La Serena and Coquimbo: Warm Water Beaches, Deserts and Vineyards
Just outside of La Serena and Coquimbo, you can experience the magic of the desert climate of northern Chile while enjoying the beautiful beaches and lush vineyards of the central region, where grapes are grown to make delicious wines and pisco.
The warm waters of the region's beaches attract many visitors in the spring and summer months, especially from Santiago.
In La Serena you can stroll along the enchanting Avenida del Mar, choose your favorite beach and then spend the evening wandering along the Alameda Francisco de Aguirre. The area is home to an open air sculpture museum; the Church of San Francisco, which was built during the 16th and 17th centuries and is now a National Monument, and Recova, the region's best known market, which includes an excellent handicrafts fair.
In Coquimbo, you can't miss La Herradura beach and the nightlife of the Barrio Inglés district. If you're around during the celebrations of Chile's Independence (September 18th-19th), take in the celebrations at La Pampilla – a classic spot for dancing cueca, cumbia or salsa—, try local dishes and drink wine or pisco cocktails.
Once you've had your fill of the area's major cities, visit Fray Jorge National Park, whose 10,000 hectares include a tract of native woodland, where species of trees native to distant and rainier habitats in Southern Chile thrive thanks to the camanchaca mist that rises off the Pacific. Further north, the islands of the Humboldt Penguin Reserve are home to penguins and inquisitive bottlenose dolphins, which swim alongside visiting boats.
The clear air of this region has made it a hotspot for observatories like La Campana, Cerro Tololo, La Silla and Cerro Mamalluca.
The smaller valley towns such as Pisco Elqui and Vicuña will help melt away your stress with all kinds of natural therapies, and the Elqui Valley offers cozy, quiet retreats where you can sample local dishes and visit the bodegas where local wines and piscos are made. Tastings are included.
There's so much to do in this region, you'll probably have to come back time and again.
There are daily flights from Santiago to La Florida Airport in Serena (1 hour).
From Santiago, buses leave from:
• Terminal Los Héroes: Located at the corner of Tucapel Jiménez and Alameda near the Los Héroes Metro Station. Several companies provide service to northern Chile. Telephone: (56-2) 4200099
• Terminal San Borja (formerly Terminal Norte): Located at the corner of San Borja and the Alameda, near Estación Central. This terminal provides service to northern Chile and destinations within the Metropolitan Region. Telephone: (56-2) 7760645
Buses depart Coquimbo and La Serena for Ovalle, Monte Patria, Pisco Elqui and Vicuña.
From Santiago, take Route 5 north to Coquimbo (458 km) and La Serena (470 km).
Several local agencies offer excursions such as pisco tours, adventure sports, and guided tours of historic sites.
Hotels can get quite full during the summer, but it's normally easy to find somewhere to stay. There are campsites near the most popular beaches, summer house and apartment rentals, hostels and hotels. It's a good idea to make reservations in advance.
Wine lovers can try internationally acclaimed whites in this area. The region's terroir provides a flavor and bouquet reminiscent of tropical fruits that is unique among Chilean wines. If you prefer reds, there is excellent Syrah and Pinot Noir to be had.
In 2009, Italian sommelier Guglielmo Rocchiccioli published "Vinos y piscos chilenos" (Chilean Wines and Piscos – not yet available in English) after travelling through Chile. If you're heading into pisco country, this pocket guide can be as useful as a good road map.
Travelers and their experience in the Atacama Desert