La Serena, Elqui Valley and Coquimbo

La Serena Travel Blog

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Knowing that we had an 8-hour coach journey north on Friday and had to be up and ready by 7am meant that I spent Thursday evening in the only sensible manner, by getting drunk in a Bellavista nightclub and getting to know some of the others in the group until 5am. So I was straight back to sleep on the coach, which was much easier to do than on English, American and Canadian counterparts. The coach companies even have a guy who comes around to put a pillow behind your head - nice touch.

By the time I woke up we were almost 6 hours ino the journey and I'd slept right through my hangover. We arrived into La Serena to our hostel and I immediately regretted not making more of the nice hotel we had in Santiago.

The hostel was clearly one of the 'basic' ones we were warned about in our brochure. We headed out to try and find somewhere to watch the end of Holland v. France game and after creating a frenzy of local resturaunters settled on a balcony place with a guy who promised he had the match on. We were getting suspicious when he seemed more interested in setting the table than finding us the right channel. After telling him firmly that we were more interested in the footy he finally got the message and once we'd pointed out that remotes need batteries to work he found a very poor signal for us to almost watch the last 20 minutes on.

We headed back to the hostel to layer up (as soon as the sun goes down it's bitterly cold) and check out what was available with Chad.

Having had a quick look around La Serena it seemed a pleasant town but there didn't seem a lot going on. So, we decided to book a tour into the Elqui valley. As if to reiterate the fact that little semed to be going on in La Serena, it took Me, Em, Tim, Kat and Frank and over an hour of walking around the town centre to find dinner, including the very picturesque Plaza de Armas. We eventually found the excellent Cafe Colonial which made the wait worthwhile.

The next day we were headed to the Elqui Valley, 40-or-so miles inland fom La Serena with our very knowledgable guide, Geraldo. We stopped at the Puclaro Dam before heading on to a Pisco distillery further into the valley to sample some Pisco in various stages of production.

After an excellent lunch at a small hotel on the valley-side it was on to another picturesque town for some haggling at the market stall, a trip to the school house of Gabriela Mistral (a famous Chilean author) and onto Vicuna for a wander around our third Plaza de Armas in as many days.

Back in La Serena Chad had dicovered that La Serena were playing Santiago-based Universidad in the premier Chilean league. The atmosphere was great although strangely the away fans outnumbered the home fans, whose end we were stood in. What they lacked in number they more than made up for in voice and enthusiasm, coming out with song after song ably assisted by a full percussion band! Unfortunately, despite a few moments of excitement and a couple of goals, the standard of Chile's top-flight is lower than I'd anticipated.


We went back to the hostel to pick-up Em and Robyn (more than half of the group had gone to see the night sky from an Elqui valley observatory) and along with Tim, Matt and Chad we took the crammed public bus for the 30 minute journey to Coquimbo. It was now almost midnight and around about the time that South American nights begin. As soon as we arrived it was clear why La Serena lived-up to it's name, everbody in northern Chile was in Coquimbo. We headed first to a bar with a live band about to play, but soon after they started their rock/emo/Green Day-esque set it was clear that either they needed more practice or we just weren't tuned-in to Chile's 'alternative' scene. Moving on, we (strangely) found a Brit-based bar, complete with Union Jack flags everywhere and a Coldstream Guard statue in the doorway.

After a few drinks and a game of pool in there it was time to move on to a club and while Tim and Matt opted for dance music and a chance to pull the rest of us found a very traditional latin dance club. It was an older crowd, all of whom were clearly loving the latin rhythms blasting forth from the four-piece ensemle on the stage. It was nice to see too, that dancing is still something that Chileans have a great deal of pride in and take a lot of enjoyment from, unless that was the booze! Robyn was straight up onto the dance floor, catching the eye of more than one guy in there and after that she barely had a minute to sit down before being offered the hand of another potential suitor. Meanwhile, my dancing ('two left feet' is the common description) was dealt a significant boost when Chad showed me the way of the Latin movements only for me to step on Em's toes repeatedly within minutes.
All good fun.

With our hotstepping going on until the very early hours, Sunday began lazily, or as lazy as we could manage in a very cold room. It was warmer outside, so we headed out to have a look around La Serena, which was even quieter now being Sunday. We found some internet to chat to home and met the rest of the group down on some playing fields to kick a footy around and get to know them all a bit better, before wandering about the mall to get some provisions. We had a 17-hour overnight coach trip to look forward to..

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La Serena
photo by: wendermilliken