But back in the 17th and 18th centuries, Valdivia was an important supply city for the Spanish ships that sailed through the Strait of Magellan, heading north along the Chilean coast to plunder the riches of Peru.
To protect themselves from the Dutch, British and French navies, as well as marauding pirates, the Spaniards constructed a series of 10 forts and cannon posts around the Corral Bay (Bahía de Corral) about 10 miles east of the city.
Today, the remains of several of the forts are open to the public, giving visitors a firsthand insight into one of the most colorful stages of Chile’s colonial history.
Perched on a small headland over the calm waters of the bay, with its 16 cannons and unmatched vistas, the Niebla Fort is easily the pick of the bunch. One of the largest strongholds in Valdivia, it played a vital role in the city’s defense thanks to its strategic positioning and unhindered views of the Pacific Ocean.
Built in 1671 as the Castillo de la Pura y Limpia Concepción de Monfort de Lemus, the fort sits in the middle of the town of Niebla.
While most of the buildings inside the thick walls of the fort are now in ruins, the old storehouse was fully restored in 1992. It is home to a detailed museum showcasing the history of the region, from pre-colonial times up to Chilean independence.
It’s also well worth taking a tour (available in English and Spanish) with a local guide to find out how Scottish mercenary Lord Cochrane expelled the Spanish troops from the forts on behalf of the newly formed Chilean government in the 1820s. It’s a ripping yarn and all the guides ask in return is a small tip.
Entry to the fort is CLP800 (US$1.50)
Mancera Island Fort
Just a 10-minute ferry boat from the Niebla fishing docks sits Mancera Island. Located on the western edge of the bay, it too was home to an important fort, which had its own chapel, supply store and living quarters.
But the best thing about the Mancera Island Fort is the underground dungeon that visitors can still enter by descending a stone staircase. Although it’s damp and dark in the cave-like prison, a visit to the dungeon is definitely a memorable experience.
Another highlight of this fort is a narrow dirt path that leads down to an isolated beach with great views of Niebla and the Pacific Ocean.
The boat trip to Mancera Island costs CLP500 (US$1) while entry to the island’s fort is CLP600 (US$1.15).
Situated in a sheltered cove on the southern side of the bay, the town of Corral is 20 minutes by boat from Niebla. The Corral Fort boasts an impressive collection of old cannons. In the past few years, it has begun to host regular re-enactments of what life was like for the Spanish soldiers back in the 1800s, complete with period costumes and firing cannons.
The boat trip to Corral from Niebla and entrance to the fort both cost CLP800 (US$1.50)