Chile Things to Do Tips by TheWanderingCamel Top 5 Page for this destination
Chile Things to Do: 371 reviews and 743 photos
Waiting for lunch
The star attraction of Valdivia's fish market are undoubtedly the monster sealions that wait patiently for the scraps of fish that come their way all day as the vendors clean and trim their way through the piles of fish and seafood on their stalls. Lined up behind the stall, each with their own station, the sealions just sit and wait, and rarely miss a single piece that comes their way as the men at work fling the scraps behind them into the river.
You'll see more weird and wonderful varieties of the sea's bounty here than just about anywhere. If it lives in the sea, Chileans will find some way to use it. Fish, shellfish, crustaceans, kelp, lots of it quite unidentifiable, some of it, it has to be said, to the uninitiated - most unappetising - it's all here. The mountains of mussels, clams and crabs, gleaming fresh fish straight from the sea all looked wonderful to this seafood lover. Slimy sick-green tubes of ulte were another thing entirely. What do they do with that?!!!
There are also stalls here selling all sorts of other fresh produce - fruit and vegetables flowers, cheeses, etc. Across the road there's a covered market where you'll find handicrafts along with the usual run of market stalls and cheap eats.
Directions: Mercado Fluvial (Riverside Market) is just by the bridge that takes the road out of town towards the coast. You can't miss it.
The modern buildings and wide streets of Valdivia may not make this the most picturesque of cities, but for all that Valdivia's an attractive town. Your firststop is almost certain to be the Mercado Fluvial, down by the river - a lively and colourful scene with fish stalls on the river side and piles of fresh produce on the other, lit ny a rosy glow from the red and yellow awnings that protect the buyers and sellers alike from the sun - and the rain that's all to often falling here.
Always of strategic importance, the town was, for the few hundred years of its existance, a major link in Chile's defences of its southern possessions - a military outpost on the edge of the country. Early 20th century immigration from Europe saw large numbers of Germans settle here in the wake of the "Pacification" of the Mapuche - ie their land was taken from them and they were removed to reservations, opening the way for the development of industry and European-style agriculture. A stroll around the town will reveal the few buildings from this time that survived the tsunami that wreaked so much havoc along this seaboard in 1960.
Before you leave, make sure you pay a visit to Valdivia's best chocolate shop - Chocolateria Entre Lagos with its elegant Salon de The, yummy cakes and cookies and delicious hand-made chocolates. I'll be surprised if you don't ome out with more than a few goodies to take back to you hotel for onces.
Directions: Chocolateria Entre Lagos - Vincente Perez Rosales 622
Although the rain and mist that are so prevalent in Chile's Lake District weren't around whilst we were there, it was very overcast most of the time. We were lucky enough to get a perfect view of the volcano on the evening we arrived but after that it was pretty much hidden by clouds. That wasn't enough to stop us venturing up the mountainside though without any intention of going much further than the road could take us. 4000 feet up and very early in the morning, we stepped out of the car into a frosty world of snow and icy, slippery mud ... not our sort of walking weather at all.
The volcano is a designated National Park with an entrance fee of CH$2000. The road up to the ski centre - that's as far as it goes - takes you up the northern face of the volcano, through thick forest until you reach the upper slopes of bleak lava and snow. You'll pass through the park entrance halfway up to the skiing centre, it's about 12 km total from Pucon. The skilift and cafe are only open in winter - no chance of a cup of coffee for us on this chilly morning visit.
From here it's a four hour hike up to the crater, one that requires ropes, boots, crampons and a gas mask (the volcano is active and gives off poisonous gases). This is all equipment that will be provided if you take an organized trek. Only 4 climbers per day are given permission to make a solo trek, everyone else must go with a guide.
An icy wind, thick cloud obscuring almost all the view, and no chance of even a bad cup of coffee .... we didn't hang around. But, we can say we've stood on the slopes a live volcano.
Driving or hiking the back roads -ripios in Chile can be a real pleasure. With only a few days at our disposal we still managed to get off the highway quite a bit and found ourselves in beautiful countryside, with wonderful views and vistas around just about every corner. Following the Rio Bio Bio valley out of Concepcion and back to the Pan American Highway was a winding drive that took us though small villages and wooded farmland, with the river nearly always in our sight. Further south the landscape became even more beautiful, with the Andes running parallel to the highway, the roadside brilliant with the gold of broom and the flaming scarlet of notro - Chilean fire tree. Mountains and lakes, deep forests and green fields - it just kept getting better, and as we ventured further south and took to even smaller roads, emptier and empter until we felt we had the whole place to ourselves.
Roads were often unsurfaced and they could be rough and stony in places, so there was a need to be careful, you wouldn't want to get a puncture or damage a tyre out here on your own.
As well as a road map we bought in Santiago, we used local maps we got from Sernatur - the Chilean tourism agency - and found them very useful as they covered a fairly small area and gave lots of local information.
With just five days and a hire car at our disposal to spend seeing something of Chile, we knew we had to strike a balance between seeing and doing as much as we could and having time to enjoy ourselves. This was a holiday after all. Coming from Australia, long distances didn't faze us but we had no idea of what the road conditions or traffic would be like and only the vaguest idea of what we would find as we headed south.
We decided that if we spent our first night in Chillan (400km), then make our way to Villarica(350km) for two nights, we'd have a full day to explore the countryside between Villarica and Valdivia (120 km from Villarica) before we headed north again. Where we'd spend our last night was a decision to be made later, once we'd had some idea of what the region offered. As it happened, we returned to Chillan - we'd liked the hotel and its restaurant and we'd arrived too late in the day for the markets and museums we'd discovered were there on our first stopover.
Along the way we stopped in Curico and Temuco, made a detour out to the coast to the naval base at Talchuano near Concepcion, ambled along the banks of the Rio Bio Bio, visited the waterfalls at Salto del Laja, stopped for coffees (bad) and lunches (good) at wayside restaurants and bars, bought cherries and apricots from roadside sellers, talked to schoolgirls and sailors. We took photo after photo of the mountains and volcanoes, black-necked swans and emus, fishing boats and fire trees as we made our way along the highway and the ripios - and we fell in love with Chile.
The point of all this rambling on is that, whilst you could take months to explore Chile's wonderful landscapes, you can do a lot in a few days without feeling rushed. All you need is a good map. The hardest bit is making up your mind - you will be so spoiled for choice, there are just so many beautiful places to see.
Directions: We picked up excellent large scale touring maps free from the Sernatur offices in Chillan and Valdivia. In Chillan the office is behind the Post Office on the north side of Plaza O'Higgins, in Valdivia it was on the riverside terrace near the market.
That's the literal translation of Valparaiso - va al paraiso - to go to Paradise. That may be taking things a bit far but there can be no denying that the old port city possesses enormous charm and character.
An hour and a half by bus from Santiago, Valparaiso is as different from the capital as you could possibly imagine. Built on steep hills around a wide and beautiful bay, this is Chiles’s second city and her most important port. Before the transcontinental railway opened up a short route from the Atlantic to the Pacific coast of the United States, and then the Panama Canal made the long sea route around Cape Horn unnecessary, Valaparaiso was a hugely important port and her safe harbour must have been a welcome sight indeed to those who had made the long journey right around the bottom of South America. The city expanded and grew rich during the Californian Gold Rush but a huge earthquake in 1906, followed shortly by the opening of the Panama Canal, dealt it a massive blow and it is only recently that the post World War 2 minerals' boom and industrialization have seen the city begin to thrive again.
Home to the Chilean navy , whose beautiful sail training ship the ‘Esmeralda” is often in port, the city has all the atmosphere and raffishness that make port cities so attractive. The city commercial centre, known as El Plan, is squeezed out along a narrow strip around the bay and then the hills rise steeply in series of terraces connected by steps and little funiculars. If you catch the bus from Santiago you will alight at Plaza O’Higgins. From here you can walk around to Plaza Sotomayor where you’ll find the handsome grey and white navy headquarters building. and the monument to Chile’s naval heroes. A walk across the square will bring you down to the waterside where colourful pleasure boats bob up and down waiting for someone to charter them for a cruise around the harbour.
Salto del Lajas
25 kilometres north of Los Angeles, the Pan American Highway crosses the Rio Laja. A short detour off the highway here will bring you to Saltos del Laja - Chile's biggest waterfalls. Not that they rival Iguazu or the Angel Falls, but thay are quite impressive and worth the small detour. The Rio Laja drops 55 metres here in two large horse-shoe curves and channels into a narrow gorge with some force before it makes its way on to join the Rio Bio Bio on its way to the sea. Walking around the area you can see clearly where floods have carried away the old walkways, giving you some idea of the force of the water that comes through here.
There's plenty of parking in the shade on a weekday, weekends are almost certainly a lot busier. It's a pleasant spot to stop , maybe have some lunch at the Hosteria de Salto restaurant ( a big crisp salad with palm hearts and avocado and a cold beer was our choice there) with its views of the falls - there are more restaurants across the road.
Should you want to stay, the hotel looks nice - rooms all have views of the falls and there are acres of parkland and swimming holes in the river. There's also a campsite.
Villarrica's morning milk round.
There are two towns to stay in by Lago Villaricca. Pucon is most people's destination but we opted for smaller Villaricca. It was a good choice - not only did we find an excellent place to stay - the Hosteria de la Colinas - but we liked the town itself for its far less touristy atmosphere. This is just a small town going about its everyday business, though there is a museum with some good displays of Mapuche silver and some wonderful masks, and we'll always take a look at a cathedral. The supermarket right in the town centre has a good selection of wine, the lakeside walk is pleasant, there's a couple of shops selling local crafts and that's about it.
It's the country side around Villaricca that's the main attraction - the lake, forests and thermal springs and the chance to see an active volcano bring thousands of tourist here each year. Pucon is 25km up the road for those who are looking for somewhere with more tourist amenities and activities.
Quiet reed beds on Isla Teja
Valdivia is situated at the point where the Rio Calle Calle and the Rio Cruces join and take on the name Rio Valdivia as they run to the sea. Cross over the bridge at this point and you are on the area known as Isla Teja. From here it's 18 km up the estuary to the mouth of the river, a lovely, gentle landscape of river and reedbed ( I love those South American reed beds - there's something so serene about them) that becomes more dramatic as you approach the mouth of the river on the Niebla side where the land rises to some height. Patagonia's unique black-necked swans and bright-painted fishing boats add colour and life to the scene.
This is holiday territory and restaurants, large and small, are to be found along the way. Local brewers, Kunstmann's restaurant has a beer museum and serves good German-style food along with their excellent beer.
Once you reach the river mouth at Niebla there's a a ferry that makes the half-hour trip across the estuary to the village of Corral where there is another fort of the same vintage of the one at Niebla.
Torreon de Barro
Much of Valdivia's colonial past disappeared under the waters of the tsunami that engulfed the town after the earthquake of 1960. This was just the most recent disaster in a string of earthquakes, floods and fires that have swept through and over the town since it was founded in the mid-1500s by Pedro de Valdivia.
The area's strategic importance to Spanish interests saw a string of forts and watch towers being built both along the river and on the coast, some of which still survive. There are two 18th century towers still standing in the town but it's the fort out at Niebla which is really impressive, and not just for its full name - Castillo de la Pura y Limpia Concepcion de Monfort de Lemus !! Unfortunately, the government workers who supervise the fort were on strike the day we went there, so access wasn't possible - all we could do was admire the massive walls from the outside and speculate on the spectacular views we knew were to be had from the seaward ramparts.
The same strike meant the Historical Museum on Isla Teja - across the bridge from the market and town centre - was closed too. That was a disappointment as the museum is housed in a grand old house that still retains much of its 19th century ambience and furnishings , along with a good collection of Mapuche silver jewellery and other artifacts, maps and old photos.
Directions: Fuerte de Niebla is 18km from towm. Open (when they're not on strike!) April-Oct 10-5.30, Nov-Mar 10-7. Closed Mondays
The museum keeps similar hours but is closed for lunch from 1-2
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