by Brook Corbyn
Early in 2015 our family was living the good life in the hill country of south Texas. I lived with my father and his wife, their daughter, and my uncle on a 172 acre wild game hunting paradise with rain water collection, solar hot water heaters, geothermal heating and cooling, wind energy, and the largest private off grid solar system in the U.S. We owned several businesses and ran a hunting tour business on our farm.
One Sunday morning our entire family was headed off on the one hour drive for a fun day together at the beach. Everyone had been concerned for a while about the changing situation in the United States. We didn’t like the direction things were going. Different ones had been researching possible options and that Sunday, all together, on the way to the beach, we decided to uproot our lives and move to Chile.
We had never been to Chile.
Not only had we never been to Chile, we had never even visited South America. But it seemed obvious to us that Chile was a promising country with great opportunity.
By early summer in 2015 our family, including my grandfather and a good friend, uprooted our well-developed lives in Texas in search of a country with a better future than we foresaw in the United States. From the time that we made the decision to move to Chile to the time that all of us left was just a little over three months.
We purchased a property sight unseen, sold all of our belongings–two ranches, four separate households, ranch equipment, six cars, businesses, livestock, etc–and got on a plane with only our luggage and our six hunting dogs. None of our family has looked back or regretted our decision to move to a foreign country.
Ending up in Valdivia was only half intentional and the other half was purely luck. None of us knew anything about the towns or regions of Chile, except that northern Chile was dry and southern Chile had substantial amounts of rain. We were searching for a large ranch when my father came across a two and a half acre property in Corral (near Valdivia) with two houses. We researched online about Valdivia and it seemed like a nice region of Chile, so we went for it and started the purchasing process. The property was definitely smaller than we were looking for, but we decided it was the perfect landing spot for us until we got settled in our new home country, dealt with residency paperwork, and found a larger property.
After moving to our new home, our entire family fell in love with the Valdivia area and plan on staying here permanently. We prefer a more rural lifestyle, so we chose to stay in Corral, but we still make frequent trips to Valdivia.
Corral is a ferry ride over from Valdivia and is a commune of five thousand people with small rural communes along the coast line. For our family it is the perfect location as we can enjoy our small acreage with beach access and make trips to Valdivia whenever necessary. The close proximity to the ocean, the relaxed people, and the growing tourism industry gives an energy to the area that we have not experienced in any other Chilean city, although there are many cities we haven’t visited in Chile. Below are the various aspects of Valdivia that our family enjoys and an overview of life in Valdivia and the surrounding area.
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.
About the writer: Brook is the owner of Consult Chile, a relocation and immigration service. Although based in Valdivia, she handles residency and citizenship throughout Chile.