Talcahuano and Concepción, Chile  

The city of Concepción and its nearby port city Talcahuano along with several other communities make up an area called Gran Concepción, a metropolitan area which holds the title as Chile’s second largest city. Located at the mouth of Chile’s only navigable river, the Rio Biobío, Concepción has long held an important position in southern Chile.

The city was founded in 1551 by Pedro de Valdivia who initially named the town Concepción del Nuevo Extremo and located it at the site of the modern day city of Penco. Eventually Concepción was moved to its present site but nonetheless the residents of Concepción are called penquistas after that original site.

The relocation of the city also moved it slightly further from La Frontera or the frontier area between the Chilean-Spanish territory and the land controlled by the Mapuche Indians. After an uprising of the Mapuche in 1598, the Spanish relinquished the land south of the Biobio which made Concepción one of the southernmost outposts of the Spanish.

Another reason for the relocation of the city was increased access to the port of Talcahuano, which overlooks the Bay of Concepción. Although the port brought the city a bounty of commerce, its seaside location also made it vulnerable to earthquakes and tsunamis on more than one occasion (including one in 1835 which brought Charles Darwin into port). The earthquakes and tsunamis resulted in the city being moved once again, scooting it further inland to its present location.

Those natural disasters also mean that Concepción isn’t home to the many colonial era buildings seen in other Chilean cities. Instead the city boasts a modern downtown with a lively atmosphere. That vibrant spirit is felt in its population as well thanks to four universities in the city: Universidad de Concepción, Universidad Católica de la Santísima Concepción, Universidad Técnica Federico Santa Maria, and Universidad del Biobío. Many attribute the city’s large number of rock bands, including some of South America’s best known, to the sizeable college-age population.

Along with education, tourism is also a thriving industry. At the port, Chile’s largest naval base is the home of the Huascar, an iron ship built in the 1800s for Peru; it was used against Chile during the War of the Pacific. After capture by the Chilean navy, the ship was decommissioned and eventually brought back to the port of Talcahuano for public tours.

While in the city, visitors often view the area from the scenic overlook of Cerro Caracol or stroll along the Plaza Independencia, known for its live music performances as well as nearby pedestrian shopping areas. Also downtown, the Parque Ecuador is a quiet refuge, a place to escape the hustle and bustle of the city. On the edge of the park, visitors find the Galeria de Historia, a museum that traces the conflicts between the Spanish and the Mapuche, the struggle for Chilean independence, and other historic events of southern Chile.

Many other travelers opt to use Concepción as a starting point for their exploration of Chile’s Lake District, known for its volcanoes, natural lakes, and glorious Andes peaks.