839km (520 miles) S of Santiago; 145km (90 miles) SW of Pucón
Valdivia is a university town on the waterfront of a winding delta, and it often receives mixed reviews from visitors. If you are not planning to visit the coast near Santiago and you are in Pucón for several days, consider a quick visit here or an overnight stay. There are regal homes built by German immigrants and a vibrant market on the water's edge, but it is as though every building from every decade from every architectural style were thrown in a bag, shaken up, and randomly scattered about the city -- like in every Chilean city except La Serena. To top it off, a massive glass high-rise hotel and casino called the Del Pacifico, which looks like something out of Dubai, is being constructed right downtown and should be ready by late 2009; visit www.delpacifico.cl for info.
Valdivia does have more charm than Temuco and Puerto Montt, however, and there are many activities for kids here. The city is energetic, full of life, and very tenacious. Valdivia has suffered attacks, floods, fires, and the disastrous earthquake of 1960 that nearly drowned the city under 3m (9 3/4 ft.) of water (the strongest earthquake ever recorded). During World War II, Valdivia's German colonists were blacklisted, ruining the economy. So if Valdivia looks a little weary, well, it's understandable. There are tours here to visit the tiny towns and ancient forts at the mouth of the bay that protected the city from seafaring intruders. The market, where fishmongers peddle their catch of the day, and pelicans, cormorants, and fat sea lions wait for scraps, is a delight, and there are several good restaurants, opportunities to boat around the city's delta, and some of the best museums and galleries in Chile here, too.
Valdivia, with about 130,000 residents, is divided by a series of narrow rivers, notably the Río Valdivia and the Río Calle Calle, that wrap around the city's downtown area. These rivers have produced some of the world's top rowing athletes, and many mornings you can see spidery figures plying the glassy water. Across the Río Valdivia is the Isla Teja, a residential area that's home to the Universidad Austral de Chile. It is common to see students pedaling around town.