Nothing else distinguishes Valparaíso  so much as its hillside ascensores or elevators, once 33 in number but now down to 14 or so. Such a part of the city are they that the Fundación Valparaíso uses the slogan “Un ascensor es un barrio” (“An elevator is a neighborhood,” as their intimacy encourages interaction).
In fact, only Ascensor Polanco is an elevator in the strictest sense of the word — the rest are funiculars. They date from the late 19th century; as the port, commercial, and financial districts quickly occupied the city’s limited level terrain, residential neighborhoods climbed and spread up the canyons and over the nearby hillsides.
English, German, French, Yugoslav, and other immigrants who had made their fortunes in business, finance, and mining built mansions and houses in the hills, but the precipitous topography and complicated street plan created access problems. The elegantly simple solution was the construction of the ascensores, which carried residents quickly and directly to their neighborhoods.
At their peak, more than 13 million people used the ascensores every year; during the second half of the century, though, roads and vehicles invaded the hills, so that only about 3.3 million per year use them now. Without operating subsidies, many would probably close down.
As Valparaíso  achieved World Heritage Site status, the remaining ascensores were one of the attractions that made the city unique. Improving the surrounding areas with better sidewalks, ornamentation, lighting, and landscaping has encouraged a vigorous street life in areas that, until recently, were marginal neighborhoods.
Below is a list of the existing ascensores with their main characteristics. All charge small fares, usually less than US$0.20; some are privately operated, while others are public. For more detail, those who can read Spanish should see Juan Cameron’s Ascensores Porteños (Viña del Mar/Santiago: Ediciones Altazor, 1998).
Now out of order, the most westerly of Valparaíso’s ascensores climbs from an almost hidden lower station on Avenida Antonio Varas to an upper station on Pedro León Gallo, on Cerro Playa Ancha. The 155-meter line has a 23-degree gradient. It dates from 1907.
From Plaza Aduana, also known as Plaza Wheelwright, Ascensor Artillería extends for 175 meters with a 30-degree gradient. One of the most popular tourist funiculars, it carries passengers 50 meters above the port to Cerro Playa Ancha, with panoramic views from Paseo 21 de Mayo toward Viña del Mar ; the Museo Naval  (Naval Museum) is nearby. It dates from 1894.
Known also as Ascensor Serrano, for the street that its lower station faces, Ascensor Cordillera is one of Valparaíso ’s shortest funiculars, climbing just 60 meters up the side of its namesake hill to Plaza Eleuterio Ramírez, easy walking distance from the Museo Lord Cochrane . Dating from 1887, it has a gradient of 32 degrees.
Currently undergoing restoration, San Agustín is on the northwest side of Cerro Cordillera. It dates from 1913 and has a total length of 51 meters, with a gradient of 36 degrees.
From a nearly hidden entrance just off the Plaza de Justicia, but easily found by a conspicuous sign, Ascensor El Peral climbs 52 meters at a 48-degree gradient to Cerro Alegre’s Paseo Yugoslavo and the Palacio Baburizza. This is one of the best walking areas in the hills, easily linking up to Cerro Concepción and its namesake ascensor. It dates from 1902.
Dating from 1883, Valparaíso ’s oldest funicular is also one of the city’s most popular, climbing 69 meters at a 45-degree gradient to Paseo Gervasoni, home to a popular hillside restaurant and the starting point for walking tours of Concepción and Cerro Alegre. Its lower station entrance is opposite the Reloj Turri clock tower, from which it takes its popular name, Ascensor Turri.
One of the city’s most entertaining funiculars, Cerro Concepción’s Ascensor Reina Victoria (1902) climbs 40 meters of rails at a 57-degree gradient in cars that hold only seven passengers. Reached from Plaza Aníbal Pinto via Cumming and Quebrada Elías, it has its upper station at Paseo Dimalow, another good starting point for walking tours of Cerro Concepción and Cerro Alegre.
Immediately southwest of El Almendral’s Plaza Victoria, Espíritu Santo is the best approach to rapidly rejuvenating Cerro Bellavista, home to the open-air Museo al Cielo Abierto, the nonprofit Fundación Valparaíso, and the late Pablo Neruda’s La Sebastiana  residence, now a museum and cultural center. Dating from 1911, it’s officially known as Ascensor del Cerro Bellavista; it climbs 66 meters, at a gradient of nearly 45 degrees, to its upper terminus at Paseo Rudolph.
One of Valparaíso ’s best kept secrets, at the south end of Carrera, also in El Almendral , Ascensor Florida is an alternative route to Cerro Bellavista and to Neruda’s La Sebastiana  house, via Calle Ferrari. Built in 1906, with a length of 138 meters, it has a relatively gentle gradient — by Valparaíso  standards — of just 19 degrees. One unique feature is a tiny pedestrian walkway that crosses over the railway.
Climbing Cerro Mariposa from the hidden Paseo Barbosa, in El Almendral  southwest of Parque Italia, Ascensor Mariposa is the longest of all Valparaíso ’s funiculars, extending 177 meters at a gradient of 25 degrees. Built in 1904, its upper station is at Teniente Pinto, just a couple blocks from Avenida Alemania, a sort of ring road with bus service back to downtown Valparaíso .
At the foot of Cerro Monja, on Subida Baquedano just west of Avenida Francia, El Almendral’s Ascensor Las Monjas covers 110 meters at a gradient of 30 degrees. Dating from 1912, it stands almost directly opposite its now-abandoned twin, Ascensor Cerro La Cruz, on the other side of Avenida Francia.
Offering some of the best views of any of the city’s funiculars, the recently restored Ascensor Barón (1906) overlooks the east end of the waterfront, immediately behind the Feria Persa flea market. It ascends a gradient of nearly 60 degrees over its 98-meter length before arriving at Paseo Diego Portales for panoramas of the entire harbor; this is the best approach to the landmark Iglesia San Francisco.
At the east end of Pasaje Quillota, reached from Avenida Argentina, the 98-meter Ascensor Lecheros climbs a gradient of 58 degrees before reaching its upper station, where a walkway links it to Calle Miguel de Cervantes. It dates from 1906 but underwent a major restoration in the mid-1990s.
East of Avenida Argentina, Ascensor Larraín is a short (60-meter) line with a 35-degree gradient that leads to its namesake hill; from the upper station, a wooden walkway leads to Calle Hermanos Clark. It dates from 1909.
The only true elevator of them all, at the southeast end of town and reached by a 140-meter tunnel from Calle Simpson, Ascensor Polanco climbs vertically for 60 meters, stopping at an intermediate station at Carvallo, 34 meters above the base. Dating from 1916, it carries only eight passengers.