For us, La Serena was meant to be merely a stop off point as we made our way up to San Pedro De Atacama from Santiago. We were expecting a dusty South American city, but La Serena offered us so much more. Miles of coastline, a chilled out vibe, stargazing and cool excursions to visit islands full of penguins, sea otters and sea lions. I highly recommend it for a few days.
Budget for La Serena:
I’m not gunna lie, La Serena is expensive. That’s because it’s a pretty upmarket city and Chile in general isn’t the cheapest country ever!
Food in the supermarket is pricey and most of the attractions aren’t in La Serena, so you have to get excursions to do them. To give you an idea, a small double room with a shared bathroom in a decent hostel (El Arbol Hostel) cost us about 24,000 CLPs a night. And a decent veggie meal in Ayawasi Organico y Natural cost us about 9,000 CLPs each.
Top Things To Do In La Serena:
1. Say hi to the penguins, sea otters and seals on Isla Damas
For this tour, you visit two different islands. A rocky island, full of amazing marine and bird life. Penguins waddle around the shores, sea otters bob their heads above the waves, sea lions bark at you as you go past and rare and endemic birds poop everywhere! If you are lucky you can see dolphins and whales. The island is a rugged and harsh environment, but the marine life loves it. As did I!
The second island has crystal clear waters and is covered in amazing prickly cactuses. You can get off at this island and explore.
We did our tour through Eco Turismo. This was probably one of my favourite tours I did in Chile.
We had an extremely knowledgeable English speaking guide. He explained about the geography of the region, the animals and plants, the sea currents and the environmental issues facing the area due to the mining industry.
50,000 CLPs each.
Was it worth it?
Totally. Lunch is included in this and you are paying for the deep expertise of your guide.
The Atacama desert is pretty world famous for stargazing, but La Serena, specifically the nearby Elqui Valley, packs a mighty punch too.
We did stargazing at Mamalluca observatory. We attempted to do it ourselves. But after getting in contact and hearing nothing from Mamalluca, we booked a tour via Eco Turismo.
This included pick up and drop off, a informative English speaking guide and a photo of us with the Milky Way.
It was an excellent evening. The group was fairly large, so accessing the telescopes was a little difficult at times but we all managed to get a peak at the planets (Jupiter and Saturn!) and stars. The night sky was epic, with the Milky Way beautifully splitting the sky in two.
23,000 CLPs each.
Was It Worth It?
This was a high quality tour with a very knowledgeable guide. The stars were incredible.
3. Elqui Valley, Near La Serena
Elqui Valley is a scenic valley, famous for wine, Chilean Pisco production, stargazing and apparently UFO sightings.
You can visit the Elqui Valley in the day time through a tour, or do it more independently. Tours usually take you to a Pisco factory, to the reservoir and viewpoints and to Vicuña, a quaint little town in the Elqui Valley.
You can visit Vicuña from La Serena via bus for 3,000 to 5,000 CLPs. Or do a tour of all the sights around the area for about 27,000 Chilean pesos. Eco Turismo offers tours of the Elqui Valley.
4. The Japanese Garden
La Serena is not a crazy or noisy city, but the Japanese Garden is a nice spot to chill. You can watch the ducks splashing around the ponds, see the turtles catching some sun on the banks of the pond and admire the cute little waterfall.
There is one problem though. The La Serena Japanese Garden creation was funded by a mining company. Chile has had a number of issues regarding mining companies. Whilst the mines bring shed loads of jobs and wealth to Chile, they also have polluted the environment and poisoned the drinking water making people sick.
One Chilean we spoke to had to move from near Calama to La Serena (over 1,000km) due to his town becoming polluted. Apparently Chile is full of these ghost towns. Often mining companies use “gifts” to placate the local community and prevent outcry. So whilst a Japanese Garden is nice, it doesn’t make up for toxic water or sea pollution caused by mining.
1,000 CLPs each
Was It Worth It?
It’s a very pretty little garden, despite it’s shady (pun intended) beginnings.
5. Explore La Serena & Stroll Along The Beach
La Serena is a peaceful city with a number of sights to see. These include Catedral de La Serena, the Courts of Justice, the Plaza de Armas, and the lighthouse.
This seaside city also has miles and miles of beach you can stroll along and watch the waves crashing against the shoreline. Whilst not the most beautiful beach in the world, it’s pleasant and as there are very few other people around you basically get it to yourself.
Was It Worth It?
Strolling around and taking in the sights is the best way to get to know a place.
6. La Serena Archaeological Museum
Can’t afford to go to Easter Island to see the famous Moai heads? Me neither. However, in the small archaeological museum in La Serena you can see a Easter Island head. Do note the place has been being remodeled for a number of years now, but you can still get in a few exhibitions. It is also closed on Mondays.
Places To Eat In La Serena:
We thoroughly enjoyed Ayawasi Organico y Natural and returned multiple times. The food is high quality and delicious, it’s healthy and the staff are welcoming. Their green juices are top notch!
How To Get To La Serena:
You can take the bus from Santiago up to La Serena. The bus takes around 8 hours depending on the traffic in Santiago. As you head away from Santiago, the scenery steadily becomes more desert like. Cactuses appear and the flora and fauna becomes more arid.
How To Get From La Serena To San Pedro De Atacama:
To get to San Pedro De Atacama (with the other worldly Atacama desert) you need to take the bus to Calama from La Serena.
The bus between La Serena and Calama takes 15 hours. Then from there you need to jump on another bus from Calama San Pedro De Atacama (1 hour 40).
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