Valdivia probably isn’t a city you immediately think of when you think of Chile. In fact, I’m not sure you’d think of it at all.
Before going to Chile, I had never heard of Valdivia, and on first sight, it didn’t seem like all that much. However, I discovered that although the city may not seem very attractive or noteworthy at first, it has a few gems (something I often try to find) and is definitely a worthwhile stop if travelling to the Chilean lake district.
The city is built at the confluence of three rivers, and many of the main sights and much of the life of the city revolves around the area immediately around the rivers.
Things to do
Walking along the riverfront in Valdivia will introduce you to many of the city’s most interesting sights, beginning with the fish market, where you can regularly see enormous sea lions lounging around, waiting for the leftovers or scraps to be thrown in the water.
Right next to the market is a monument to the 1960 earthquake, the strongest earthquake in recorded human history at 9.5 on the Richter scale. It was so strong that it actually moved the Earth’s axis by a few degrees, and the pendulum that swings at the bottom of the monument shows how.
On the other side of the river is the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo, housed in a former brewery with changing exhibits from Chilean artists.
A nice day trip to consider from Valdivia is to Mancera island, with a ruined colonial fort that you can wander about. The trip involves a bus out of town past the Kunstmann brewery (another possible day trip) to a jetty where boats will take you the 20 minutes across the sound to Mancera island.
Where to eat and drink
Craving a cafe stop in town? I recommend TFS Cafe, a cool cafe built on a raft floating in the river right beside the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo. The teas, cakes and coffee (they serve Illy, which is unusual in Chile) are excellent and the views of the city across the river are quite lovely.
For dinner I heartily recommend La Última Frontera, a place with mismatched cutlery set in a former mansion serving innovative and fresh food with many vegetarian options (another rarity in Chile).
And if you’re in the mood for a cocktail with a view, try the Sky Bar, which sits on the top floor of the top-end Hotel Dreams Pedro de Valdivia, designed to look like a ship’s sail. Considering the size of the city (just 140,000 people), the views of everything lit up at night are quite lovely.
Where to sleep
I first stayed at Hostel Airesbuenos, and it was in fact one of my favourite hostels in southern Chile. Unusually, the hostel has a garden where organic vegetables are grown and guarded by a rather uppity duck. The breakfast was exceptional for Chile, including fresh juice, fresh fruit salad, homemade granola, bread, butter, jam, tea and coffee and all the ingredients were clearly of high quality. The owner also organises yoga classes in the basement yoga studio.
I then couchsurfed, which is a great option in Chile generally, as I found the people to be very warm and hospitable, and often travel themselves, so can relate to what it’s like being a traveller, and can give some helpful tips!