La Serena is a beautiful seaside city with a continental flair. I arrived yesterday afternoon and the moderate weather and low altitude are perfect – 70s during the day and 50s at night with a sea breeze and occasional morning fog. Since my goal is staying at sea level for a few weeks, La Serena works well.
La Serena – Serene One – is Chile’s second oldest city, after Santiago. It’s a popular vacation spot for Chileans. In addition to the pleasant climate and white-sand beaches La Serena has historical attractions and well-preserved Colonial Renaissance architecture. My B&B is a converted colonial building near the city center.
La Serena has an exotic history. It was the victim of pirate attacks during the 17th century and in 1730, an earthquake almost totally destroyed the city. Between 1948 and 1952, President Gabriel González Videla, a native of La Serena, prepared “Plan Serena” to renew the city by encouraging investments and urban redevelopment. As the seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of La Serena, the city has many beautiful old churches and cathedrals dating back for centuries – San Francisco, San Agustín, and Santo Domingo to name a few. The churches add to La Serena’s unique landscape and gained it the nickname “The City of Churches”.
It was a long haul from Arica, but I’m glad to be here and looking forward to exploring La Serena. I found a French restaurant in the square today and enjoyed lunch and people watching. I will spend a week in La Serena before traveling further south to Valparaiso, Patagonia, and Torres del Paine.
Tomorrow I join a group for a day tour of Humboldt Penguin National Reserve which has a variety of fauna, sea lions, otters, and birds, including the Humboldt Penguin. The reserve consists if three islands – Chañaral, Damas, and Choro. Damas Island is known for calm, turquoise waters and white sands. It’s the only island that allows human visitors and is a good place to see the penguins and if we’re lucky, maybe a few bottlenose dolphins as well.
Other nearby attractions include the following.
Elqui Valley, the birthplace of Chile’s national poet Gabriela Mistral, is said to be one of the places with the clearest skies in the southern hemisphere. The valley is known for its grape crop, astronomical observatories, rivers, and unique landscape.
Mamalluca Observatory hosts night viewing sessions allowing visitors to see planets, galaxies, and stars through its powerful telescopes.
Fray Jorge National Park, declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1977, hosts visitors for “soft treks” in a hydrophilic forest. The forest is a natural phenomenon that preserves the semi-desert area with a micro climate found only in southern Chile.
Enchanted Valley is an important archaeological site near La Serena with petroglyphs, pictographs, and stone cups from pre-Hispanic inhabitants of a culture dating back over 2000 years.
There is so much to see here and I will visit as many places as possible but bypassing attractions that require long bus rides :)….