We spent Wednesday through Saturday the other week in La Serena and Valle de Elqui in the north of Chile. We were debating whether to rent a car, bus or fly to La Serena. We drove a rental car six hours and so glad we did — it's a beautiful coastal part of Highway 5 north, unlike in the south where the highway is inland. Plenty of rest stops along the way to deal with both the call of nature and the call of hunger. It felt like Highway 1 in California.
La Serena and its beaches are popular in the summer. In the winter, not as much, so tourists were sparse. Fortunately, the sun was out. We had the beach all to ourselves!
The town itself is nice and sleepy. There's a big mall that we frequented twice for the ice cream store and bathrooms and awesome American music they play on the speakers. There's an all-you-can-eat Peruvian buffet restaurant along the beach that was unbelievably tasty, authentic, and, of course, all-you-can-eat, so hard to go wrong.
After two nights in La Serena, we drove to Valle de Elqui, a more rural region most famous for being where pisco is grown / produced. Beautiful scenery. Mountains like those of Colorado, canyons like those of Arizona. The tourist thing to do in Vicuña is star-gazing but (for the second time now for me) it was canceled at night due to fog. Still a cute, small town to witness, with a very different vibe from Santiago.
'Everyone talks about the south of Chile, but so far, I've enjoyed the north more.