But we did make it as far as La Serena and it's neighboring city, Coquimbo, last year and it was a great trip. Near Santiago on the coast are two cities, one of which I've blogged about before: Valparaiso and Viña del Mar. While both are nice places to visit, people tend to prefer one or the other. Most tourists like Valparaiso better, because it's more interesting from a foreigner's perspective. It has colorful graffiti art everywhere, crooked staircases crawling up its numerous hills, and a lot of great food and nightlife. But many Chileans I've talked to seem to prefer Viña, mainly because it's cleaner and safer than Valpo (Valparaiso's nickname). And Viña also has good nightlife and food, plus it's got beaches as well.
|The crooked, colorful streets of Valparaiso|
|Coquimbo feels a lot like a little Valparaiso in the north|
For a small city, Coquimbo has a lot of sights to offer. The most obvious of them is the giant cross that you will see when you arrive in town, located on one of the biggest hills overlooking the ocean. The strangest thing about the cross is that you can actually go inside it - for a small fee, an elevator will take you up to the arms of the cross, where a viewing platform was built. From there you get amazing panoramic views of Coquimbo, La Serena and the surrounding ocean. There's also a museum dedicated to Pope John Paul down below.
|View from inside the arms of the giant cross|
|Coquimbo has two big hills, one with a huge cross and the other a beautiful Morrocan mosque|
Another interesting sight is the old fort. There's not much of it left, but it's a beautiful spot by the ocean with a lot of wildlife nearby, including sea lions, pelicans and cormorants. There's also a pirate ship that does tours of the harbor, which you might catch a glimpse of from the fort.
|There's not much fort left, but the wildlife and the views are worth the visit|
|Coquimbo used to be a hide-out for pirates - now it's a hot spot for pirate-loving tourists|
|Shrimp Pil Pil - so delicious!|
|One of the central plazas in La Serena|
|The new Japanese garden in La Serena|