Fifty kilometres to the west of the Panamericana lies the attractive city of VALDIVIA, one of Chile’s oldest settlements, founded by Pedro de Valdivia as a supply halt on the route to Lima, six days’ sail from the Magellan Strait.

Pedro de Valdivia chose the confluence of the rivers Calle Calle and Cruces as a suitable location for the city because it was defensible and had access to both the sea and the inland plains. Yet in 1599 it had to be abandoned after the Mapuche uprisings, and was almost immediately pounced on by the Dutch. To counter this threat, and that of pirates, the Viceroy in Peru ordered a string of forts to be built. These were strengthened when Britain threatened in 1770, and, by the time of the wars of Chilean independence, Valdivia was a formidable redoubt. Post-independence there was a great influx of German settlers who founded shipyards, breweries and mills, leaving a lasting legacy.

Today Valdivia is a vibrant, cosmopolitan university town, a mixture of the colonial and the contemporary, even though many of its old buildings are gone – lost to earthquakes, fires and floods throughout the last century. On February 9 each year, the city celebrates the founding of Valdivia, and between the second and third Saturday in February all of Valdivia comes out to celebrate “Valdivia Week”: the river lights up with a parade of boats, and a memorable fireworks show.