La Serena is a charming city of about 200,000 people (2012) in Northern Chile. Its historic center stands out with a beautiful and well-preserved neocolonial architecture characterized by its balconies, small squares and stone churches of several centuries old, its extensive beaches and for being one of the cities with the best quality of life in Chile.
The city is an important tourist site, especially during the summer, where people make it one of the most important vacation destinations in the country, mainly for its beaches, architecture, green areas and gastronomy. It is popularly recognized for the production of local papayas and their derivatives.
During the rest of the year, its activity focuses on being a place for university studies, as it is the headquarters of the University of La Serena and the headquarters of several private universities. In addition, it is the seat of the Archdiocese of La Serena, one of the five Catholic archdioceses of Chile and, on the other hand, it is the economic capital of the region.
Buses leave several times every hour from Santiago de Chile to La Serena. The trip takes 7–8 hr. Companies include Pullman Bus and TurBus. Available are regular buses, semi-cama and the first class salon-cama. Prices vary greatly. You can see TurBus booking and timetables here.
From the north and the south, the main access route to the city is via route 5, which is a double-lane highway from the south and one-lane highway from the north.
LAN flies five times Sunday-Friday and four times on Saturday from Santiago de Chile to La Serena. Flight duration is 1 hour and fully flexible ticket cost US$168 one way, US$305 return; advance non-flexible return tickets through the website may be much cheaper than the flexible one way price. There are also daily flights from Antofagasta. On Saturdays there is one flight from Copiapó and Calama.
- Cathedral of San Bartolomé de La Serena, Los Carrera corner of Cordobez, ☏ . This cathedral is the first in the city, founded in 1544. On one side of this is the Plaza Juan Pablo II. Its stained glass windows were brought from France and its bell tower dates from the 20th century. It is a national monument.
- Church of San Agustín, Cienfuegos 402 corner Cantournet. Masses on Saturday, at 11:00 and 20:00. Sunday 10:00, 11:30 and 20:00. There may be other Masses, Monday through Friday at 11:00 and 20:00.. Eclectic-style church founded in 1672 by the Jesuits. Throughout history this church has suffered from various thefts and fires. Its last reconstruction was completed in 1994, the year of the 450th anniversary of the founding of the city. This church was declared a national monument.
- House of Providence (Providencia College), Justo Donoso 420. +51 2215215. Neoclassical style house built in 1872. It still preserves various accessories such as stained glass windows and altars. Even so, the house is now a school and boarding school that belongs to the congregation of the Sisters of Providence.
- Archeological Museum, Cordovez corner Cienfuegos, ☏ . Tu-F 09:230-17:50, Sa 10:00-13:00 and 16:00-19:00, Su 10:00-13:00. This museum has a record of more than 12,000 objects, distributed in three categories, archeology, where it characterizes regional pre-Hispanic cultures of Chile, ethnography, where objects from ethnic groups in the area are exhibited, such as Mapuches, Selknam and Rapanui and paleontology, in where fossils of vertebrates and invertebrates are exhibited. 600 pesos, senior or student 300 pesos.
- Monumental Lighthouse. A National Monument, this lighthouse is characterized as one of the most representative tourist attractions in the area. Built between 1950 and 1951.
- Gabriel González Videla Historical Museum, Matta 495, ☏ . This museum has a record of more than 3,500 pieces, organized in history and fine arts, as well as various objects that illustrate the life of the president.
- Church of La Merced (El Sagrario Parish), Balmaceda 390, ☏ . This church was founded in 1558, but after several attacks it was finally rebuilt in 1830. The tower is in the Gothic style, and is considered the city's architectural heritage.
- Outdoor museum (also known as Avenida Francisco de Aguirre), Francisco de Aguirre Avenue S / N, ☏ . It began in 1855 with a pedestrian area, until between 1946 and 1952 several marble statues were donated by Italy, under the government of Gabriel González Videla. It extends from Balmaceda to the Monumental Lighthouse.
- The Japanese style (indeed, laid out by a Tokyo landscape architect) garden Jardin del Corazon is just west of the center. It celebrates the 450th anniversary of La Serena, its ties with its Japanese friend Tenri and the export of Chilean ore to Japan. Plenty of ducks and geese in the pond, some fish and the odd turtle. Entry 2000 pesos.
- Museum of Religious Art, La Carrera 450 (next to the Cathedral), ☏ . Tu-Sa 09:30-13:00, 15:00-18:00; Su 09:30-13:00. This museum is in the heart of La Serena, in front of the Plaza de Armas. More than 50 different pieces are on display, such as 18th-century Eucharistic ornaments, bishops' vestments and 18th-century oil paintings.
- If you are around in early spring you might be lucky enough to see the desert in bloom. It happens in occasional years and is stunning.
- Elqui Valley, one of the most beautiful, clear and brilliant nights you will ever see. Here you will find the main villages that you can easily do on a bike. Vicuña, where Gabriela Mistral was born, and where you can get to see how the Chilean Pisco is made. Pisco Elqui, which is ideal for a romantic escapade and Cochiguaz.
- Isla DamasOn Isla Damas, you can swim, walk along trails and to lookout points or go scuba diving and snorkeling. Once back on the mainland, stay the night at Punta de Choros, where cabins and campsites will allow you to enjoy warm seaside evenings.
- Parque Nacional Fray Jorge (You can enter the Fray Jorge National Park from the south by taking the North Pan-American highway to mile 241.7, and then taking a long side road to the west for 13.6 miles up to the main park’s gate. This is a dirt road, but in good conditions year round.The best time to visit is on weekends from late October to November, during the entire flowering period. It will take you at least 4 hours to visit.). January-February: daily 09:00-17:00, the rest of the year daily 09:00-16:00. Fray Jorge National Park Nacional comprises acres at altitudes of up to 2188 m in the coastal area located miles east from most beautiful places to visit are Hydrophilic trail is very mouth river. There are picnic area and campsites for 8,000 pesos per night, and a lodge for 5 persons is 25,000 pesos. Domestic animals are not allowed. Bring a coat since the forest is cold. The admission ticket is 1,600 pesos, children 600 pesos.
- Beaches - La Serena has some of the country's longest stretches of beach. You can take a whole day walking from one end to another.
- Totoralillo Beach (Totoralillo Spa) (you enter the beach through route D-350). This beach is 25 km from La Serena, and it is visited by a large number of tourists. The most recommended activities to do are swimming, fishing, diving and surfing, in addition to visiting the large number of restaurants on site.
- Observatory tours. The Elqui Valley outside La Serena has some of the best conditions for observing the sky, hence the many observatories, some open to the public doing tours from La Serena city at night. Tour prices including transport are about 15,000 pesos.
- Observatorio Mamalluca, Calle Gabriela Mistral 260, oficina 1, Ilustre Municipalidad de Vicuña, ☏ , , email@example.com. 3500 pesos for adults and 1500 pesos for kids from 3 to 12. Transportation (optional) 1500 pesos..
- Observatorio La Silla, ESO, Casilla 567, El Santo, 1538, ☏ , (booking), fax: , firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Tololo, CTIO, Casilla 603, Colina El Pino s/n, ☏ , fax: .
- There is a cinema[dead link] at the Mall Plaza, by the bus terminal
- There is a casino[dead link] at Av. El Mar
- Whale Watching Chile, La Serena, ☏ , email@example.com. 07:00-18:00. Take a whale-watching tour to a fishing village community and observe whales, dolphins, birds, penguins and other sea life.
- Papaya juice - Sold all over the city but especially at markets, the papaya is grown locally here
- Pisco - The national drink of Chile is brewed in the nearby Elqui Valley and is a must-try for every traveller, enjoyed either as a Pisco Sour (Pisco with limon juice, sugar, and egg-white) or Piscola (Pisco with Coke)
- Handicraft - Nice handicraft markets are held every summer
- La Recova, Cienfuegos 370, ☏ . La Recova is the central market of La Serena. It has 143 stores.
The densest cluster of restaurants and fast food joints is around the intersection of O`Higgins and Eduardo de la Barra.
- Daniella II, Av. Francisco de Aguirre. A set lunch may only set you back 1500 pesos; you might find it's not worth it. This goes for home-made food, and not getting all sick.
- Casona Dell 900, Av. Francisco de Aguirre. Has great BBQ meats served on a coal-heated plate.
- Ayawasi, Pedro Pablo Muñoz 566, ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. Organic and mostly vegetarian cafe. Charming atmosphere, very friendly English-speaking owner, and amazing food. Great for soup and a sandwich at lunchtime or coffee drinks by the fire on a rainy day.
Loads of bars near the intersection of O`Higgins and Eduardo de la Barra. At least a couple of them will be busy even on a Monday night thanks to the town's students.
There are loads of options in the town. The area from the bus station throughout the center has at least one hostal on every block, and many fancier options, including package tour hotels along the beach.
- 1 Hostal El Punto, Andres Bello 979 (Close to the center of La Serena, less than 5 minutes walking from the bus terminal), ☏ , email@example.com. 07:00 - 24:00. Check-in: 13:00, check-out: 11:00. Rich breakfast included, friendly and helpful staff, big backyard with quiet corners, cafetería service during the day, storage room, various room types (from dormitory to suite with private balcony or rooms with shared bathroom), reasonable prices, possibility to make tour reservations, wifi included, book exchange and lending, laundry service, car and bike rental, service corner with fridge, microwave and electric kettle, parking space. Bed in dormitory (mixed, 4 beds in total) for 10,000 pesos, double room from 21,000 pesos.
- Hostal Maria Casa, Las Rojas N°18 (just 3 minutes walking from the bus station), ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. Has excellent rooms with shared (always clean)bathrooms and kitchen, the possibility to make your own sandals thanks to Pancho (but at least one traveller reports unwanted advances from him, so young women may want to keep this in mind) and his workshop, a great variety of tours, organized by themselves, and the best is the assistance they give to passengers, they really make you feel at home, so don't hesitate in asking them for whatever you may need. dorms from US$20 (low season).
- Residencial Jofré, Regimiento Coquimbo, Central La Serena. Has excellent rooms with private bathrooms, hot water, shared kitchen facilities, TV room and free internet. US$23/double.
- Aji Verde Hostel, Vicuña 415. Nice hostel neart the market. Member of HI get 10% discount. Staff helpful, good kitchen, living room and terraza. Breakfast and internet included. dorms from 7500 pesos.
- Hostal El Arbol, Eduardo de la Barra #29, ☏ , email@example.com. Peaceful hostel in a quiet neighborhood next to the Japanese gardens. Walking distance to Lider and downtown.
- A few hours to the south is Fray Jorge National Park.
- At Isla Damas it is worth seeing the penguins and sea lions. From La Serena it is 120 km north at a coastal village called Los Choros. Dolphins also frequent the area.
- The Valle de Elqui is a beautiful valley in the otherwise arid region. Equestrian tours are available that climb into hills going in among the papaya farms and looking down on valley. Taste some pisco sour at a distillery and stay the night.