the natural hub for those wanting to visit Valparaiso and the famous wine valleys.
After Chile gained independence from Spain in 1818, Valparaiso became the main harbour for the fleet of naval forces. At the same time, it also began to gain prominence as an international trading port. However, after the opening of the Panama Canal in 1914 the city’s influence and appeal fell markedly. Only since the turn of the millennium has the municipality started to regain its drawing power, this time as a muse for budding artists, poets and musicians and as an educational centre for young students from across the country. Its maze of winding streets, hillside lookouts and eccentric architecture is most easily explored with the aid of the iconic funicular elevators.
The Central Wine Valleys
Four main sub-districts make up the Central Valleys: the Maipo Valley, the Rapel Valley, the Curico Valley and the Maule Valley. The area, nestled between two mountain ranges, is Chile’s most productive and widely known wine region, partly because of its close proximity to the capital Santiago. The varying altitudes, soil types, sun exposure and oceanic influences of the various vineyards mean that many different types of wine are able to be produced in a relatively small amount of space. As well as world class wine, the region is also famed for its food, making a visit here a gastronome’s delight.