A Chilean popular song tells us that Valdivia’s waters are the place where the moon chooses to bathe, and there’s no denying that there is a certain magical charm about this city of rivers! Named after Santiago’s founder and first governor of Chile Pedro de Valdivia, the city is located in southern Chile and has been the capital of the Lake District since October 2007. And, excitingly enough, this June it was officially named the American Capital of Culture for 2016, following in the footsteps of Iquique in 2001 and Santiago in 2004. Mayor Omar Sabat Guzmán has promised that a whole array of cultural activities and events will grace the Valdivian streets in 2016 but, if you’re anything like us, you won’t be able to wait that long before visiting Chile’s new ‘it’ city!
Let yourself fall in love with the city of rivers
1. Feria Fluvial
You can’t visit Valdivia and miss this bustling riverside market, which was named a Chilean National Monument in 2009. A burst of colour with a rainbow of awnings covering the various stalls, it prides itself upon providing fresh seafood, fish, cheeses, vegetables and also local arts and crafts. Don’t forget to give your regards (from a safe distance!) to the local sea lions who love to waddle up and lounge along the shores in the hope of a few tasty scraps from the fishmongers!
Wander at your leisure through the vibrant Feria Fluvial
2. Parque Saval
This riverside park spanning thirty hectares is a birdwatcher’s paradise located on Isla Teja, and there is a pleasant stroll along the river, which is covered with beautiful water-lilies (who needs Monet’s Paris?!). Grab yourself a slice of calm and enjoy the serenity of the rivers flowing around the Isla - it’s the perfect picnic spot. You can also marvel at over fifty wood and metal sculptures in the Parque de Esculturas Guillermo Franco, which is open daily.
The serenity of the park
3. Museo Histórico y Arqueológico
Get to grips with the finer details of Mapuche and Huilliche culture at this museum, as well as learning more about the German colonisation of the south of Chile, and the impact it still has on the area today (the beer, ubiquitous chocolate shops and delicious kuchen just for starters!). Peruse the exhibits of local archaeological treasures, tools, textiles and jewellery, and transport yourself back into the exciting past of a rich and diverse part of Chilean culture.
4. Castillo de Corral and Fuerte Niebla
Dating back to 1645, you can explore the remaining fortifications of the Corral Bay, set at the strategic point where the River Valdivia and the River Tornagaleones come to meet the Pacific Ocean. Wander the atmospheric remains of the San Sebastián de la Cruz Castle and discover the old sentry box, original canons and possibly even a thrilling historical reenactment of the Spanish soldiers preparing to fight off the impending threat of a pirate ship! On the other side of the river, on Isla Mancera, the San Pedro de Alcántara fort can be found, and deep beneath the waters lurks the wreck of a ship which sunk in 1960 following a ferocious earthquake. The Niebla fort can be reached by regular buses and ferries, and a visit to the remains affords stunning views of the land and riverscape.
The Niebla fort
5. Los Canelos and Picarte Turrets
Find yourself transported back to the colonial past by dropping by at two more of the last remaining vestiges of the defensive Spanish fortifications of the city, built in the seventeenth century upon the orders of Antonio de Toledo, Viceroy of Peru, who feared the possible influx of other colonial powers, such as the French, British or Dutch. Initially intended to serve as lookouts, in reality they were more frequently used as dungeons and for gunpowder storage.
The Picarte turret
6. Noche Valdiviana
Got plans for the third Saturday in February yet? Well you do now! Expect sizzling, sparkling fireworks and beautifully bedecked riverboats as you see all of Valdivia pouring out into the streets to bid a fond farewell to the summer. It all dates back to the Valdivian people’s joyous celebrations to mark the end of cruel Governor García de Mendoza’s mandate in 1561. Back then, the townspeople set fire to piles of dry straw in their boats, illuminating the river which reflected the leaping flames like a mirror, and today’s dramatic firework display pays homage to this important part of Valdivia’s history.
7. Botanical Garden
Don’t miss out on one of the most southerly botanical gardens in the world! Wander amongst the plants native to the world’s end, and learn about the efforts being undertaken by the Universidad Austral de Chile to conserve them for generations to come. Sly creepers snaking around the towering trees, unassuming mosses, and frothy ferns all vie for centre stage as you take a whirlwind tour through the Valdivian and Magellanic forests, as well as encountering some guests from further afield, including species from New Zealand.
Go wherever your feet take you in the beautiful Botanical Gardens...
8. Ride El Valdiviano
All aboard the Valdiviano Express! Dating from 1913, the Valdivian steam train, which borders the Calle Calle River going towards Antilhue, is the only one in Chile and still operates regularly during the summer months. There are stops at Pishuinco and Huellelhue included in the trip, allowing passengers to jump off and sample some local culinary delights and buy a few traditional souvenirs. It’s full steam ahead as you sit back and soak up the beautiful riverside scenery from the windows, enjoying a journey directly into the past.
Take the train to the beautiful Huellelhue
9. Boat Trips
Sail the seven rivers of Valdivia with a boat trip offering unparalleled views of the city’s waterways. Head for the Feria Fluvial and you’ll find there are a wide variety of trips and boats available, ranging from a cheaper, one-hour tour to a longer, five-hour excursion which includes lunch. Whichever you choose, there’s no better way to get a true taste of Valdivia than out on the water, with the wind in your hair and your eyes peeled for sunbathing sea lions on the banks!
Meet the resident sea lions!
10. Cervecería Kunstmann
Learn all about the German beer tradition in Valdivia and further afield in the informative museum, discovering how German colonies first started brewing this iconic beverage in Chile. You can also take a tour around the brewery and find out more about Valdivia’s very own Oktoberfest and Bierfest... And, of course, don't even think about leaving without savouring a freshly-brewed schop (draft beer) in a traditional German glass, which you can take back home with you as the perfect souvenir!
Relax after a day's sight-seeing with a glass of beer.
And as if that were not enough, Valdivia is the perfect cosmopolitan base from which you can explore all-time favourite Lake District locations such as Pucón and Villarica! Is there something about Valdivia that you love and we’ve missed off our list? We welcome your comments and suggestions.