The romantic, seaside city of La Serena, wrapped around some of the most beautiful beaches in northern Chile, is more than just a fine spot to relax with a mixed drink and work on your tan. (Though the appealing collection of spas, restaurants, and nightlife options might convince you otherwise.)
This is actually the second-oldest European city in Chile, and one of the oldest in South America, founded in 1544. Most of the historic old town, located on the waterfront close to the city center, is more recently built; most adobes were probably constructed in the 1700s. Area museums display artifacts from pre-Columbian times, when this was an indigenous port town.
La Serena is a very comfortable base for exploring nearby national parks and preserves, including Isla de las Damas, with sea lion colonies. Or, look to the sky: This region's lack of humidity allows almost unobstructed views of the stars from several observatories.
The city of La Serena has served as a transportation hub for almost half a millennia (probably much longer), receiving Japanese freighters, British pirates, Spanish galleons and many more into its busy harbor. While vessels plying the coast still call, the most useful ferry for visitors makes the 12 km (7 mi) trip to neighboring Coquimbo, with a famed Catholic shrine and fine beaches, throughout the day.
La Sirena located right on the coastal highway (Ruta 5), with regular buses running between Santiago and Antofagasta and well beyond, to their neat, central terminal. The small Airport La Florida (LSC) has flights to Santiago and other regional destinations.