This was one of the first areas to be settled by the Spanish, the lands being assigned to prominent conquistadores during the 16th century. For most of the colonial period this region was an important exporter of wheat and other foodstuffs to Peru. With Independence and the ending of trade restrictions in the 19th century Valparaíso rose to become the most important port on the Pacific coast of South America, but there were few other large centres of population along this coastline until the 1880s, when the fashion for holidaying near the sea spread from southern Europe. Viña del Mar was established in 1880 and several other resorts followed between 1880 and 1900: Algarrobo, Cartagena, Las Cruces, Zapallar and Papudo, all owing part of their popularity to the building of railway lines linking them to the capital. Today, this area is one of the major economic centres of the country. Valparaíso and San Antonio are important ports, between them handling much of the country’s trade. The region is also a major producer of agricultural products, particularly soft fruit such as avocados, tomatoes, grapes and peaches. The coastline enjoys a Mediterranean-style climate: the cold sea currents and coastal winds produce less extreme temperatures than in Santiago and the Central Valley; rainfall is moderate in winter and the summers are dry. Although the influence of European resorts can still be seen in some of the buildings, especially in Viña del Mar and Zapallar, most of the older buildings have not withstood earthquakes and bulldozers.
Buses run from Av Errázuriz in Valparaíso and from Av Libertad in Viña del Mar: to Concón, bus 601, very frequent, 20-40 mins, US$0.85; to Quintero and Horcón, Sol del Pacífico, every 30 mins, 2 hrs, US$2; to Zapallar and Papudo, Sol del Pacífico, 4 a day (2 before 0800, 2 after 1600), US$4.