In terms of cultural heritage, the heart of Chile is Valparaíso, which has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was the most important port for the country's international trade prior to the opening of the Panama Canal, when ships stopping crossing from the Atlantic to the Pacific via the Strait of Magellan. This age of economic prosperity left a legacy of important architecture (banks, institutional buildings and the residences of the wealthy owners of northern salt peter mines), as well as old public elevators, which residents still use to travel up and down the town's hills. Picturesque homes that seem to cling to the hills, and narrow streets and stairways, colorful street murals, sailor bars, phenomenal views and artsy cafés are just some of this old and craggy port town's attractions.

Downtown Santiago is another historic destination that is well worth a visit. La Moneda, the historic buildings of Plaza de Armas, the Cathedral, museums, old restaurants, colonial homes and the residence that was used for the signing of the country's Declaration of Independence are among the most popular attractions.

In the south, large cities like Valdivia, Osorno and Puerto Montt and nearby towns like Frutillar and Puerto Octay have preserved the architectural style of the 19th century (large wooden homes) brought to the area by German colonists.

As a mining country, Chile is still home to vestiges of former deposits and excavation sites such as the old salt peter works outside Iquique and Antofagasta, the underwater coal mine at Lota (near Concepción) and the mining town of Sewell, a World Heritage Site outside of Rancagua. The architecture of Iquique and Antofagasta is a testament to the splendor of Chile's saltpeter era.

In Lota, former miners serve as guides on tours of the underwater coal mine, telling the story of the era's prosperity, which is reflected in the magnificent buildings and a wonderful 19th century park.

Sewell is a former mining hotbed that was once home to 15,000 copper mining families. You can take a tour to learn about the history of this historic destination, which is situated on a pine-laden slope in the mountains and filled with colorful houses.

With its eye-catching stilt houses perched above the water (known as palafitos) and 60 wooden churches dating as far back as the 18th century, Chiloé is another top destination. The architectural style of the churches, which were built by various religious congregations (Jesuits, in particular) with the aid of local native communities, is absolutely unique. Sixteen of the structures have been named UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

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