It is often said in Santiago that the south of Chile is the most beautiful part of the country; I have to say that I strongly agree. The South of Chile is known for its breathtakingly beautiful scenery, pristine rivers and lakes, and gorgeous mountain views. If you have a car and time, I suggest the drive down south beginning with a short visit in Valdivia.
The capital of Chile’s 14th region, Los Ríos Region, Valdivia is a charming and picturesque city. Located about 840 kilometers (520 miles) from Santiago on the Valdivia River, this quaint city has a strong colonial past and an even stronger German influence. However, in 1960 the Gran terremoto de Chile, or Great Chilean Earthquake, crippled Valdivia destroying 40% of its houses, leaving a large number of its inhabitants homeless.
If you are pressed for time, you only really need a day in Valdivia; squeeze in a relaxing boat tour and a mandatory trip to the famed Kunstmann beer factory, you won’t be disappointed!
During the second half of the 19th century, the city was the main port entry for German immigrants. This was because of the Law of Selective Immigration of 1845, whose objective was to encourage Germans to colonize the southern regions of Chile. Therefore, there is a heavy German influence felt in the city. There is evenly a yearly beer fest, a homage to Munich Germany’s Oktoberfest, called Bierfest Valdivia whose main sponsor is Kunstmann.
Getting Around Town
Valdivia is a relatively small town, compared to Santiago that is! We left our car and just walked everywhere, which was safe to do, but you may need a bus to get to Kunstmann or Nieble, which run frequently, departing from the center bus stops. The buses to Nieble and Kunstmann are clearly marked with signs on their fronts. I did not find a bike rental shop during my stay, but biking around the city would be a wonderful way to explore. The trip to Niebla and the Kunstmann factory are both within biking distance, for the experienced bikers!
There is a city tour, Lo Conquistadores del Sur, that takes you around to the highlights of the city. It picks up in front of the fish market, Feria Fluvial, at the river, and leaves every hour. It is $3.000 CLP a person and they can only be found on Facebook.
Things to Do
Take a boat ride! On our first morning we headed to the river where a hopping fish market sits, better known as Mercado Fluvial. Be prepared – the market stinks! Lots of birds fly around trying to get scraps, and sea lions bark from behind the stalls of the market, begging for a fish to be tossed to them, too! There are many boats tied up along the wall, and stalls nearby selling tickets.
There is a boat ride you can take that lasts five hours and includes lunch and a drink, it costs about $17.000 CLP a person. If that is out of your budget, ask around for other options, there are a few. You may need a Spanish speaker to do so, as I did not hear any English being spoken on the dock. There are a few ticket booths right there, try your luck at finding an English speaker. There is also a tourist booth as well, they may have an English speaker available.
Along the river are areas for the sea lions to lounge. Do not feed them or stand too close. They were calm and peaceful when we were there, but they may not always be.
We found a smaller boat that charged $5.000 CLP for an hour ride. It was exactly what we wanted, a relaxing ride on the river and around Isla Teja, or Teja Island.
The trip also offered gorgeous views of the surrounding Bosque Valdiviano, the lush Valdivian Forrest which surrounds the city.
Explore Isla Teja! Isla Teja used to be cut off from the city and inhabited by mostly German immigrants. It is said that German was learned first, and then Spanish. It is now the location of the main campus of the Universidad Austral de Chile. There are several museums and many things to explore on the island. Now a series of bridges connect Valdivia to Isla Teja and then on to sub-urban areas of the city. The island itself is a very short walk over the Pedro De Valdivia Bridge, which seperates the main city from Isla Teja.
Isla Teja is home to Museo de Arte Contemporaneo, a Museum of Contemporary Art, located on Los Laureles. The price is $1.200 CLP. Also, Jardin Botanico, a botanical garden sits on the island. The Museo Histórico y Antropológico, the Museum of History and Anthropology, is located in a riverfront mansion on Isla Teja, also on Los Laureles, next to the art museum. It is $1.300 CLP to enter and offers displays of ancient artifacts and historical items.
Go have a beer at the Kunstmann Brewery! Located in a suburb of Valdivia, called Torobayo. Does that name sound familiar? It should! Torobayo Ale is Kunstmann’s most popular beer and can be found in almost any restaurant or bar in Santiago!
We took the brewery tour, which costs $8.000 CLP a person, but it comes with a souvenir mug and a glass of their 11th beer, an unfiltered beer only available at the Cerveceria (brewery). This isn’t an in-depth tour on their brewing process, just a short tour around the facilities while they give you some history of the Kunstmann family. They offer tours in English and Spanish. If the tour begins in Spanish, ask if they could translate or find an English guide. Both of the tour guides we met spoke great English, so just ask if they could give you a tour in English, I’m sure they will find someone for you!
If you aren’t that interested in the tour, skip it and have lunch at the brewery instead. It was a bit crowded, but the food looked great. Their website says they are open from 12:00 to 24:00, everyday.
Visit Niebla, a small town at the mouth of the Valdivia river. It is about a fifteen minute drive from downtown Valdivia, and buses frequently travel between the two. Hop on bus number 20, marked with “Niebla” signs, outside the bus terminal and in 30 to 35 minutes you will be at Castillo de Niebla. The museum entrance fee is $800 CLP and offers interesting information about the history, but all in Spanish. The fort was a bit under construction when we were there, but it offered some gorgeous views.
Visit Corral, another small town that served as the headquarters of the Valdivian fortress system. To get there you can walk about 20 minutes on the main road or take a boat from Niebla for 800pesos. There are more restaurants in Corral and the fortress is bigger.
See the Torreones Españoles, (The Spanish Towers). In 1774, these towers were built by the Spanish to defend the city. The first is located on Avenida Ramón Picarte with Condell, and the second at Calle Yungay con Yerbas Buenas. A quick stop, but interesting to see.
What To Eat
Try the crudo, a German-Chilean specialty which is raw meat served on slices of bread with onions, sour cream, and lemons to add for taste.
I recommend Café Haussmann, for a nice meal and giant beer! They have a location on the main square, at O´Higgins 394, but it was closed when we tried.
We stumbled upon another Café Haussmann on Avenida Los Robles on Isla Teja, which offers great outdoor seating. They have even more locations around Chile, especially in the South, for fans of their food.
La Ultima Frontera, Perez Rosales 787, is great for sandwiches and vegetarian options. It’s located in a cool house!
Seafood is great here as well. Walk along the river at night, heading south from the stinky fish market and you will find seafood restaurants on the river.
Where to Stay
We stayed at the fantastic Hotel Ditorlaschi that had little cabins! Breakfast was included and it is at a great location, minutes from downtown and around the corner from one of the Spanish Towers.
You can also find additional options on Booking.com.
When to Go
It rains a lot in Valdivia, so much so that it has been nicknamed “Valluvia” – lluvia means rain! The weather in November was perfect, cool enough for a light jacket but also warm and sunny.
Kunstmann’s Bierfest is usually held in January, while the Valdivian Film Festival is held in October. Valdivia Week is held in February, where the town celebrates its founding with a parade of boats that float down the river as fireworks light up the sky!
Other Things to Do Nearby
Valdivia is very close to more wonderful sights and places in Southern Chile. The Lake Region, or Los Lagos, is just a quick ride from Valdivia. Cities such as Puerto Varas, Puerto Montt, and Osorno lie to the south.
I am lucky enough to have a brave boyfriend who drove the 10+ hour journey all on his own (nope, I cannot drive manual/stick shift)!
If you are driving, enjoy the scenery! You really can’t get lost, as you only need to take Ruta 5 (Route 5), better known as the South Pan-American Highway. On your way I suggest skipping Temuco, which sits 163km (100 miles) to the North of Valdivia. We happened to stop to get gas and stretch our legs, and we were very disappointed with the town. We did some research while we had a quick lunch and learned that Temuco has some of the worst air pollution in the country, due to fire wood burning for heat and cooking purposes. Thick smog plagues the city, so pass through if you need to stop, but then get back on your way!
If you don’t have a car you can take a bus: Tur-Bus or Pullman Bus. Bus tickets range anywhere from $9.000 CLP to $50.000 CLP, depending on what kind of seat you’d prefer. The seats range from classic or standard seat, which is the cheapest, to semi cama, salon cama, and premium seats. The more expensive seats allow you to put your seat in a horizontal position like a bed, and even sleep during your journey!
Valdivia’s bust terminal is located at Anfión Muñoz 360.
The Tur-Bus website says the ride will take around 10-13 hours. But remember this is Chile, so it could always take a bit longer.
Aeropuerto Pichoy is 32km from Valdivia on Ruta 5, it has flights from Santiago that stop first in Concepción and Temuco. There are flights to Valdivia through LAN. Shuttles await the flights and will take you into the city for $5.000 CLP. However, flying to Temuco is cheaper.
The flight from Santiago to Temuco is about an hour and twenty minutes. You will then need to rent a car or hop on a bus that will take you to Valdivia, a 2-3 hour bus ride.
So what are you waiting for? Go discover Valdivia and enjoy this beautiful city!!!
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