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Many travelers going north or south, will often head between the capital city and the tourist hot spot of San Pedro de Atacama, completely bypassing one of the most special hidden gems in all of Chile. There is not much that La Serena and the surrounding area does not offer, and we’ve picked just a few of the notable things that make this place so special.
As mentioned, and for a reason still unknown, La Serena is yet to make the list as one of the must-visit places in the travelers handbook, and this is terrific. This makes La Serena exempt from the large drones of tourists stepping off the night busses and flooding the streets, so the feeling as you walk the streets is that you are in authentic Chile, not just a stop on the tourist trail.
The center of La Serena is positioned a couple kilometers back from the coast, but the tranquil feeling you get from a day at the beach is also readily available anywhere through the town. The streets around the center square are pedestrian first or pedestrian only, and are lined with café and restaurant patios. Even the grass surrounding the center fountain can be found littered with people and dogs catching an early afternoon siesta.
If tranquility to you is being surrounded by peaceful nature, La Serena is the closest main hub that allows you to visit the lush Valle de Elqui. Inland from the center of La Serena, and accessible by regular busses, are quaint towns like the commune of Vicuña, which line the beautiful landscape of high mountains and low valleys.
As the day ends, the night comes alive in the Valle de Elqui and the sky lights up with one of the most incredible intergalactic light shows. The sky looks painted with glowing colors that are accentuated because of the pure-black backdrop, and you will be certain to get a unique showing as no night is exactly the same.
It may be difficult to find a quality bag of coffee in the supermarkets in Chile, but a quality cup of coffee and lovely cafés are a dime a dozen, and La Serena might have the best coffee culture in the whole country. A number of beautiful cafés with terrific quality of coffee line the streets, and pretty patios ensure you can visit a special café each day of your trip, and never have to visit the same one twice if you don’t want to.
No shortgage of delicious restaurants, and prices yet to be inflated with tourism, make La Serena a great place to get a great, reasonably-priced meal. Fresh seafood right from the neighbouring ocean, a strong Italian influence for great pizza and pasta, Mexican restaurants, and even some spots to get a great roll of sushi or fresh sashimi.
La Serena grew along the banks of the Elqui River, and a few kilometers from the ocean which is one of the reasons that the beaches and coast here is so calming. The whole sweeping coast, with La Serena as the midpoint, extends north and south of the city for about 24 kilometers, ensuring that no matter how many people feel it’s a beach day, it will never be overcrowded.
To add to the diversity of this area, head north to Punta de Choros, and off the coast you will be treated to Isla Damas, an island located within the Humboldt National Penguin Reserve. The island and water of Isla Damas will make you feel as if you are on the Caribbean, but this area is also where groups of penguins call home.
The most beautifully-manicured garden you are going to find anywhere adds to the apt name of this city, which translates directly to ‘The Serene’. Right near the center of town, these vividly-green, Japanese-style gardens, named the Jarindes del Corazon, are filled with waterworks, rock sculptures, gazebos, and little waterfalls.
It’s not hard to understand why the people of La Serena are so proud of their birthplace or where they now call home, and this pride can be felt when you converse with them. Always happy to help, always interested in your story, always with enough time and patience to make sure you are headed in the right direction, and ensuring you are fully enjoying your time in their city, makes this city a very hard place to bid farewell to.