I ventured further into Northern Chile after leaving the tourist-packed Valparaíso and took the overnight bus to La Serena. The seven hour bus trip meant that I saved on a night's accommodation by choosing to sleep on the bus, which I found incredibly comfortable and easy to do. Prices do vary between companies, but you should be able to find a ticket for 17000CHP ($36AUD). I recommend booking ahead by at least a day to avoid any disappointment and forced changing of plans, and this must be done at the terminal as you need a Chilean credit card to book online.
I arrived at the La Serena bus terminal just after 6am, and bumped into the romantic Pommy couple from Valpo shortly afterwards. It was still dark so we decided to get a coffee before walking into town and locating our hostels. They had been practicing their Spanish with a slightly disheveled Chilean for the last few hours on their bus, and he insisted on buying us a coffee. Lee, male half of the romantic Pommy couple, explained to me that the guy was a hairdresser. Odd, I thought, I wouldn't trust him with a nail file let alone a pair of scissors. Let me tell you, Chileans are hard to understand at the best of times (they talk very fast, drop 's' sounds from words and make up completely new words on a regular basis) but the absence of our Chilean's four front teeth made things even more difficult. Twenty minutes, one coffee, some extensive use of a English/Spanish dictionary and we realised this guy wasn't a hairdresser, he was actually just getting a haircut today and travelling north to work in the Atacama desert.
After a short taxi ride into town I made it to my hostel and confirmed my feeling that I wouldn't be able to check in until the afternoon. I made my way upstairs to the living room and promptly fell asleep for another 5 hours, only waking once to speak some (very basic) French to two girls who seemed intent on having a competition on who could type the loudest on their laptop.
With over half the day gone, I checked into my room and met a couple of hilarious Argentinian guys, both in their late twenties, who appeared to be on their first big trip away from home. They excitedly showed off their henna ink tattoos that they had got in the plaza earlier that day. Having no plans, we agreed to take a walk into La Serena and check out some museums and churches. Apparently something got lost in translation, because what actually happened was a trip to the biggest mall I have seen so far in South America and two hours of countless electronics price tag comparisons: “How much would that TV be in Australia? Really? Wow that's so cheap! This would be twice the price in Argentina!”, and so it continued.
Having had an amusing, albeit unplanned, afternoon and evening with the duo we arranged to head to the beach the next day and take the 10km walk in the afternoon down the beach to nearby Coquimbo. It is one of the longest stretches of beach in Chile and we were rewarded with a brilliant sunset and an evening walk through Coquimbo, which is also home to an English style neighborhood – Barrio Ingles. The bus ride back to La Serena was typical Chilean madness, with the driver mounting the footpath at one stage. You know things are heated when even the locals are holding on to the seat in front of them for dear life.
Stay tuned for Part Two of my trip north, which I will publish tomorrow, along with my near-death experience. Enjoy the photos and please join the conversation in the comments section below.
View from the hostel roof, the sunset and the central plaza:
- Be sure to take in the local town, it is much quieter than other tourist capital like Valparaíso.
- Visit the tourist information in the centre of town, they are very helpful for trip planning to the Elqui Valley too.
- Be sure to walk along the beach and visit Coquimbo if you have time – it's super cool and only a twenty minute bus ride away.