Published on December 2nd, 2014 | by admin
La Serena: Serene Colonial Beach Town is a Chile Vacation Getaway
PHOTOS & TEXT BY ROBERT THOMAS
After Santiago, Vina del Mar and Valparaíso, most visitors to Chile head south for wine, stunning lakes, volcanoes and penguins. A fresh alternative is to head north, to the arid 4th Region of Coquimbo. An easy hour flight from Santiago (for less than $100 US on Sky Airlines), you will find yourself in lovely La Serena (“the serene place”), one of the few Spanish colonial cities in Chile. But La Serena is more than just a touch of charming old España, it’s also a happening beach destination and lively college town.
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How to Get There & Where to Stay in La Serena, Chile
Arriving at the small La Florida airport in La Serena, you can rent a car as you step off the plane or simply take the $2500 peso (about U.S.$5) shuttle to your hotel. If you want to stay between the colonial town and the beach, the Hotel Costa Real is a classy but moderately priced choice right on the main drag between the two – Avenida Francisco Aguirre. Taxis are plentiful but a stroll along the shady, statue-lined boulevard down to the waterfront can be a pleasure in the often-cool desert climate. If you prefer staying on the beach, there are plenty of hotels and some resorts there as well.
What To Do in La Serena
La Serena offers not only the traditional Plaza de Armas town square, requisite cathedral, fountains and cobblestone streets leading to the commercial old town; it also sports a popular summertime beach complete with a lighthouse on one end and a casino on the other. This is a place mainly for Chilean tourists getting out of sweltering Santiago or on the shoulder-season weekends. You won’t see hoards of extranjeros.
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A mining-engineer friend told me that if there were ever a Latin American country where he would want to live in it would be Chile, and if there was a city in Chile he would choose, it would be La Serena. It is easy to see why. This 500-year-old jewel is much more than tourism. With several colleges and universities, La Serena has youthful energy radiating through its old streets and its many cultural offerings. In the main plaza, I’ve wandered onto touring German oomph bands, colorful dance groups, choirs, even dog shows. Just park yourself on a bench and soak up the sun or the view of the stars on a clear evening. If you need any of the comforts of suburbia, there is a splendid mall (major department stores such as Fallabella, Paris) near the bus station as well.
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Along with its sister city, Coquimbo, La Serena offers some fresh-as-it-gets seafood right on the water. Watch the pescadores pull the catch in while you dine. Sunsets are a lightshow of color over the Pacific, with the enormous Third Millennium Cross and city lights completing the panorama.
La Serena is also the gateway to the stunning Elqui Valley and a splendid base for your pisco-sour tour and pilgrimage to Gabriel Mistral’s (the only Latin American woman Nobel Prize winner for literature) birthplace. A touch of 16th-Century Spain, a touch of modern West Coast beach town. More than anything, however, La Serena lives up to its name and is a great place to relax, eat, stroll while soaking up the warm Chilean sun and culture sun, the culture and the cool sea breeze.
Robert Thomas is a freelance writer, longtime Hispanophile and avid traveler living near Seattle.