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Valdivia, Chile: Wandering the Riverside Towns and Old Spanish Forts in Niebla and Corral

Views from Niebla, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile
Views from Niebla, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile

When I was in Ancud on the island of Chiloé, I met a traveler from France who was inspirational. In her late 60s or early 70s and fluent in Spanish and English in addition to French, she was backpacking on her own, getting off the beaten path, exploring independently, connecting with people by staying in hostels. So when she recommended I get out of the city of Valdivia and visit beautiful Niebla and Corral, I listened.

Niebla

Views from Niebla, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile
Views from Niebla, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile

Thanks to the wonders of public transportation, it is easy to visit Niebla and Corral; you can take a local bus to Niebla, and frequent boat ferries are available to take you over to Corral. (Alternatively or additionally, you can visit tiny Isla Mancera, which is one of the stops for the ferries and also has an old fort and views of the water.)

Views from Niebla, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile
Views from Niebla, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile

Upon arrival to Valdivia, I knew that I would spent my first full day heading outside the city to make sure I got a chance to get to know the deep blue rivers and emerald green forest landscapes for myself. We found the correct local bus and within 30 minutes, we found ourselves getting off the bus at the tiny main plaza in Niebla.

As it turned out, the old Spanish fort in Niebla was closed due to a strike; the employees of government-run museum were protesting unexpected changes to laws governing working conditions for employees of the ministry of culture. So although I have lovely pictures from the cliffs of Niebla, I didn’t get to see the inside of the fort or the views from the highest, most strategic points.

That said, we did stumble into a jazz performance in Niebla’s tiny little church and chat with one of the artisans selling her jewelry in Niebla, so it was worth it!

Beach in Niebla, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile
Beach in Niebla, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile

From there, we walked to Niebla’s beach, located in a secluded little cove on the water. Although the water was still fairly cold at the beginning of summer, I could see how this would be an excellent place to visit in late January or February, at the height of Chile’s summer.

Beach in Niebla, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile
Views from Niebla, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile

We walked up and down the beach to take in the waves crashing on the beach and appreciate the views of the wide expanses of river. As I have kept repeating in all of my posts about southern Chile: SO MUCH BLUE! 🙂

Feria Costumbrista, Niebla, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile
Feria Costumbrista, Niebla, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile

From there, we walked over to the Feria Costumbrista a few blocks away. In Spanish, costumbrista describes local or regional customs, food, and folklore; basically, traditional culture. Each town in Chile hosts an annual feria costumbrista, where stands offer typical Chilean foods and music and dance are performed throughout the day and especially at night. In the Valle de Elqui, this meant eating lots of churrascas; in southern Chile, this meant empanadas and German-inspired kuchen and pastries. All in all, it was a perfect place to eat lunch before continuing on our way.

Boat Ride to Corral

On the Boat to Corral, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile
On the Boat to Corral, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile

After appreciating Niebla’s small-town charms (basically, a southern counterpart to my life in northern Chile’s desert mountains), we continued our journey to Corral, where the goal was to see one of these old Spanish forts. We took another bus to the passenger ferry dock in Niebla, and within a few moments we were on board.

On the Boat to Corral, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile
On the Boat to Corral, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile

Naturally, if you’re not a frequent boat passenger, you want to head to the front of the boat where you can really experience the feeling of flying through the water, waves rippling out all around you.

On the Boat to Corral, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile
On the Boat to Corral, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile

We were lucky enough to be joined by this adorable fellow tourist and her family, who found the trio of foreigners (US, Australia, and Brazil) quite fascinating. 🙂

Corral

Views of the Fort on Corral, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile
Old Spanish Fort, Corral, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile

After a quick stop on nearby Isla Mancera, we reached Corral, where we were able to get even more perspective on the very typically Valdivian landscape (that’s why they call it Valdivian rainforest, right?).

Views of the Fort on Corral, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile
Old Spanish Fort, Corral, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile

We walked up the steep hills to Corral’s fort, which is run by the regional government so was not on strike. We were free to wander around the grounds, looking out over the old cannons and trying to imagine what life would have been like for these Spanish colonists all those centuries ago.

Views of the Fort on Corral, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile
Old Spanish Fort, Corral, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile

Lucky for us, we didn’t have to imagine too much; in the summer, the fort hosts daily reenactments of a major episode in Valdivia’s history, a conflict where Chile defeats Spain (Chilean military nationalism is a big part of the nation’s story, as I saw in Arica as well!). I enjoyed the hard work of the actors, so if the timing is right on your visit, I would suggest you try to catch it.

Views of the Fort on Corral, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile
Old Spanish Fort, Corral, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile

Besides that, there is not much to do in Corral besides appreciate the views from the fort. So I’m going to let the next few photos speak for themselves.

Views of the Fort on Corral, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile

Views of the Fort on Corral, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile

Views from Corral, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile
Old Spanish Fort, Corral, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile

While we were waiting for the reenactment, we wandered a little further up the hillside, where we spotted these views of the recently restored plaza. (You can see the passenger ferry dock on the left side.)

And that’s about it for Corral! After an enjoyable tour of Castillo de San Sebastián de la Cruz (the official name of the fort), we had some ice cream and took a ferry back to Niebla. All in all, visiting Niebla and Corral was a perfect way to get another perspective on these small towns that had a significant role in the cultural, political, and military history of the Los Ríos region.

Recommendations for Niebla and Corral, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile:

  • Buses to Niebla leave from the center of Valdivia on Ruta 20 – you can see the number or a sign with “Niebla” in the window of the bus. You can also flag down these buses at other bus stops; ask a local for the nearest stop. These buses also go to Isla Teja and pass by Cervecería Kunstmann. If you are ambitious and leave early enough, you can try to visit all these places on the same day. The Valdivia/Niebla trip costs $600 CLP each way and local stops are around $400CLP.
  • Make sure to ask for directions to Niebla’s beach; this gives you a chance to experience both the cliff-side views and get down into the water if you’d like.
  • Niebla’s Feria Costumbrista seems to be open year-round, so it’s a good place to eat a quick, inexpensive lunch of traditional Chilean meals, particularly empanadas. I saw a stand with vegetarian papa rellena (filled potatoes) but we were there too early in the day to get them.
  • Ferries to Corral leave from Niebla’s passenger dock regularly and cost $800 CLP per person each way. Life preservers are provided. Some of the ferries stop at nearby Isla Mancera, which is another possible destination if you’re interested in seeing all the forts in the area.
  • Niebla’s fort museum is part of Chile’s national DIBAM network and has free entry. But this also means it is affected by strikes of state employees, just FYI!
  • Corral’s fort is run by the regional government and costs $1500 CLP to enter (as of January 2016). This includes the reenactment of a conflict between Spain and Chile every afternoon (at least during the summer) and you can leave to have lunch and walk around and come back as long as you still have your ticket.
  • Besides visiting the city of Valdivia and Isla Teja, there are other ways to experience the gorgeous landscape of the rivers region: you can head to Parque Oncol, just 30 kilometers from Valdivia as well as the beautiful beaches and reserve in Curiñanco. I had to head to Santiago for work so didn’t get a chance to visit, but they came highly recommended by a local Chilean friend as well as fellow travelers, so I’d make time to go if you can. They are also accessible by bus.
[Niebla and Corral, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile: January 6, 2016]

Valdivia, Chile- Wandering the Riverside Towns and Old Spanish Forts in Niebla and Corral

Valdivia, Chile: Appreciating the Riverside Views, Forests and University Culture of This Unique City and Nearby Isla Teja

Views over the River, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile
Views over the River, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile

As my travels around southern Chile over Christmas and the New Year came to a close, I decided I wanted to squeeze in one last stop: Valdivia.

Although Valdivia is only a few hours from the nearby Araucanía and Los Lagos regions, the city is sometimes skipped by travelers, as it requires detouring away from the Panamerican Highway towards the ocean. In my opinion, it is well worth a visit in order to expand your understanding of this important city and its role in Chile’s history.

Views over the River, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile
Views over the River, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile

Today, Valdivia is home to one of Chile’s most important universities, the Universidad Austral de Chile, so it maintains a college town vibe. With strong German influence, artisanal breweries abound in the surrounding region and are some of the area’s biggest draws for tourism. Many of the hillsides of nearby towns house ruins of old Spanish forts.

On top of that, Valdivia’s ecology is unique; it is surrounded by rivers and the temperate Valdivian rainforest, which I’d first seen at the Ojos de Caburga near Pucón as well as in the Parque Nacional Chiloé. Finally, it is the site of the infamous 1960 earthquake that leveled the city and caused tsunamis that wreaked destruction throughout Chile.

Views over the River, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile

Views of the River, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile

Today, Valdivia is a modern Chilean city, and most of the downtown areas echo the development of other cities in Chile. To experience Valdivia’s riverside character, you have to be sure to take a boat ride, either from the docks next to the market area or by visiting nearby towns Niebla and Corral (subject of my next post!). Before these bridges were built, boats were the primary form of transportation around the different towns along the river!

Plaza, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile
Main Plaza, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile

When I visited Valdivia, I made sure to check out the main plaza and commercial district, as well as Esmerelda, home to many popular restaurants and bars, but I actually spent most of my time exploring the islands outside the city.

Mercado

Open Market, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile
Open Market, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile

I was excited to head out early in the morning to check out the open market located right next to the river. Southern Chile has amazing fruit and vegetables, especially the berries in season during my visit in early January! I ended up buying delicious little plums, perfect for an afternoon’s wandering.

Mercado, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile
Open Market, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile

There are many stands selling just about any type of produce you can work, and you can also buy herbs like the ever-popular merken, smoked chile pepper produced by the Mapuche around nearby Temuco.

Artisan Market in Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile
Artisan Market, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile

Next to the outdoor market, you can find a building housing several floors of artisan wares, most of them built from local wood from the booming forestry industry. I also managed to find a store selling several different types of artisanal beer, a good stop for anyone who doesn’t have time to travel to the breweries on the outskirts of Valdivia.

Universidad Austral de Chile & Isla Teja

Isla Teja, Universidad Austral de Chile, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile
Isla Teja, Universidad Austral de Chile, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile

After the markets, I walked across the bridge to Isla Teja. In the olden days, Isla Teja used to be separated from central Valdivia by the river, so its German-descendant inhabitants tended to speak more German than Spanish. Today, Isla Teja is connected to downtown Valdivia and you can walk, drive, or take a local bus.

Isla Teja, Universidad Austral de Chile, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile
Isla Teja, Universidad Austral de Chile, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile

My first top on Isla Teja was the Universidad Austral de Chile, one of the largest universities in the country. As you can see above, the entrance is lined by majestic trees leading you towards the campus.

Isla Teja, Universidad Austral de Chile, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile
Isla Teja, Universidad Austral de Chile, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile

This university reminded me a lot of the college campuses in the US, with expanses of green lawn for students to sprawl on during the school year. I enjoyed wandering through the campus looking for the entrance to the Universidad Austral de Chile’s botanical gardens.

Botanical Gardens on Isla Teja

Isla Teja, Universidad Austral de Chile, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile
Botanical Gardens, Universidad Austral de Chile, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile

As it turns out, I wandered into the botanical gardens through one of the side entrances used by students and professors who duck into the botanical gardens for a quick stroll or as a shortcut around the campus.

Isla Teja, Universidad Austral de Chile, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile
Botanical Gardens, Universidad Austral de Chile, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile

Wandering through the shaded forest lined with all kinds of species of trees, I was reminded of the forest paths in New England, where I’m from. It’s easy to spend a couple of hours wandering around, enjoying being in nature.

Isla Teja, Universidad Austral de Chile, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile
Botanical Gardens, Universidad Austral de Chile, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile

For those interested in learning more about the species that make up the botanical gardens, there are several trees and sections of trees labeled with signs, but I was more interested in enjoying the shade on such a hot summer day.

Isla Teja, Universidad Austral de Chile, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile
Botanical Gardens, Universidad Austral de Chile, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile

Isla Teja, Universidad Austral de Chile, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile
Botanical Gardens, Universidad Austral de Chile, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile

I spent a little while reading underneath the trees, avoiding the heat of midday, and then I continued on foot to my next destination on Isla Teja, the nearby museums. As it turns out, the Museo de Arte Contemporaneo was closed during my visit, so I headed to the anthropology museum, Museo Maurice van de Maele.

Museo Maurice van de Maele

Museo Histórico y Antropológico Maurice van de Maele, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile
Museo Histórico y Antropológico Maurice van de Maele, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile

Since I had read about Valdivia’s unique heritage, I was curious to check out the Museo Histórico y Antropológico Maurice van de Maele, a small but comprehensive museum located in a historic building across the river from downtown Valdivia.

Isla Teja, Universidad Austral de Chile, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile
Museo Histórico y Antropológico Maurice van de Maele, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile

As you can see, it has great views, and the property has several remnants of an earlier time, including old carriage cars.

Museo Histórico y Antropológico Maurice van de Maele, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile
Museo Histórico y Antropológico Maurice van de Maele, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile

The first floor of the museum has several exhibits explaining the history of the region and the German settlers in this area, including period pieces like those you see in the photo above. The second floor houses an exhibit dedicated to the Mapuche, including their famous silver jewelry, as well as a gallery of old maps. I felt this was the perfect size for a museum – enough to give you background on Valdivia but not overwhelming.

Airesbuenos Hostel

Airesbuenos Hostel, Valdivia, Chile
Sunny Dining Room, Airesbuenos Hostel

One of the highlights of my stay in Valdivia was the Airesbuenos Hostel, a hostel that really embraces the spirit of hostels, that of community, sustainable living and travel, and sharing resources. In the commercial district of Valdivia, the hostel is like an oasis, with a green backyard filled with edible plants, an herb garden located on the patio, and open kitchen on the patio, and welcoming rooms inside.

Airesbuenos Hostel, Valdivia, Chile
Outdoor Patio and Herbs, Airesbuenos Hostel

I particularly liked the breakfast nook, and the fact that they offered loose leaf tea along with their homemade granola served every morning.

Friends at the Airesbuenos Hostel, Valdivia, Chile
Travel Buddies, Airesbuenos Hostel

On top of that, on my first night in the hostel, I randomly fell into what became a deep, personal, and transformative conversation with the two lovely ladies pictured above. Even though I enjoyed my trip to Valdivia, the spirit of sharing I felt among the guests reenergized me to pay attention to my intuition as I puzzled out my next steps for life after working in Chile, and made the detour totally worth it.

La Última Frontera

Lunch and Beer at La Ultima Frontera, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile
Vegetarian Sandwich at La Última Frontera, Valdivia

On the recommendation of one of my former students from Valdivia, I headed to the well-known café, restaurant, and bar, La Última Frontera. La Última Frontera is one of those quintessential places catering to the college student crowd, while welcoming people of all ages, including foreign tourists who want to check out its unique menu and quirky decor. I went for one of the giant vegetarian sandwiches – the term can be used loosely for filling barely contained by bread!

Lunch and Beer at La Ultima Frontera, Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile
Quirky Art All Around, La Última Frontera, Valdivia

Lunch and Beer at La Ultima Frontera, Valdivia, Los Ríos, ChileAlthough they have ample seating space outside on the patio, I decided to escape the sun for a little while and enjoy a table inside in this quiet nook in the back. The walls were decorated with interesting photos showing the vibe of the place, and even the bathroom was covered in quirky memorabilia. The front room of the restaurant is different, with walls made of dark German wood, giving more of a brewhouse ambiance.

Because La Última Frontera is so welcoming, I saw people having meals, doing work over a couple of beers, and hanging out with their families in the fresh air. I decided to order a local beer even though I’m not a beer drinker and enjoy it slowly, reading my latest book. It was a perfect way to spend my last afternoon in Valdivia and I’m thankful for the recommendation.

 

Street Art in Valdivia

Graffiti, Valdivia, Chile
Graffiti on Isla Teja, Valdivia, Chile

AStreet Art in Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chilelthough Valdivia is a college town, I didn’t actually see much mural art around the streets of Valdivia. I spotted this crazy mushroom on plywood in an abandoned lot on Isla Teja and couldn’t resist taking a picture.

To the right is a mural honoring the Mapuche culture of southern Chile. This was surprising to me as Valdivia has stronger ties to its German and Spanish heritage; nearby Temuco and Villarica are where the Mapuche tend to live. That said, I thought this was a beautiful mural and a nice tribute.

Recommendations for Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile:

  • Valdivia is easily accessible from other destination in southern Chile. From Santiago, you can take TurBus; if you’re coming from Chiloé, Cruz del Sur buses also head to Valdivia. You may also make connections from Temuco, Pucón, and Villarica, or transfer to a bus heading to Valdivia in Osorno.
  • Make sure to check out the outdoor market located right on the river near downtown Valdivia. There is also an artisan market nearby, and boat tours are constantly being sold right there from the dock.
  • Be sure to give yourself time to visit Isla Teja, where you can find the Universidad Austral de Chile, its botanical gardens, and the Museo Histórico y Antropológico Maurice van de Maele. The botanical gardens are free, although you may have to pay for parking, and the museum entry cost $1500 CLP in January 2016.
  • As mentioned above, I highly recommend staying at Airesbuenos Hostel at García Reyes 550, walkable from the bus station, and eating at La Última Frontera at Vicente Pérez Rosales 787. Because Valdivia has such a cool café culture, there are plenty of other neat cafés lining the streets around the main plaza.
  • Buses to Isla Teja leave frequently from the center of town – ask at the hostel and they’ll mark the stop on the map. You want the buses heading to Niebla. Buses continue on past the Kunstmann beer brewery in Torobayo, another popular destination, as well as Corral and Niebla, islands famous for their Spanish forts and beautiful beaches and views.
  • If you’re just going to Isla Teja, you can easily walk across the bridge – I walked to and from the botanical gardens and museum on foot.
  • Even if you’re not a beer drinker like me, make sure to at least try one of the brews from the region. It’s a big part of the culture and a neat experience, different from the way people drink in the rest of Chile.
  • Besides visiting Valdivia, Isla Teja, and nearby Niebla and Corral, there are other ways to experience the gorgeous landscape of the rivers region: you can head to Parque Oncol, just 30 kilometers from Valdivia as well as the beautiful beaches and reserve in Curiñanco. I had to head to Santiago for work so didn’t get a chance to visit, but they came highly recommended by a local Chilean friend as well as fellow travelers, so I’d make time to go if you can. They are also accessible by bus.
[Valdivia, Los Ríos, Chile: January 5-7, 2016]

Valdivia, Chile- Appreciating the Riverside Views, Forests and University Culture of This Unique City and Nearby Isla Teja