Things To Do in La Serena, Chile

On Damas island, 70 miles to the north of La Serena.
On Damas island, 70 miles to the north of La Serena.
Jumping waves
Jumping waves
We only had seabirds for company
We only had seabirds for company
The Lighthouse
The Lighthouse

Morning on the Beach at La Serena

A beach shrouded in mist might not seem the ideal place for family fun, but we enjoyed the beach on the right every bit as much as we did the one above.

But then, we’re from Scotland so we’re used to mist, and we love to play on deserted beaches.

At 9am La Serena’s beach was certainly deserted apart from a few seabirds. Even if the sun had been shining there’s a good chance we would have had the beach to ourselves, since in Chile few holidaymakers hit the beach before 11am. They probably already knew that most mornings the mist doesn’t clear till around twelve. The mist is due to the Humboldt Current, which runs northwards along the coast of Chile, bringing with it cold water from the ocean’s depths. It means the waters off Chile are high in marine life. It also means the coast of Chile is often far cooler than you would expect for a sub-tropical country. (For details of La Serena’s average temperatures and rainfall see the charts at the end of this article.)

For us, the misty weather meant that we didn’t have to worry about getting sunburned. The kids jumped waves, raced along the beach and build castles.

La Serena lighthouse, also known as the Faro Monumental and pictured here, has recently been declared a national monument. It is 92 feet (28 meters) high, and was built between 1951 - 53.

Learn more about the Humboldt Current on YouTube

Some objects on display at La Serena’s Archeological Museum

An Easter Island Statue
An Easter Island Statue
Indigenous pottery
Indigenous pottery

The Museo Arqueológico

As the mists cleared, and the sun began to burn, we headed a few streets inland to the Museo Arqueológico (La Serena’s archaeological museum.)

The highlights of this museum are the Moai and the Diaguita pottery.

The Moai, is that gigantic statue to the right. It is one of the original Easter Island statues, and as we would have loved to include Easter Island in our trip to Chile, seeing this statue was an awe inducing experience. This statue was taken to La Serena in 1952, and for many years stood in one of the city’s parks where it was subjected to graffiti and other unpleasant substances, involving drunk men… I’ll leave the rest to your imagination, but let’s just say the museum staff did a good job of cleaning it as there was no trace of any smell remaining!

Some of the Diaguita pottery can be seen in the photo below the Easter Island statue. These beautiful pieces are pre-Columbian, from between 900 – 1500 AD. The Diaguita were the indigenous people of Northern Chile. Their pottery was typically decorated with geometric shapes in black, white and red or with the faces seen in the photograph.

Vicuña and the Cerro Mamalluca Observatory

Vicuna

Statue of Bernardo O’ Higgins
Statue of Bernardo O’ Higgins
The tower was built in Germany and brought to Vicuna
The tower was built in Germany and brought to Vicuna

However awe-inspiring the Easter Island Statues are, most people don’t come to La Serena for them or even for the city itself, but because La Serena is a good base for visiting attractions in the area. We were no exception, and our next adventure was a visit to the Cerro Mamalluca Observatory.

Having experienced the roads that led to many attractions in Southern Chile, when we booked our tour we opted for a driver to pick us up at our hotel. He drove us along winding roads through area’s wine region, the beautiful Elqui valley, to the mountainous town of Vicuña.

Chile keeps time with its eastern neighbors Argentina and Brazil, resulting in dark mornings and light evenings. While we waited for the connecting tour bus to Mamalluca, we could stroll Vicuña in daylight, even though it was after 8pm. That evening, in the square, a brass band played and people danced.

Like every town or city in Chile, Vicuña has an Avenida (avenue) O’ Higgins. Bernardo O’ Higgins was part Spanish, part Irish, and is credited with leading Chile to independence from the Spanish in 1823. That’s him above right – or at least it’s his statue! The photo below is of the Torre (tower) Bauer, built in Germany and brought to Chile in a prefabricated state in 1905!

At Mamalluca Observatory

Mamalluca Sunset
Mamalluca Sunset
You can see Venus through the Observatory telescope
You can see Venus through the Observatory telescope

A Visit to Cerro Mamalluca Observatory

From Vicuña our tour bus wound up steep, twisted gravel roads to the Cerro Mamalluca Observatory. We were extra glad we had opted not to drive.

As the sun went down at the observatory our tour began, and we climbed the steps to the dome where our English-speaking guide unwound the roof and showed us the stars.

Nothing I write here could give justice to our experience, but I feel duty-bound to try. The reason why many of the world’s largest astronomical observatories are in the Andes (and in the Atacama Desert) is because the sky is so clear and free from light pollution and the atmosphere so thin. This means it is possible to see stars by the million – I didn’t know how so many existed! Nor did I know the night sky was so bright or the Milky Way so white.

We took turns at looking through the giant telescope to see Venus, and Orion’s nebula around 1500 light years away. Our guide explained that some of the stars we saw no longer existed.

We headed back downstairs as the Spanish-speaking group came up, and went outside to where Saturn was now visible on the horizon and where we could look through more telescopes at galaxies galore. But for me, amazing as the view through the telescope was, just being beneath those stars was beyond compare. Even remembering it leaves me feeling awed at the vastness of the universe.

You can see my husband’s attempt to capture the beauty of that night on camera, in the crescent photo of Venus. Let’s just say his photos can do no more justice to the view at Mamalluca than can my words. If you ever are in Chile, be sure to go and see this spectacular sight for yourself.

Punta de Choros, Humboldt Penguin National Reserve and Dama Island

Our trip to the Humboldt Penguin National Reserve also began with a pick-up from our hotel, this time early in the morning. The boat trips leave from Punta de Choros, 71miles north of La Serena. That might sound as if it’s a little over an hour’s drive, but, as with most visitor attractions in Chile, much of the way was over gravel road and some parts of it were deeply rutted.

The Humboldt Penguin National Reserve and Dama Island

Looking at the size of the boats, we felt a bit nervous…
Looking at the size of the boats, we felt a bit nervous…
Sleepy sealions
Sleepy sealions
Pelicans
Pelicans
The penguins themselves
The penguins themselves

On arrival at the jetty, the first stop for most people on our tour was the rest room. (A word of warning – don’t breathe in too deeply.)

Many other groups and individuals had made it to Punta de Chorsos before us, so we waited while little boats pulled up and filled with tourists. Some of the boats looked so small we felt a teensy bit nervous – but if Chileans are a little lax on the standards of their roads they are not when it comes to visitor safety. Everyone was kitted out with life jackets and then we set off onto the ocean.

The Humboldt Penguin National Reserve is a group of three islands: Choros, Chañaral and Damas (sometimes called Dama). The trip to the reserve includes getting close to Choros Island to see sealions, penguins, and other seabirds. You might also be lucky enough to see a walrus, as we did.

A colony of dolphins also lives nearby, and unlike many dolphins they don’t roam widely so your chances of seeing one close by is very good. Our boatman knew where to head, and kept looking till he found them.

When it comes to filling me with awe, dolphins are just as capable as stars, so this was a highlight of our trip.

The excursion to the reserve also includes a visit to Damas Island where you have an hour to roam.

A word about the weather: as with La Serena, the day started off misty, which cleared once we on the water. You will need both warm clothing for the boat trip and protection from the sun, particularly on Damas Island. We arrived on the island at midday, and there is no shade! The photo at the top of this article shows Damas Island – that’s us walking along the rocky path to the beach, kitted out in sun hats.

Once back on the mainland, our tour guide took us for a late lunch at one of the restaurants nearby. This is included in the cost of most excursions to the reserve.

Travelling to Punta de Choros independently

It is possible to travel to Punta de Choros independently and to stay longer on Damas island to take part in activities such as scuba diving or camping. To do this you need to permission from CONAF, the Chilean National Forestry commission.


Some attractions on the way between La Serena and Santiago

The next day, our vacation in La Serena over, we headed back to Santiago, stopping on the way to visit some of the many beaches along the way. We were amazed to find an open air church, but as this part of Chile gets very little rain, why bother to build walls? You can see the open air church in the photographs below.

More views of The Humboldt Penguin National Reserve, La Serena and beyond.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
It was worth getting up early for this! Dolphins came close to the boat, and swam nearby for several minutes. Even the rocks on Damas Island look like animals. The road to Punta de ChorosOutside the restaurant where we stopped for lunch. A tsumani evacuation sign, seen along La Serena seafront.  Our girls made friends with the hotel cat. They also made friends with the hotel pool!One of many beaches along the coastal route.The open air churchThe view as we drove back to Santiago.
It was worth getting up early for this! Dolphins came close to the boat, and swam nearby for several minutes.
It was worth getting up early for this! Dolphins came close to the boat, and swam nearby for several minutes.
Even the rocks on Damas Island look like animals.
Even the rocks on Damas Island look like animals.
The road to Punta de Choros
The road to Punta de Choros
Outside the restaurant where we stopped for lunch.
Outside the restaurant where we stopped for lunch.
A tsumani evacuation sign, seen along La Serena seafront.
A tsumani evacuation sign, seen along La Serena seafront.
Our girls made friends with the hotel cat.
Our girls made friends with the hotel cat.
They also made friends with the hotel pool!
They also made friends with the hotel pool!
One of many beaches along the coastal route.
One of many beaches along the coastal route.
The open air church
The open air church
The view as we drove back to Santiago.
The view as we drove back to Santiago.

The climate of La Serena, and other information

For more information on the climate of La Serena, how to get there and where to stay, see the maps and charts below.

Average Temperatures and Rainfall for La Serena

Where to Stay and How to Get There

We stayed at Cabanas Hostal del Mar, on Av. 4 Esuinas in La Serena. This was just a few blocks from the ocean. The road leading to the hotel was partly gravel.

We went to The Humboldt Penguin National Reserve with Talinay. Our Spanish is weak and their English was strong!

For details of flights to Chile see my article: A Guide to the Perfect Family Vacation in the Pucon Area of Chile

These are your options to get to La Serena from Santiago:

  1. Catch one of 3 daily flights to La Serena. The flight lasts 1 hour.
  2. Take the bus from Santiago’s Terminal Alamede on Av Alameda, or from Estación San Borja. The bus trip takes about 7 hours, and overnight journeys are available.
  3. Rent a car and drive there. This will take around 6 hours.

Map showing location of La Serena area attraction, and position in relation to Santiago

show route and directions
A markerLa Serana, Chile -
La Serena, Coquimbo Region, Chile
[get directions]

B markerSantiago, Chile -
Santiago, Santiago Metropolitan Region, Chile
[get directions]

C markerVicuna, Chile -
Vicuña, Coquimbo Region, Chile
[get directions]

D markerPunta de Choros, Chile -
Punta Choros, La Higuera, Coquimbo Region, Chile
[get directions]

Detailed map showing the Cerro Mamalluca Observatory

show route and directions
A markerVicuna, Chile -
Vicuña, Coquimbo Region, Chile
[get directions]

B markerCerro Mamalluca, Vicuña, Chile -
Cerros de Mamalluca, Vicuña, Coquimbo Region, Chile
[get directions]

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18 comments

France Travel Inf profile image

France Travel Inf 4 years ago

Super informative hub and wonderful photos!


Ardie profile image

Ardie 4 years ago from Neverland

Wow, this is a phenomenal Hub full of information and I am itching for a trip! Your pictures are stunning :)


Melovy profile image

Melovy 4 years ago from UK Author

Hi France Travel Inf,

Thanks for your kind comment and glad you enjoyed it.


Melovy profile image

Melovy 4 years ago from UK Author

Hi Ardie,

Writing travel hubs makes me want to go places too! Thanks so much for reading and for your kind comment. Glad you enjoyed it.


Simone Smith profile image

Simone Smith 4 years ago from San Francisco

I had never really thought of traveling to Chile before... I guess it was just not in my realm of consciousness. I'm glad you've put it there!


Melovy profile image

Melovy 4 years ago from UK Author

Hi Simone,

We would never have thought of travelling to Chile either, had it not been that we had relatives living in Santiago for 2 years. It is an interesting country, though far more European in culture than we had expected. Thanks for your comment.


rebeccamealey profile image

rebeccamealey 4 years ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

Wow! Awesome descriptions and the pics are just breath-taking. Wish I could go. The dolphin reminded me ....once while boating a young dolphin jumped into the boat and on to my son's lap. We had been circling them and clapping for them. It was amazing!


Melovy profile image

Melovy 4 years ago from UK Author

Hi rebecca,

And wow, double wow, with your dolphin story! That is just astonishing! Dolphins are just so awe inspiring and it’s amazing the way they choose to interact with humans. I hope you write a hub about that experience some day, I’d love to read more.

Thanks very much for your kind comment.


alocsin profile image

alocsin 4 years ago from Orange County, CA

Wow, penguins and dolphins and a moa as well. I'll have to schedule this nature preserve on my South American trip. Thanks for the heads-up. Voting this Up and Useful.


Melovy profile image

Melovy 4 years ago from UK Author

Hi alocsin, Glad you found this useful, and I hope you enjoy the trip to the reserve as much as we did. I do recommend Talinay for the trip as our guide made sure we got a larger and more comfortable boat than some of the others.

Thanks for your comment and vote up.


joanveronica profile image

joanveronica 4 years ago from Concepcion, Chile

Wow, you did it again! This is a truly wonderful description and story about your trip! I feel doubly happy about it as it is very uncommon to read something so uplifting! I'm more used to reading negative reviews and disparaging remarks about national indiosyncrasy. People tend to forget that Chile as a nation is just 200 years old, and is subject to constant cataclismic events that don't help much towards development, as everything has to be rebuilt all over again! It is a tribute to the guts and effort of the people as a whole, that the country has developed so far. Thank you again for your wonderful article. I hope to read more.


Melovy profile image

Melovy 4 years ago from UK Author

Hi again Joanveronica,

I am glad you also enjoyed this article and found it uplifting. (It’s my philosophy to write articles that are useful and positive.) I’m sorry to see that you are used to seeing the opposite in articles about Chile. It is a very interesting country, and one that few people are familiar with in the UK at least - or so we’ve found. Have you also written about Chile? I will check out your hubs.


joanveronica profile image

joanveronica 4 years ago from Concepcion, Chile

Yes, I have written about Chile, but not with the same focus. At the moment I've moved over to Argentine, as I'm writing about the Tango as a musical genre, but I will be back! Thank you once again.


Melovy profile image

Melovy 4 years ago from UK Author

Thanks, I’ll take a look at your hubs soon!


CloudExplorer profile image

CloudExplorer 4 years ago from New York City

I never been out side of the united states, and so this hub is sensational to me for many obvious reasons for a person who hasn't yet had the privilege to travel much besides within the US Borders.

Chile definitely looks like a awesome place to visit, and I'll tell my wife when she gets home about this cool hub, and possibly even set a goal of making it there some day.

I loved your images a great deal, and you've explained everything in great detail here. It does appear that you had a pleasant time with your husband, and his picture taking moments there, I also love the aquatic scenes with the animals and all, it was a awesome hub to read indeed Melovy.

Voted up and out! Oh thanks for the visit to my hub recently as well.


Melovy profile image

Melovy 4 years ago from UK Author

Hi CloudExplorer,

Thank you very much for your detailed and kind comment.

We have been very fortunate to have the opportunity to travel to a few countries recently. Relatives of ours were in Chile for 2 years, which made it easier as we don’t speak much Spanish. It is a very interesting place to visit and the animals were wonderful to see, especially the dolphins when they came so close to the boat.

I wish you well with your goal to travel, if you decide to do so. I suppose the United States are so big that there’s a lot to see within its borders. We have been a few times and only seen a tiny fraction of your country.

Thanks for stopping by.


Dawnrichard profile image

Dawnrichard 4 years ago

Nice hub and nice pics also. Thanks for sharing.


Melovy profile image

Melovy 4 years ago from UK Author

Hi Dawnrichard,

Thanks for your comment.

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