El Norte Chico: Places to Explore

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La Serena

La Serena (or simply "Serena," as locals call it) is Chile's second-oldest city, with several venerable churches and pleasant beaches. It got off to a shaky start. Founded by Spanish conquistador Pedro de Valdivia in 1544, La Serena was destroyed by the Diaguitas only four years later. But the Spaniards weren't about to give in, so they rebuilt the city on its original site. Near the mouth of the Río Elqui, La Serena slowly grew until it was visited by British pirate Bartholomew Sharp, who sacked and burned it in a three-day rampage in 1680. Once again the city was rebuilt, and by the time of the silver boom in the late 19th century, it was thriving.

One of the most striking features amid the pleasant streets and hidden plazas of La Serena is the number of churches: there are more than 30, and many of them date as far back as the late 16th century. Most have survived fires, earthquakes, and pirate attacks. The preservation of colonial architecture, and its continuance, is thanks to Gabriel González Videla, who was president of Chile from 1946 to 1953. Take care of banking or medical needs in La Serena since you'll find fewer services in OTHER=towns in the area.

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