La Serena was a bit of an odd one for us. We sort of ended up going by default, as we needed somewhere for Mark’s parents to have a a chilled-out week as the second half of their visit. As there are no beach resorts in Argentina worth noting, we decided to head to La Serena, as it had a) a pool, b) a beach and c) as close to guaranteed good weather as you can get. Due to its proximity to the beautiful Elqui Valley, we spent a night there too. Neither of these destinations are particularly “backpacker-y” but they are worth a visit, even if it’s just to chill after exploring the rest of the region’s natural wonders. Here’s some tips:
- Getting to La Serena is a piece of cake, as it has its own airport. Flights from Santiago to La Serena cost next to nothing with Sky.
- There are loads of option for sea-front apartments if you’re feeling flush, or hostels in the town itself if you’re not. We stayed in a beautiful apartment on Avenida del Mar but it wasn’t half expensive. The sunset from our balcony was unbelievable too.
- The town itself doesn’t actually have many attractions, it’s more of a place to chill. It has a few colonial style buildings and a very underwhelming lighthouse. The beach is miles long and lovely to walk up and down, but be prepared to freeze your toes off if you decide to paddle in the Pacific. Braver souls than us were swimming, but it isn’t recommended unless you are really, properly hard.
- There are some really good restaurants hidden in the town. Jack Fish, a heavy-metal themed sushi bar (yep, it is as weird as it sounds) is a great spot, as is Ardento del Mar down the coast towards Coquimbo. We also loved HUG Cocina y Color, another sushi spot which was brilliant for lunch and really reasonable to boot.
- If you are bored, the mall is worth a visit. There’s loads of western brands but at a considerable knock-off.
- It’s actually quite difficult to get around the town, as it’s bigger than it looks on the map. There are collectivo taxis running about the place, but if you can figure them out you are much cleverer than us. Luckily, Uber came to the rescue quite frequently.
- About a two-hour drive from La Serena is Punta Choros, the starting point for wildlife tours around Isla Damas. Be warned, if you drive, the road once you get off the highway is a gravel track, and it’s very bumpy in places. However, the tour we went on was worth every bouncy yard. For $12000 (about 15 quid) we had an hour and a half on a boat around the marine reserve, where we saw sea otters, penguins, sea lions and dolphins a-plenty. Don’t expect anyone in Choros to speak English, at all, as it is on the edge of bloody nowhere.
- The Elqui Valley is an hour or so north of La Serena up the “Route of the Stars” Highway (n’aww), so named because of the reknowned clarity of the skies in the region for stargazing. It’s a fairly straightforward drive and it is doable by bus, but the roads are very twisty so be warned if you get travel-sick. A hire car made life much easier and the views on the way were beautiful.
- We stayed in Pisco Elqui, one of the few towns dotted up the Valley. It was a cute little town with a few restaurants, bars, shops and a pisco distillery.
- Our lodgings were some cabins called Cabinas Elquimista, and they were fabulous. We sat by the pool, barbecued on the terrace and watched the most incredible sky unfold above out heads as the sun dropped below the mountains. Our cameras were not capable of capturing such a spectacle, but it left all four of all speechless.
- If you have multiple nights in the Valley, you can arrange to go to one of the may observatories in the region to look through their telescopes. You have to book these in advance. We only had one night there, which was not enough by far. If you have a week or so in the region I would recommend at least three if not four nights in the Valley, with the remainder of the time in La Serena itself.