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La Serena as a city is like pick’n’mix, beaches, city, plenty of green spaces and nature can all be found here and in its surrounding areas Coquimbo and The Elqui Valley.
It definitley earns its title as the capital of Chile’s coastline. Like something straight out of Miami vice you’ll find a beautiful coastline skirted with behemoth skyscrapers.
Once you move ‘in’ to the city away from the coastline it adopts a much more European vibe, mostly due to its colonial architecture.
There are plenty of attractions to visit, from the many churches and free museums, to the long stretches of beach leading to Coquimbo and beyond. Enjoy sunny days and a lively nightlife on both Avenida del Mar and Coquimbo’s Barrio de Inglés, La Serena is a tourist’s heaven.
How To Get To La Serena:
Obviously being the capital of the coastline has its advantages travel wise, the main one being that the majority of busses travelling from north and south pass through with a stop here.
Companies such as turbus have regularly running services just log onto their website for the full schedule and prices here.
The main bus terminal is within walking distance to the Plaza de Armas and the nearby La Recova Market. Also in this area you will find a number of accommodation options such as the popular Aji Verde.
To reach the Plaza de Armas, exit the terminal and turn left until you reach the Panamericana Norte highway. Take an immediate right, pass the Copec petrol station and turn right onto Francisco de Aguirre. The Plaza is located on the third left, two blocks to the right.
Things To Do In La Serena:
Join The Culture Club
We at the ungraceful guide are both, big fans fans of history and culture, and keeping our pasty Irish skin unburnt. A good way to achieve both is to check out some of the free museums during the day to get out of the midday sun.
The easiest and best museums to visit are the Archaeological Museum and the History Museum, both are free to enter and open until 6pm.
Unleash your inner Indiana Jones (kinda) with a visit to the Archaeological Museum. Housing over 12,000 Archaeological doodads from all over Chile, the museum provides a unique look into the lives and methodologies of the Diaguite people.
Whereas the History Museum among other things, focuses more on the life and career of Gabriel González, one of Chiles most popular presidents. Born in La Serena, he was not only the first president to reach the Antarctica but also played a huge role in the fight for Chilean women’s rights.
Get Out Of That Garden
The extremely beautiful Jardín de Corazón (Or Garden of Heart), also known as the Japanese Gardens. Opened in 1994. The CAP mining company donated the garden to the city for its 450th birthday.
It is the largest Japanese garden in the whole of South America. Located on Avenida Juan Bohón, the entry fee is $1,000 per person and is open to the public every day from 10am-7.40pm.
Honestly, you would easily spend the day here and is worth every penny, the only thing to note is that all signs and any explanations are only in Spanish.
Beside the Japanese Gardens is the Parque Pedro de Valdiva, a public park with a number of football pitches, gardens, picnic areas and a mini zoo. Walk among the free grazing llamas and visit the South American grey fox, the 1500-year-old tortoise, the very large vulture and more. The best part is that is free entry and open from 9am until 6pm. However, the mini zoo closes at the earlier time of 5pm.
Get Out The Bucket And Spade
A 20 minute hop skip and a jump from the Plaza de Armas will find you at El Faro Beach, the main playa of La Sirena. To get there leave the Plaza via Los Carrera, take the second left onto Francisco de Aguirre and follow your nose towards the lighthouse. Simples!
Fear not my fitness-fobes, lazy bones and hung over heroes! Public transport is available for those of you who can’t face the walk. Head to Calle Infante near La Recova Market and board any bus with Coquimbo displayed on front. Jump off the bus at Cuatro Esquinas (ask the bus driver to tell you when you’re close) and from here it is a 10 minute walk straight onto the beach (sorry, there’s always a little bit of walking).
The beach itself is long, wide, clean and always patrolled by lifeguards. Sitting high on the sand is the El Faro Lighthouse, a popular place to catch the sunset. Pop down between 8pm and 8.30pm on a clear evening and enjoy.
Tasty Treats And Touristy Trinkets
No trip to La Serena is complete without a rummage through the Recova Market where you can buy the typical and locally made sweet spreads in a wide range of flavours from peach to manjar, dried fruits and many other kinds of artisanal products. Take a seat in the centre of the market and enjoy the buzzing atmosphere, or browse through the products in search of that perfect gift.
10 km to to the south of La Serena lies the beautiful port town of Coquimbo. Shouldn’t this be listed as a thing to do in La Serena? I hear you ask. Well yeah, you could do it as a day trip but we felt that the capital of the Elqui province, this ‘rough and ready’ seaside berg, deserves more of your time.
A little less polished than La Serena, Coquimbo has a lot of character with its bustling fish market, graffiti plastered walls, energetic streets and bohemian feel.
We fell deeply in love with Coquimbo, with its colourful and mismatched houses all clinging to the rocky mountainside and rolling down towards the coastline.
A hub for some of Chile’s best beaches and water sports, short city hikes, the freshest fish you will taste, and other gastronomical delights, we would place this high on the list of ‘things to do in La Serena’ especially since it a day visit is doable. However, we also suggest spending at least a night to fully embrace the nightlife also.
How To Get To Coquimbo:
A beautiful beach stroll, a sunny cycle or a simple bus ride, it is too easy to reach Coquimbo from La Serena city.
Micro busses leave from Calle Infante, one block behind the Recova market. Take any bus with Coquimbo displayed in front. It costs $600 pp and takes 20 minutes.
Hire a bike and cycle along the Avenida del Mar on a the direct path to Coquimbo. To rent a bike for the day, pop into Aji Hostel where they charge $9,000 for 10 hours or $5,000 for 5 hours. The bike comes with helmet and a lock and there are bike stations near both the port and the Plaza de Armas in Coquimbo.
With the beautiful sunshine, and a sea breeze in as little as an hour and half you can walk along the beach to Coquimbo, starting at Playa El Faro. No better way to exercise, tan and sight see at the same time.
Things To Do In Coquimbo:
The fort is named after Carlos Lambert, who reconstructed it in 1879, to protect his ports against possible attacks from the Peruvian Navy during the Pacific War. The beautiful brick fort, contains two canons and is free to visit. It’s open until 5.30pm.
If that’s not enough of a good reason you can also watch the nearby sea lions bath and splash on the island below.
Puerto de Coquimbo
Like any port town, Coquimbo offers numerous water based activities for you to engage yourself in.
Firstly, on the Muelle Morgan, you will find a large pirate ship of the same name with all the trimmings, including fully costumed pirates.
So gather your mateys and walk the plank, she leaves every day at 1.30pm and again at 8.30pm, for the sunset.
Spend an hour circling the bay hunting for gold for only $3,000 per person. As they say so themselves, this is a “true pirate adventure”. Arrrrrgh, it would be rude not to!
Another option is the Catamarán Mistral, at 1.30pm, 3.30pm and 5.30pm for 3,500CP per person you can engage in a similar, if not slightly less swashbuckling itinerary.
The trip lasts an hour and covers the bay, Isla de las Lobos and Bahía de Herradura, a picturesque postcard beach.
Do your senses a favour and hit up the fresh fish market. Between the stalls of ocean fresh fish so fresh they’re still wondering “how the hell did I get here?” and the restaurants full of high speed, screaming waiters battling for your business it’s an experience not to be missed. Oh, and for the love of god try the churrasco marinera (fried fish sambo for $1000) from the stalls at the very end. You’re welcome.
Barrio de Inglés
This multicoloured barrio and it’s murals tell the story of the English aglsnd European settlers that have called it home over thousands of years.
Even though there there is little comparison between the architecture of the two places, the creepy lifesize mannequins on the balconies are well worth a look. Seriously it’s like apex twin meets dad’s army.
Each building holds a plaque which shares the building’s history and origin. The Barrio de Inglés begins at the Plaza Vicuña Mackenna and stretches to the Plaza de Armas and is a popular spot for nightlife since every second doorway is a bar or restaurant. There are late night busses back to La Serena that pass the Plaza de Armas but those with any safety concerns may wish to take a taxi instead.
Pinguinos de Humboldt National Reserve:
P-p-p-pick up a penguin! The Humboldt Penguin reserve is well worth a day out. If cute little penguins and a nice chilled boat ride sounds like your cup of tea why not check out this wonderful blog to see how we got on.
The Elqui Valley:
We spent a few awesome days and nights in the smashing magnetic epicenter of the world, absorbing it wonderful energy amazing scenery and charming people. But to be honest even though this is is a “thing to do in La Serena” we felt it merited it’s own blog. I’ll link it to here as soon as it’s done.
As always please feel free to contact us if you feel that we missed anything, or if you have any questions please feel free to contact TripAdvisor…. Just kidding, we’re here for you!