Concepción is a city that I doubt would have been on our list to visit on our tour of Chile. We were drawn there through our son, who, in 2017 is on a year abroad from his university in the UK and studying for part of that time at the Universidad de Concepción. I’m glad we went; not just for the primary reason of visiting him, but also because it’s an interesting area.
With a population of just over 200,000, it is similar in size (actually a little bigger) than Iquique and Arica. It is also similar, in that it isn’t on any regular tourist itinerary as far as I can tell (certainly not from the UK), which is a shame.
The university is the third oldest in Chile, founded in 1919, and is based on a large city centre campus just off the Plaza Peru. It includes some beautiful architecture, which resulted in it being declared a National Heritage Site in 2016 by the Council of National Monuments of Chile. The campus areas are open to the public and are well worth wandering through.
Concepción city centre is fairly compact, but has all the vibrancy and chaos that you would expect from a thriving university city. There are some great shopping malls, a host of busy bars and restaurants, a number of plaza’s, street food sellers, buskers etc. A couple of days in the city is probably all you need to get a feel for the place, get some retail therapy and enjoy a variety of different foods.
However, if you have another day or so to spare, it’s worth stepping out of town by just a few miles and head towards Hualpén.
Firstly, en route you will come across the huge Memorial 27F, dedicated to the people of the region who perished in the earthquake and Tsunami on 27th February 2010. This enormous concrete structure, consisting of eight hexagonal towers, looms high over the roadside in the Costanera Park.
Once at Hualpén, the landscape is dominated at first by the ugly industrial landscape of the Bio Bio petrochemical works. However, if you drive down the lane that runs alongside the works for a couple of miles, there’s a couple of treats in store that makes you feel far away from industry and bustling cities.
The first is El Parque Pedro del Río Zañartu, an old private residence of the Zañartu family. Pedro del Rio spent most of his life travelling the world, during which he amassed a huge collection of eclectic trinkets, artefacts, crafts and antiques from all corners of civilization, including some very significant pieces such as an Egyptian mummy. Before his death in 1918, he donated his land, the house and his entire collection to the Province of Concepción. The Province turned the land into a park and the house of Pedro del Río into a fascinating museum.
Another half a mile down the same lane takes you to a wonderful nature sanctuary, a wide expanse of countryside rich with wild birds, and then onto a beautiful beach area of Boca Norte, with its black sands, rock mounds with crashing ocean waves and a pirate cave.
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