La Serena & Coquimbo

Country Chile | Dates May 27-29 | Accommodation Cosmo Elqui Valley (La Serena Location)

We decided to stop along our way to the Atacama, to see some not-so-visited towns and break up days of bus rides. La Serena was our destination, a town off the coast and “twin city” to nearby Coquimbo. 

Exploring La Serena

Upon arrival, we walked the dark streets (6pm) towards our hostel and Sarah was, as usual, terrified. Every normal person was a potential USC (vocab reminder: unsavory character), although none were actually. We arrived 20 minutes later at our nice and lively hostel (a party hostel), with everyone on the roof drinking cheap wine from boxes, Crystal beer and pisco singing American hits with a few lyrics missing. A guy laid across a girl’s lap and someone said, “Can I stroke your animal.” Another guest had recently gotten a tattoo from someone working at the hostel, which he wrapped in plastic in the kitchen next to the food preparation area. It was colder than expected on the roof, but we bundled up. For breakfast, small trays and usual fare. *Note: Although we don’t prefer party hostels, in less-visited places in off season it’s often safer/more desirable to stay somewhere crowded and lively than a semi-deserted hostel.

La Downtown

We set off for a free day of exploring La Serena by paper map to see the sights.

“Historical relic” aka moldy coat.

We stopped by many historical houses, the first of which was, naturally, boarded up. Trying to find a Casa Chadwick, we instead wound up rampantly photographing a random government building while the men looked on. We walked around the entire downtown, saw some historical photos in a train station, and went to a stupid museum about some dude named Gabriel (very conceited man) and saw his moldy coat.

While resting on a bench, we glanced a weird paper casually left behind that had aggressive statements about the US and other countries. We bought a fake chocolate from a street vendor which tasted like angel food cake.

We spotted a few times a store called Lider, which I believed to be copyright infringement of the Walmart logo (same colors and style). Upon entry, we realized it WAS the Chilean Walmart. For some reason Sarah became obsessed, and spent unnecessary time browsing the aisles and yelling “I love Lider!”

Our last stop of the day was a walk up to a military base offering a viewpoint on a hill. Photo selections below.

Faro of  La Serena

For sunset, we walked a few miles to the coast to see the Faro (lighthouse). En route we saw the open-air statue park, with some aggressive sexual statues mixed into the busts. We passed a Chuck e Cheese’s, which Sarah was obsessed with and took 6 (or more) photos  of. Later i made her delete said photos. A vile perro that smelled followed too close, and we tried to leave it behind. Upon arrival at the Faro, we were met with an omnipresent scent of pee. Next to it, an abandoned and graffiti-ed building through which we glimpsed the sunset. I went to the water and secretly collected many shells in my pocket, glancing across the water to the giant cross in Coquimbo. For dinner we had cheap hot dogs slathered in mayo and avocado spread, as we were too lazy to cook.

Exploring Coquimbo

I awoke early as I wanted to cross the water to Coquimbo to see the giant cross and the less fancy town with small shacks on the hill of the mountain. When leaving the hostel, I noticed our sign-in forms with passport and sensitive details were casually sitting on the desk 24 hours later.

I arrived at the collectivo area (buses shared) and successfully asked the first one if it was going to Coquimbo; he directed me to another and I boarded. I exited the bus when everyone else did, realizing instantly I exited with a group of students and thus was in the wrong spot of town. Unperturbed, I wandered in the direction of the water/main street so I could navigate to the cross (no maps, no phone service). I traversed some run-down housing and abandoned dilapidated areas, surreptitiously snapping photos on my way up the hill. Stray dogs abounded, again yet and still, seemingly multiplying with each city we visit. Music came from behind closed colorful doors of small homes; as I passed an arcade on the downtown street the carnival music seemed incongruous with the filthy and questionable streets.

Giant Cross

Up the hill I went towards the cross, increasing in massiveness as I approached. I took some of the tiny staircases cut into the side of the mountain up, shortening my route and getting my adrenaline pumping as I was alone and it was deserted. Once at the cross I hurried up the staircases to the lower viewing platform, ignoring signs not to run… It was everything I wanted to see and much more; an expansive view of the ramshackle city and brightly painted homes; the mountains shrouded in morning mist; the sprawling coastline. I continued up a steep elevator with a man manning it all day (what a job) as the spiral stairs were, disappointingly, closed. This lead into the T of the cross reaching unexpected heights. I was impressed and awestruck at once, remembering why I wandered miles through maybe-dangerous streets, ran up a steep mountain and sweated through my vest. 

On my way down, I followed the line of sight to the ocean, taking more of the secret staircases down, these ones covered in thick street art, some mirrored pieces jabbed into the concrete.

I walked through the downtown, Barrio Ingles, which was a strange street with old English architecture-inspired buildings and local restaurants that boasted prices higher than their faces indicated they should. My walk culminated in a square with some strangely modern art piece, metal and bright green jutting into the sky, out of place with the rest of the landscape.

We then prepared for an unplanned bus journey to the Elqui Valley – Keep reading!

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