Romantic Travel in Coquimbo, Chile
Its name derived from a Diaguita word that means “place of calm waters,” the port city of Coquimbo, Chile was originally primarily known as a place of quiet and tranquility. Charles Darwin once said that the town was "remarkable for nothing but its extreme quietness."
Today Coquimbo is still quiet in comparison to some of Chile’s larger cities but it bustles with port activity. Coquimbo is a major shipping point for fruit and wine produced from the nearby Elqui Valley as well as a production center for pisco, the liquor which produces the national drink, the pisco sour.
Coquimbo’s importance as a shipping port dates back centuries. In 1550, this harbor was taken over by Pedro de Valdivia, a Spanish conquistador who later became the first royal governor of Chile. During colonial days, the port was used for shipping out South American gold and silver, a role that drew the attention of area pirates including Sir Francis Drake.
Although the port prospered for three centuries, it wasn’t until 1867 that a town was formally founded here. During the 19th century, many English settlers relocated to this city which is located in the Elqui Province in the Coquimbo administrative district of the country, the region of Chile where the Andes come closest to the sea.
The heritage of those English settlers is seen in the historic wooden buildings that remain in the port today; one of the most scenic areas is the Plaza Prat, an esplanada which overlooks the harbor. A couple of miles away from the harbor, the Guayacan Church is a stop for many visitors. Proclaimed a national monument, this church, clad in metal, was designed by Gustav Eiffel, best known for his Eiffel Tower design.
Historic buildings are also seen in downtown Coquimbo, about a mile from the port. Also in town, visitors can see the Museo de Sitio containing artifacts dating back to about 900 AD that were discovered during the expansion of the city’s Plaza de Armas. Another draw of Coquimbo are its beaches found on the Bahia Herradura de Guayacan.
Coquimbo also serves as a port city for another nearby beach resort. The community of La Serena (“the serene one”) ranks as one of Chile’s top beach resorts as well as Chile’s second oldest city. Founded in 1544 by Pedro de Valdivia as a link between Santiago and Lima, the town was destroyed after de Valdivia was killed by the indigenous population; a few years later, the town was resurrected by de Valdivia’s successor. The city has a long history as a silver and copper capital, one that drew the attention of pirates and eventually resulted in its sacking in the next century by the notorious buccaneer Bartholomew Sharp.
It was in the 20th century that the city began to live up to its serene moniker, banking more heavily on its beaches and its excellent Mediterranean-type climate. The 1940s brought about an urban renewal project although many colonial buildings remain. The town’s Plaza de Armas remains lined with colonial era buildings, a reminder of long heritage of this seafaring region.
Here's a good video in English covering La Serena and Coquimbo: