Founded more than 450 years ago where rivers Calle-Calle, Cruces and Cau-Cau meet to form the Valdivia River, 865km (535mi) south of Santiago, the city of Valdivia is a pleasant stop on any itinerary exploring southern Chile. Also known as “city of rivers”, it currently presents a contemporary look, of German inspiration, and is home to about 150,000 inhabitants. The city has been hit by several major earthquakes throughout the centuries, and it was heavily affected by the strongest one ever recorded in history: “the great Valdivia earthquake” or “the great Chilean earthquake”, in 1960, rating 9.5 in the Richter scale.
A tour of the city may well start on Arturo Prat Avenue, which makes an arch around the downtown area, following the shores of the Calle-Calle river. Walking among local families and other tourists, you can visit the Municipal Market and the River Market, where an ample variety of fish and seafood is always offered. At the end of the avenue, entering General Lagos street, still bordering the Calle-Calle, you will see the Los Canelos Turret, a historic monument built in 1678 as part of the defense network aimed at protecting the village from attacks by the indigenous peoples.
Crossing the Calle-Calle by the Pedro de Valdivia bridge, you arrive to Teja Island. This island hosts a campus of Universidad Austral de Chile (Chilean Austral University) that has a beautiful botanic garden occupying an area of 10 hectares (25 acres). The former quarters of the Anwandter Brewery are also located in this island, right in the so called “costanera cultural” (“cultural coastal drive”), a street featuring several museums that face the city’s downtown, located across the river.
The area around Valdivia is home to many small artisan breweries, generally offering good quality beer, many of which also include restaurants and the possibility of sampling several varieties of their products. The most famous local brand, and one of the most respected in all Chile, can be tasted in any of its more than ten varieties at Cervecería Kunstmann, 5km (3.1mi) away from the city center, by the road to Niebla.
Continuing another 12km (7.4mi) on the same road or sailing from downtown Valdivia you will reach the Niebla Fort. This fort, officially baptized as Castillo de la Pura e Limpia Concepcion de Monfort de Lemus (literally, Castle of the Pure and Clean Conception of Monfort de Lemus), was raised between 1667 and 1672 following orders from the Viceroy of Peru in response to a Dutch intent of occupying the region. This was one of the seventeen forts built around the Bay of Valdivia in order to discourage future invaders from the idea of settling or looting the area. As a matter of fact, this defense set was so effective that it was only defeated in 1820 during the Chilean Independence War. Nowadays the place includes a museum portraying the history of the area.
Crossing the river in any of the small boats that frequently make the trip, you will arrive to the city of Corral. The main attraction there is another fort, the San Sebastián de la Cruz Fort, armed with 21 cannons and built in 1645 as part of the same defense complex mentioned above. Between Niebla and Corral, at Mancera Island, the Mancera Castle was the most powerful fort of the Spanish defense system, built between 1675 and 1680. The three aforementioned forts are open for visiting and have specialized guides, sometimes dressed in character, willing to share some anecdotes about these places.
Valdivia is served by an airport connected to the national capital. If you wish to keep exploring southern Chile, the closest main destinations are Pucón, 155km (95mi) north, or Puerto Varas and the Chiloé island, respectively 200km (125mi) and 270km (165mi) south.