La Serena, Chile is primarily known as a beach destination. However, outside of the summer months (December to March), you’ll likely to find the beaches deserted. Luckily, for visitors to the area there is much more to see and do than just lay on the beach. La Serena is one of the most well developed cities in Chile and manages to combine a traditional architectural city center with modern shopping centers and a resort style beach front. On the surface this coastal city might seem overly modern and over developed to be interesting, but with a little digging you’ll find the city and surrounding area to be very endearing if not addictive. Along with the nearby town of Coquimbo, La Serena is well worth a couple days visit and exploration.
Time Needed: 2-4 Days
Budget: Doing it on your own = 40$ a day, Guided tours = 55-65$ a day
Things to do in La Serena
- Coquimbo: Just a short bus ride down the beach to the south from La Serena is the rough and tumble town of Coquimbo. However rough it may appear this is the center of activity during the day for most tourists. The old fort sits out at the point and makes for a nice stop, other places worth visiting are the fish markets, Cruz del Tercer Milenio (the huge cross), and Barrio Ingles which explodes in activity at night as the bar district in town.
- Church Tour: There are said to be 29 churches in La Serena alone. The ones worth visiting are found downtown including the oldest: Iglesia Cathedral.
- Mountain Biking: Not the extreme mountain biking you might be expecting, but renting a mountain bike in La Serena and cruising down the beach makes for a great day trip.
- The Elqui Valley: If you’re into guided tours this is the highlight of La Serena. Just over the dry coast sits this lush, and very pictuesque, valley. Highlights of the trip include a visit to a pisco distillery and a colourful market town (Day tours cost about 30US$).
- National Parks: There are actually a number of national parks in the area, and depending on the season they can be bursting with wildlife. The most popular trip is to Parque National Fray (Day tours are about 40US$)
- Mamalluca Observatory: This is one of the best places in the world for star gazing. In fact most scientists sit waiting on a list to use one of the observatories in the area for years. One of the observatories has been built for tourism, and makes for a great night excursion (trips leave between 7-9 depending on the time of year, and last about 4 hours.) The cost of this tour is about 30US$
- The Beach: Of course there is always the option of simply lying back on the beach. The beach in La Serena is a long strip of soft sand about a 40 minute walk from the center. You can also take the public bus to get there.
- ***For tours out of La Serena use Turismo Adventura Delfines
Where to Eat in La Serena
The food situation in La Serena caters to just about everyone. For the best seafood head down to the coast where there’s a number of good restaurants including one called El Muelle, which is great but only open seasonally. There is also a great sushi place just a bit further down the beach. In town try a place called Casona 1920, or Cafe Colonial.
Where to Stay in La Serena
I have passed through La Serena on six different occasions. On four of those stays I stayed at a little family run hotel just outside of the center called Hotel Pacifico, which has a very friendly staff, wifi, and single rooms for about 18US$. This is my home in La Serena. On the two occasions I had to stay elsewhere I stayed at Residencial Chile, which was very basic but well priced at 13US$ for a single. The recommended hostel in town is Aji Verde Hostel which costs 15US$ for a dorm bed.
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