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Built From Color

Valparaíso, Chile

Ride a rattling funicular to see the city pop against the blue Pacific

There’s a pumping color-block party among the crumbling mansions, dizzying hills and world-class street art – and you’re invited.

This paint-box-bright port city is not for those with vertigo. Built on dozens of steep hills, its most striking feature is the crazy jumble of ruby-red, peppermint-green and sunshine-yellow mansions that seem to be toppling over each other to reach the inviting royal blue of the Pacific far below.

And with so many hills, the best way to take in the color hit is to get to the top of one – in a vintage cable car. There are about 20 bone-rattling public funiculars that scale the sheer slopes of Valparaíso. The original is Ascensor Concepción: built way back in 1883 when it ran on steam power, today it still offers the best old-school roller-coaster thrills and killer views. Take it all in through your Ray-Ban Chromance lenses – each color is made even brighter and the clear views sharpened as the town stretches on and on into the distant ocean.

‘The crazy jumble of ruby-red, peppermint-green and sunshine-yellow mansions seem to be toppling over each other to reach the Pacific.’

This edgy, kaleidoscopic city has been a source of amazement and inspiration for many, including Chile’s most famous poet, Pablo Neruda. You’ll understand why he fondly labeled this place ‘absurd’ when you take in the views from his house, La Sebastiana, in the Bellavista neighborhood. From each of the house’s six floors you can marvel at the sweep of buildings and glittering harbor below. But you have to earn it – getting there involves a tough half-mile uphill workout.

The layered pastel-shaded mansions are just the start of the color hit. On the way down from the hilltops, the maze of steep streets, stairways and alleys are splashed with incredible street art – from exotic birds of paradise to Van Gogh sunflowers two stories high. Don’t miss the hillside districts of Cárcel, Miraflores, Concepcíon, or Templeman Street on Cerro Alegre for some of the best free, open-air exhibitions.

Architecture. Art. History. Culture. Color. For all the spectacular sights old and new, it’s clear why Valparaíso is known as the ‘jewel of the Pacific.’

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Credit: John W Banagan/Getty