The Beauty of a Spontaneous Trip to Valdivia, Chile


Valdivia is a beautiful city in Chile’s North Patagonia that nobody has mentioned a word about. It does not have many foreign tourists, and locals keep this place secret in their heart. However, after looking at the map and the pictures, I knew this was a place I wanted to visit. From my travel experience, if there is a place that piques your interest and nobody talks about it, going there can give you the best adventure.

The beauty of a spontaneous trip to Valdivia, a place I don’t know much about is that I did not rely on a guidebook or follow suit, purchasing expensive tickets to overhyped attractions. And this leads to the second beauty of a spontaneous trip, which is that I had no expectations. I arrived in Valdivia knowing nothing, and that opened me up to new sights and joy I seldom found while walking the streets in rainy Vancouver, or sitting on the bus traversing through the Atacama Desert in Peru.

Valdivia, Chile

Afternoon boat trip with Reina Sofia

Within an hour after arriving, I walked to the box office asking for a boat tour and chose to start my Valdivia trip with a five-hour excursion with Reina Sophia. The captain of Reina Sophia was talking to an Indian traveler in front of me. We would pay $18,000 pesos for the trip but the Captain found that we were the only two foreigners on the cruise, so he offered us a discount.

As the only two foreign travelers on the boat, the India traveler and I started talking and became friends fast. Lunch was included in the tour so we enjoyed a scrumptious plate of salmon, bread, pisco sour and ice cream, while looking at the impressive view of mountain ranges, forests, and rivers passing by. The boat docked twice – on Corral and Isla Mancera. A cruise ship worker guided us into two fort systems where he introduced us to historical facts about the place.

Valdivia, Chile

View from our cruise Reina Sophia, Valdivia, Chile

The main fort on Corral is located on the Corral Bay and it belongs to the largest fortification system in South America. It has a long battery against the sea and it controls entry to the Valdivia River so the European enemies have never attacked this place. It has a collection of old cannons and I could imagine what a soldier’s life looked like back in the 18th century.

Valdivia, Chile

Empty and quaint street of Corral, Patagonia

A few minutes’ boat ride after Corral, we arrived at Isla Mancera to see another fort that had its own living quarters and chapel. There were paths leading to the beach and no one was on them. On the right side of the fortress, the charming landscape made me feel as if I was in Switzerland. The emerald mountains met the wild stretch of deep blue ocean and the trees displayed warm colors under the blue sky. I sat down on the green space next to the fort, enjoyed the sea and mountain view on my first afternoon in Patagonia.

Valdivia, Chile

Main fort in Isla Mancera.

Valdivia, Chile

View of N. Patagonia from the main fort

We walked up the only street in Isla Mancera. The island was quiet and peaceful and we did not see any inhabitants.

A day trip to a secluded beach in Curinanco

Curinanco is a small coastal community in the Los Rios region, and a road trip to Curinanco led me to another pleasant discovery of the secluded Curinanco beach.

It was a sunny afternoon as the bus deposited me on a random street in Curinanco looking over the ocean. There are only 274 inhabitants in Curinanco. There are few properties spread out on both sides of the street but locals were nowhere to be found. I found a path to the beach, and walked down there.

Valdivia, Chile

The beach was wild and remote, as was evident by the only existence of three fishermen and me. One of them set up the flying pole on the beach in hope of corvina. I said hi and he said hi back. We hung out on the beach for a few hours, dug into the warm sand to find some bait for his fishing pole, and talked about the culture and geography of Curinanco.

Later on, I walked further to face the promontory and soak up natural Vitamin D from the sun. I took in the waves crashing on the shore and appreciated the greenish mountain range meeting the rugged coastline, and the colorful houses dotting the foothills, and the water flashed the white off the rocks. As I stared at this dream seascape ahead, I felt happy to discover Curinanco, a hidden gem in Patagonia that reconnected me with natural beauty and sent me away from the stress of daily life.

Valdivia, Chile

A hidden beach in Curinanco

Visiting Niebla Fort

I found myself get off the bus in front of an old Spanish Niebla Fort. The fort was built in 1671 by exiles and it is the largest stronghold in the city of Niebla. The fort has a strategic position to defend attacks from European enemies and pirates. There is a museum in an old storehouse featuring the history of the region in the pre-Colombian era. A large part of the exhibition of the museum showcases in visual elements, which makes visitors easily learn about the facts and imagine what life was like in pre-Hispanic times.

Valdivia, Chile

Niebla Fort, Chile

The other end of the storehouse provides a wonderful view of Niebla where deep blue waters and emerald forest meet, the country road lined with colorful houses, and Isla Mancera was on the other side of the ocean.  Two mid-age women were standing beside me in silence and we could not take our eyes off this enchanted place.

Valdivia. Chile

View of Niebla and its surroundings from the storehouse .

Hit the Los Molinos Beach

In Los Molinos, you can walk to the deck knowing that the economy of this region largely relies on tourism and fishing industry. It was 5 pm when I walked on a beach dotted with dozens of colorful fishing boats. A boat just returned with tons of huge fish and sea clams to be loaded and ready for a sale to the local market. After the fisherman emptied the boat, they sailed away again under the late afternoon sun to capture more sea creatures.

Valdivia, Chile

Los Molinos Beach

Los Molinos has a few restaurants where you can savor seafood dishes while appreciating the view of the beach with colorful houses and boats. I was welcomed by two restaurant owners at the place where I got dropped off the bus. After talking with them. I chose to come at Igor restaurant and ordered salmon with fried eggs, vegetables, and fries. The food was not the best, and the salmon was salty, but the great view of the ocean and the chill vibe relaxed me and made me want to stay longer. Even if you pack your own lunch, it is worth it to walk around the beach and check out two local markets for seafood.

Valdivia, Chile

Los Molinos Beach

Valdivia River walk

My favorite part of Valdivia is the river walk on Valdivia River. In the late afternoon, there are locals paddling on the river and seals barking at a high pitch. It is a wonderful place to watch the seals and people, and breathe in the fresh air of Patagonia with mountains in sight and water within my arm’s reach. For an authentic Valdivia experience, you can visit Valdivia riverside market. There are fresh vegetables. Corvina, sea clams, and mussels captured in the sea on the same day and ready to sell. Perhaps you can purchase some seafood and cook them and pair them with Chilean wine at the dinner table.

Valdivia, Chile

Watch the seals sleeping and playing on the Valdivia River

One more day in Valdivia, Chile

I decided to extend my stay for another day, another day in Valdivia, perhaps doing nothing but enjoying the spontaneity this trip leads, and the natural beauty this place brings. In the past few days, I have seen several places in Valdivia I never thought of visiting before, and they are charming, quiet, and beautiful.

Valdivia, Chile

I could have skipped Valdivia, and go to Puerto Montt directly from Santiago. It is convenient and fast to travel this way, and probably cheaper, but I would have missed these beautiful days and beautiful places entirely. I don’t know if I will visit Valdivia again, but I am sure that Valdivia will stay in my heart, and I will relish in the joy of discovering this charming city in North Patagonia.

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I did a spontaneous trip to Valdivia, Chile, a city nobody has mentioned a word about. After I spent a few days there, I got to know and fall in love with this place.

The Beauty of a Spontaneous Trip to Valdivia


Julie Cao

Julie is the creator of Always On The Way. She lived in Hawaii and now resides in London (Ontario, Canada). In 2017, she went on an overland trip from Bogota Colombia to Puerto Williams, the southernmost city in the world. She believes travel is not only about visiting tourist attractions but more about getting to know the culture, people, and the place.

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