A six hour drive from Santiago is La Serena. It’s the 2nd oldest city in Chile behind Santiago, founded in 1544. It’s main attraction is the beach, but I didn’t go there to see that. Well, sort of. I was hoping to catch a few hours of sun, but it was overcast the entire 2 ½ days I was there.
I caught the overnight bus from Santiago’s Terminal Alameda. I decided to go with TurBus. I got a really nice seat for CLP $7,900 on a bus leaving at 11:45pm. But, in typical Chilean fashion, the bus was delayed and didn’t show up until 12:30. I took an empty seat next to a woman smelling of freshly cut meat and waited for the bus to come.
The bus rolled into the La Serena Bus Terminal at about 7am and I walked about 20 minutes to my hostel, Hostal Diaguitas. I had to ring the bell a couple times, but the owner was very happy to let me in and give me my room early. I had a single room with a shared bathroom and paid about US$30 a night. The room was comfortable and clean, and towels were provided. There was a roof terrace with views of the city (not much to see, to be honest). A very nice breakfast was included in the rate and there was wifi in the living room. The location was also very central, and the owner was happy to point out things to see, places to eat, and tours I should take.
Getting around La Serena is very easy on foot. You can cover one end of town to the other in ten minutes. It also felt very safe, much more so than Santiago or Valparaíso. I had no issues with my camera in public.
The food in La Serena seemed a lot cheaper than Santiago for the most part. I found a set lunch menu at most places in town for between CLP $3,000-4,000. This included a soup or salad, a choice of a main dish, and a dessert. Some of them also included a drink. I had a cazuela de vacuno at an outdoor café on Balmaceda between Prat and Cordovez. It was delicious.
For dinner, I ate at a Peruvian restaurant, El Chalan del Norte. It was recommended by the owner of the hostel. Obviously it was for commission, but I love Peruvian food and the prices were reasonable. I had papas huancaínas as a starter and lomo saltado for my main course. I washed it down with a Cusqueña. The food was perfect, and service was a bit slow but friendly. I paid CLP $9,900 for everything.
Leaving La Serena, I used Pullman. I asked for the cheapest seats because I didn’t need a seat that turned into a bed. It cost CLP $9,000 and had huge reclining seats that were actually wider than me – way beyond my expectations! Compared to buses in Turkey, this was luxury. I have never had a more comfortable bus ride in my life. There were even power outlets in the seats and a bathroom on the bus! Pullman will be my first choice from now on in Chile, and TurBus will be a close second (their seats were pretty nice, too).
One thing to know about buses from La Serena – if you are going to Santiago, the last day bus leaves at 2pm. Otherwise, you will have to wait until at least 8pm for the next bus or an overnight bus. I got to the bus station at 1:15pm and was on a bus by 1:45 without a problem.
By the way, if you’re looking for the beach, it’s just a 20 minute walk from the city center down Francisco de Aguirre.