I’m glad I took a chance on La Serena—it paid off.
You never know, with coastal cities. Sometimes, the beach locals rave about is small and dirty, sometimes you end up in a tiny, overpriced town along with hordes of tourists, sometimes port cities are run down and dodgy.
But La Serena is lovely.
I didn’t have a map, so after dropping off my backpack in the spare bedroom, I headed straight to what looked like the main avenue, Francisco de Aguirre. There were two signs: “Plaza de Armas,” straight, and “Playa,” left.
And that’s basically all you need to know about La Serena.
Much like in Santiago—and probably in other Chilean cities—, Plaza de Armas is the main square in the old town. The narrow streets with brightly painted houses and plenty of churches reminded me of Mexico or Guatemala. Many buildings are built with wood from Oregon, brought to Chile as counterweight in vessels sailing to the nearby port of Coquimbo to load copper and other minerals for transport back to the US, and you can see the scars left by the last earthquake. Life is slow-paced in this part of La Serena, it feels like a small town—yes, waiting half an hour for a churrasca is normal, what’s the hurry?
But then, when you actually need a proper supermarket because the old ladies at the almacén are lovely, but they ran out of coffee twenty years ago and never reordered it, there are two large shopping malls just down Francisco de Aguirre. That’s where the tattooed-and-pierced youth of La Serena hangs out at well, at least until sunset—then, it’s time to go grab a hand roll (basically a long sushi roll, usually deep-fried and filled with cream cheese, crab stick and avocado) and practice K-Pop dance moves in public parks.
All the way down Francisco de Aguirre, there’s the Faro Monumental de La Serena, which is indeed unmissable and quite tall. That’s where the 11-kilometre-long beach starts, and it stretches all the way to Coquimbo, the port city.
I was relieved to see it was a nice beach, with good sand, great waves and giant Pacific Ocean shells washed up on the shore. I stood there for a few minutes, feet in the water, pretty amazed that we started on the Atlantic Ocean side, in Brazil, just a few weeks ago, and that I was there, on the Pacific side, in Chile.
And then, like everyone else, I walked back and forth on Avenida del Mar, along the beach.
I think I’m gonna like it here, I like multifaceted cities.