Serenity in La Serena

Headshot of Maggie Peyton.
Maggie Peyton
April 10, 2023
white and red lighthouse on the beach

The country of Chile is as long as the US is wide. Part of that coastline, to the north of the capital city of Santiago, is La Serena, a beach town that is relatively unassuming at first glance. The beauty of the city lies in its surroundings: from La Serena you can visit El Valle de Elqui, where the Chilean version of the famous liquor pisco is made, various islands that house penguins and sea lions and otters can be found off the coast, and nearby Vicuña holds the history and legacy of Gabriela Mistral, the Nobel Prize winning writer. There is so much to see and explore in this region.

Whale watching is a popular attraction. When the season is right, penguins can be found here as well on some of the islands I mentioned earlier. Our guide told me there was a 95% chance we would see whales when we went, and see them we did. The second biggest animal in the world gave us a wonderful show, popping up to breathe and barely brushing its gigantic tail with the water's surface. We were able to get close because the animals aren’t bothered by boats, only noise. Listening to the guides count the minutes between the whale’s breaths and waiting with bated breath for the creatures to surface was exhilarating.

Our other tour led us around the entire surrounding area to various small towns and artisan markets. Lunch was once again incredible, and we had delicious fried fish that left me feeling full for hours. Goat cheese empanadas served as an entree, and the people were lovely as well. One of our excursions brought us to a pisquería to see how pisco is made. I don’t drink or like alcohol, but I tried the pisco sours they offered and it was incredibly smooth and delicious. I saw the tour guide I visited the Atacama desert’s blooming flowers with last semester and we got to catch up a bit which was super fun.

The area is very spiritual, and there have been many sightings of various extraterrestrials in el Valle. Craftspeople make crystal jewelry and sell incense. Mangos, peaches, and nectarines can be found in every market. Fruits that can only be found in the region are made into ice creams and soaps.

The city of La Serena features a lighthouse, colonial market, and a beautiful Japanese garden. The sunsets are gorgeous, morphing by the second between color palettes and brightnesses. Clubs there were surprisingly awesome, and we had a lot of fun at one that was airplane themed called Kamikaze that had the best music we’ve heard yet in Chile for the best price: free. I bought chorrillana, which is a Chilean dish made up of a heaping plate of fries, sliced hotdogs, eggs, and so much more, that was big enough to provide all of us with breakfast for three days.

The vibe in La Serena is very different from Santiago’s: much calmer, and less rushed, but also cleaner and more carefree. We spent a little under four days there and I think it was the perfect amount of time. Bus tickets from Santiago are cheap, and the whole trip was pretty cost-efficient; if you’re in Chile and want a slightly calmer vacation, La Serena is the place to visit.

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Headshot of Maggie Peyton.

Maggie Peyton

My name is Maggie and I'm from Chicago, Illinois (one of the best cities in the States in my completely unbiased opinion). I'm left-handed, could watch Encanto every day, and I am a huge fan of the singer-songwriter Mitski. I study Public Policy at the University of Illinois in Chicago and am excited to learn more about Santiago. I hope to find a community away from the one I have at home and make Santiago my own.

2022 Fall, 2023 Spring
Home University:
University of Illinois at Chicago
Public Policy
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