This Los Rios town of 100,000 people is the first one on our list because of its excellent location, friendly people, fresh food, and a diverse culture. Below are just some of the highlights of Valdivia as a town to live in.
Mercado de Fluvial, Calle Calle River, and Sea Lions
These three things are some of the most prominent parts of Valdivia that give it the life and energy that make it such an interesting town. At the Mercado de Fluvial you can find vendor after vendor of freshly grown vegetables, fresh caught fish and shellfish, different kinds of bread, eggs, plants, specialty foods, artwork, and other various items that change seasonally.
Since the market is located on the bank of the Calle-Calle river, you can watch sea lions waiting patiently for scraps from the fisherman who are cleaning fish. This is quite amazing as you can safely stand within ten feet or less from the sea lions and aquatic birds.
All of the vendors at the market are individual sellers, which is a huge breath of fresh air from the coast to coast shopping malls filled with franchises in the United States. Although it is centered around tourism, locals still frequently shop at the market, making it a truly unique experience. The Mercado de Fluvial is held every day of the week and the sea lions are around all day long.
Along the Calle-Calle river there is a long, beautiful sidewalk that follows the river. It is lined with clean grassy areas, trees, and benches where you can sit and watch the sea lions or people kayaking. On a warm, sunny day you will find many locals lying in the grass, flying kites, or taking a walk along the river.
Accepting of Americans
Although we have found most places in Chile to be accepting of Americans, people in Valdivia and Corral have been beyond friendly and accepting. Within just a few months of being in the area we had what seemed to be half the town of Corral honking and waving at us when we went to town. Whenever we shop at our usual stores in Valdivia, we have conversations with all the store employees and they are always beyond helpful. This is a drastic change from living in United States where if you said just a simple “hello” to store employee they would immediately become suspicious of you.
Also, we have found people in Valdivia to be very honest and have only been “gringo priced” a few times.
Independent Stores and Restaurants
Although this applies to most of Chile, except Santiago and other large cities, Valdivia is mostly run by independent stores and restaurants and very few franchises. The main chain franchises in Valdivia are Sodimac, Falabella, Hiper Lider, and Mcdonalds. Most all of the other stores and restaurants are independently owned and when you visit the businesses you will most likely be tended to by the owner.
Many of the products sold at the independent stores are made in Chile or another country besides China and the products are far superior to those from franchises like Sodimac or Falabella.
Customer service from the independent businesses is always high quality and they will go out of their way to make sure you get what you need. For example, if you are at a restaurant and they don’t have the type of drink you want, then an employee will run down to the nearest store and purchase it for you. I don’t ever recall customer service in any store or restaurant in the U.S coming close to what we have experienced here.
Even though Valdivia is a town of over 100,000 people, the town is easily navigable by bus, taxi, walking, or your own car. Many stores and governments offices are centrally located within walking distance of the city square. Although if you prefer not to walk, then Valdivia has an extensive bus system and an endless number of taxis throughout the city.
Driving your own car in Valdivia is also another option. The traffic is not terrible for a town of its size and the drivers tend to be courteous. The only issue can be finding parking near the square on busy days, but there is always something available if you search for a spot.
This topic is one that applies to all of Chile, but it is worth mentioning as it is a major part of life in Chile. There are approximately two and a half million “wild” dogs throughout the country of Chile and Valdivia is no exception. Some people don’t care for the “wild” dogs, but the majority of Chileans love the dogs and care for them when they can. Valdivia is home to many dogs, but so far we have yet to come across a sick or aggressive dog. They like to follow you around or beg to be petted occasionally, but the majority of the time they mind their own business. A funny, but common sight, are a few dogs lying on the sidewalk near the sea lions. If the sea lions get too close to the sidewalk then the dogs will bark at them and back them off.
Through the many encounters we have had with government offices, we have found the employees to be very patient, accepting of foreigners, and friendly. Most of the employees love helping foreigners and get very excited when they can provide help. We rarely found any government employee in the U.S that actually cared about what you needed.
Crime in Valdivia is far lower than most any United States city of equivalent population and we have always felt very safe walking through all parts of Valdivia. The per 100,000 people crime statistics for the entire Los Rios Region of Chile compared to Colorado Springs, Colorado (almost the same population):
Homicide: Los Rios – 2.5, Colorado – 6
Vehicle Theft: Los Rios – 40, Colorado – 442
Home Burglaries: Los Rios – 285, Colorado – 854
Thefts: Los Rios – 152, Colorado – 2,871
Keep in mind that the numbers are for the entire Los Rios region, so Valdivia’s crime rate is even lower.
Although life in Valdivia is suitable for almost anyone, the town is home to many universities and attracts college students from all over Chile. The main university is the Universidad Austral de Chile. This university is becoming one of the top universities in Chile and even gets students from Santiago. They are responsible for many events, activities, sports clubs, and beautiful parks throughout Valdivia. A few other universities in the town are Universidad San Sebastian, Universidad Pedro de Valdivia, and Santo Tomas.
Proximity to Nearby Activities
Valdivia has it all when it comes to location. Bordering one side of the town is the Calle Calle river that offers many activities such as tours, kayaking, and fishing. On the opposite side of Valdivia you start getting into beautiful farm land with rolling hills. Just a short drive away you can visit Niebla and catch the car ferry or passenger ferry to Corral or Chaihuin. Chaihuin is located right at the beginning of the Parque Nacional Alerce Costera. This is a huge National Park that has clean, sandy beaches, sand dunes, forests, and rivers. The park is part of the Valdivian Temperate Rainforest and has many opportunities for hiking, boating, kayaking, dirt biking, and camping.
Also, within a few hours drive, you can visit Osorno, Pucon, Panguipulli, Puerto Montt, and all of the famous volcanoes nearby. These areas offer many camping, hiking, horseback riding, boating, kayaking, and other outdoor activities.
Cost of Living
From what we can tell, Valdivia’s cost of living is lower than that of similar areas nearby. Buying property in areas farther east such as Panguipulli or Futrono is far more expensive from the tourism and growing popularity of the area. Although the Valdivia area is gaining popularity among native Chileans and foreigners, it is still reasonably priced compared to the other regions of Chile.
We have come to the conclusion that Valdivia is an excellent location for anybody wanting to experience the best of the outdoors with temperate weather while still having access to major resources. All within one area you have huge rivers, small creeks, open ocean, rocky beaches, sandy beaches, flat farmland, rolling hills, thick rainforest, access to local groceries, big city shopping, and restaurants. Unless you have specific obligations to live in a particular city, I think everyone should consider Valdivia or the surrounding area when moving to Chile.