Valdivia and around

Surrounded by wooded hills, Valdivia is one of the most pleasant cities in southern Chile and a good place to rest after arduous treks in the mountains. In the summer tourist season the city comes to life with activities and events, while off season this is a pleasant verdant city with a thriving café culture. With a high student population (its total population is 127,000), it is also one of the best cities for meeting young Chileans, who will be at the pulse of anything in the way of nightlife in the city. Valdivia lies nearly 839 km south of Santiago at the confluence of two rivers, the Calle Calle and Cruces, which form the Río Valdivia. To the northwest of the city is a large island, Isla Teja, where the Universidad Austral de Chile is situated. West, along the coast, are a series of important Spanish colonial forts, while to the north are two nature reserves with native forests and a wide range of birdlife. Inland there are two lakes off the beaten tourist path.

Getting there

There are daily flights north to Santiago and Concepción. The bus network is very wide, with numerous daily services to Santiago and south to Puerto Montt, as well as to cities such as Temuco, Pucón, Concepción and Chillán. By road access to the Panamericana is north via Mafil or south via Paillaco.

Getting around

Valdivia is quite sizeable:
and buses serve the outlying barrios. However, like many Chilean cities, the centre is relatively compact, and few places are beyond walking distance, even those across the river on the Isla Teja.


Valdivia was one of the most important centres of Spanish colonial control over Chile. Founded in 1552 by Pedro de Valdivia, it was abandoned as a result of the Mapuche insurrection of 1599 and was briefly occupied by Dutch pirates. In 1645 it was refounded as a walled city and the only Spanish mainland settlement south of the Río Biobío. The Spanish continued to fortify the area around Valdivia throughout the 1600s, developing the most comprehensive system of defence in the South Pacific against the British and Dutch navies. Seventeen forts were built in total. They were reinforced after 1760, but proved of little avail during the Wars of Independence, when the Chilean naval squadron under Lord Cochrane seized control of the forts in two days. From independence until the 1880s Valdivia was an outpost of Chilean rule, reached only by sea or by a coastal route.


The city is centred around the tree-lined
Plaza de la República
. In the cathedral, the
Museo de la Catedral de Valdivia
 covers four centuries of Christian history. Three blocks east is the
Muelle Fluvial
, the dock for boat trips down the river. From the Muelle Fluvial there is a pleasant walk north along the
(Avenida Prat) and under the bridge to Isla Teja and on round the bend in the river as far as the bus terminal.

On the western bank of the river,
Isla Teja
has a botanical garden and arboretum with trees from all over the world. West of the botanical gardens is the
Parque Saval
. Covering 30 ha it has areas of native forest as well as a small lake, the Lago de los Lotos. There are beautiful flowers in spring. It often hosts events like Rodeos, and a Mapuche market and craft market in summer. Also on the island are two museums. The
Museo Histórico y Antropológico
, is beautifully situated in the former mansion of Carlos Andwandter, a leading German immigrant. Run by the university, it contains sections on archaeology, ethnography and German colonization. Next door, in the former Andwandter brewery, is the
Museo de Arte Moderno
. Boat trips can be made around Isla Teja, offering views of birds and seals.

Kunstmann Brewery
, offers tours of the working brewery and its beer museum; it also has a good restaurant.

Every Sunday during January and February there is a special
steam train service
, to
, 20 km to the east. The train is met by locals selling all sorts of local culinary specialities. The engine dates from 1913. Special additional trips are often made on public holidays; check departure times before travelling.

Along the Río Valdivia

The various rivers around Valdivia are navigable: pleasant journeys can be made by rented motor boat south of town on the Ríos Futa and Tornagaleanes around
Isla del Rey
, while at the mouth of the Río Valdivia are interesting and isolated villages that can be visited by road or by river boat. The two main centres are
on the north bank and
opposite on the south bank, site of two of the most important 17th-century Spanish forts on the Río Valdivia . There is a frequent boat service between the two towns. Midstream, between Niebla and Corral is
Isla Mancera
, a small island dominated by the Castillo de San Pedro de Alcántara, the earliest of the Spanish forts. Inside the fort there is a small church and convent. The island is a pleasant place to stop over on the boat trips, but it can get crowded when an excursion boat arrives.

Eighteen kilometres west of Valdivia,
is a resort with seafood restaurants and accommodation. To the west on a promontory is the
Fuerte de la Pura y Limpia Concepción de Monfort de Lemus
, with a museum on Chilean naval history, a tourist information office and a telephone office. Around Niebla the north bank is dotted with campsites and
. About 6 km further round the coast is
Los Molinos
, a seaside resort set among steep wooded hills. There is a campsite and lots of seaside restaurants. The road continues, rising and falling along the coast, with fine views of beaches deserted outside summer. The paved road runs out about 6 km north of Los Molinos but a
road continues past Curiñanco as far as the Parque Oncol.

lies 62 km west of Valdivia by road and is the main port serving the city. It is much quieter and more pleasant than Niebla, and its fort,
Castillo de San Sebastián
, has a dilapidated, interesting atmosphere. It was built in 1645 as one of the main fortifications on the estuary, and during the 17th century its 3-m-thick walls were defended by a battery of 21 guns. Inside is a museum, and in summer re-enactments of the 1820 storming of the Spanish fort by the Chilean Republican forces in period costume are held daily 1200 and 1800.

Further north near the mouth of the river are pleasant beaches and the remains of two other Spanish colonial forts, the
Castillo San Luis de Alba de Amargos
and the
Castillo de San Carlos
. The coastal walks west and south of Corral, along very isolated and forested roads above the ocean, are splendid and very rarely visited. The friendly tourist office on the pier can provide some trekking information.

North of Valdivia

Some 27 km to the northwest is the
Parque Oncol
. It consists of 754 ha of native Valdivian forest with several easy trails and lookouts with fine views, canopy ziplines, a picnic area, a good café and campsite.

Stretching from the outskirts of the city, 30 km north, is the
Santuario de la Naturaleza Carlos Anwandter
, along the Río Cruces, which was flooded as a result of the 1960
and now attracts many bird species.

On the Río Cruces, 42 km north of Valdivia, lies the small town of
San José de la Mariquina
. From the town an unpaved road leads west along the north side of the river to the
Fuerte de San Luis de Alba de Cruces
(22 km), a colonial fortification built in 1647 and largely rebuilt according to the original plans.

West of San José,
is a small, friendly resort and fishing port with a long beach. The fishermen here are usually willing to take people out to see the nearby sealion and penguin colonies, and with a little luck dolphins can also be spotted. A clifftop
road, with fantastic views north and south along the coastline, leads 6 km north to
, which has a good beach, but which is dangerous for bathing at high tide because of undercurrents. (Bathing is safer in the river near the ferry.) From Queule, a pretty road leads north again to
; numerous small ferry crossings provide access to isolated Mapuche communities and there are wonderful beaches along the coast.

East of Valdivia

The route east from Valdivia to the lakes passes through what is, perhaps, the least interesting part of the Lake District, consisting largely of wheatfields and dairy farms. Some 93 km east of Valdivia, beyond Antilhue (where there are picnic sites) and Los Lagos, is
Lago Riñihue
, the southernmost of the Seven Lakes.
, a beautiful but small and isolated village at its western end, is worth visiting but the road around the southern edge of the lake from Riñihue to Enco is poor and there is no road around the northern edge of the lake.

South of Lago Riñihue is
Lago Ranco
, one of the largest lakes, covering 41,000 ha, and also one of the most accessible as it has a road, poor in many places, around its edge. The road is characterized by lots of mud and animals. However it is worth taking the opportunity to escape the gringo trail and witness an older lifestyle while admiring the beautiful lake, starred with islands, and the sun setting on the distant volcanoes. There is excellent fishing on the southern shore; several hotels organize fishing expeditions.

From the Pan-American Highway the north side of the lake can be reached from Los Lagos or from a better road 18 km further south. These two roads join and meet the road around the lake some 5 km west of
. This is the main town on the northern shore and has a daily boat service to
, the island in the middle of the lake. From Futrono the road (paved at this point) curves round the north of the lake to
, Km 22, a picturesque place on the eastern shore. From Llifén, it is possible visit
Lago Maihue
, 33 km further east, the south end of which is surrounded by native forests. From Llifén the road around Lago Ranco continues via the Salto de Nilahue (Km 14) to
, Km 23, at the southeast corner, with access to beaches. Further west is
Lago Ranco
, Km 47, an ugly little town on the south shore, which has a museum with exhibits on Mapuche culture. On the western shore is
Puerto Nuevo
, where there are watersports and fishing on the Río Bueno. Further north, 10 km west of Futrono, is
, where there are more good beaches. Paved roads lead to Río Bueno and the Pan-American Highway.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
Products in this Region

Patagonia Handbook

Patagonia is a pioneering land of vast horizons and limitless possibilities. Footprint's Patagonia...

Chile Handbook

A place of extremes and contradictions, Chile is home to a bewilderingly diverse geography and...

South American Handbook 2016

South America is epic. Home to the world's highest waterfall, the longest mountain range and the...
PDF Downloads

  No PDFs currently available

Digital Products

Available NOW!