La Serena

La Serena is a peaceful city on the Chilean coast, about six hours drive north of Santiago. It is free of high-rises and traffic, small and compact, and cheap compared to Santiago. In the city, there’s not much left from the colonial days, but enough things to see to keep someone occupied for more than half a day.

Life is centered around Plaza de Armas, which is lined with government and religious buildings. In the center is a sculpture and fountain. There are tall trees, plenty of benches, and some street vendors.

Plaza de Armas in La Serena, Chile

Plaza de Armas

Plaza de Armas in La Serena, Chile

Plaza de Armas

The Catedral de La Serena sits on the southeast corner of the plaza. The current cathedral was built in 1844, while the original church was destroyed in 1680 by English pirate Bartholomew Sharp. The tomb of conquistador Francisco de Aguirre is inside. He was the founder of the city. Next to the cathedral is the Palacio Arzobispal (Archbishop’s Palace) and the red and white Tribunales de Justicia (courthouse).

Catedral de La Serena in La Serena, Chile

Catedral de La Serena

Palacio Arzobispal in La Serena, Chile

Palacio Arzobispal

Tribunales de Justicia in La Serena, Chile

Tribunales de Justicia

On the opposite side of Plaza de Armas sits the Casa Museo Gabriel González Videla. It was a 19th century home once used by the former Chilean president Gabriel González Videla. The museum holds personal items of the president. On the north side of the plaza is the headquarters of the regional government.

Casa Museo Gabriel González Videla in La Serena, Chile

Casa Museo Gabriel González Videla

Gobierno Regional in La Serena, Chile

Gobierno Regional

Down the hill to the west of Plaza de Armas, I found the Jardín Japonés. This was my favorite part of the city. It’s the largest Japanese garden in all of Latin America. There are bonzai trees and several other shrubs, flowers, and plants.

Jardín Japonés in La Serena, Chile

Jardín Japonés

Jardín Japones in La Serena, Chile

Jardín Japones

Jardín Japones in La Serena, Chile

Jardín Japones

I enjoyed the serenity of the garden, walking along the paths past bridges and pagodas. Families with children were excited about the pond with fish, ducks, and swans. Admission was CLP $1,000.

Jardín Japones in La Serena, Chile

Jardín Japones

Jardín Japones in La Serena, Chile

Jardín Japones

The Museo Arqueológico has artifacts from Chilean prehistory and indigenous tribes, including mummies and a moai from Easter Island. Admission was CLP $600. It wasn’t that great.

Museo Arqueológico in La Serena, Chile

Museo Arqueológico

Museo Arqueológico in La Serena, Chile

Museo Arqueológico

Mummy in La Serena, Chile

Mummy

Moai at Museo Arqueológico in La Serena, Chile

Moai

One of the most interesting historic buildings I found was Casa Jiliberto, built in 1898. It’s just a couple blocks north of the Iglesia de San Agustín.

Casa Jiliberto in La Serena, Chile

Casa Jiliberto

The city center of La Serena has a few beautiful streets to walk down, notably Calle Arturo Prat and Avenida Balmaceda. There are shops, cafés, and restaurants along them.

Calle Arturo Prat in La Serena, Chile

Calle Arturo Prat

Avenida Balmaceda in La Serena, Chile

Avenida Balmaceda

Finally, there is a park running the length of Francisco de Aguirre. It’s lined with replicas of Greek and Roman statues. At the very end is a statue of the conquistador himself.

Francisco de Aguirre in La Serena, Chile

Francisco de Aguirre

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