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La Serena

 

You could visit La Serena—The Serene One—purely for the weather; the temperate climate, and clear sunny days all year round. Or you could come for the famous beaches of white sand and warm Pacific waters; you can easily visit a different one every day of a two-week stay.

Chile’s second oldest city, founded in 1544 as a sea link between Santiago and Lima, also offers a strategic link inland. It is an ideal base for exploring the scenic Elqui valley. It is here amongst the lush, fertile hillsides and tiny villages, that Chile’s national drink, Pisco, is produced against the glorious backdrop of the mighty Andes.

From La Serena, the valley town of Vicuña is just an hour away. Here, thanks to those cloudless skies, you’ll find the highest concentration of astronomical observatories anywhere in the world and the Cerro Mamalluca Municipal Observatory offers nightly star gazing and theories on the beginning of the universe.

Back in La Serena, a less intellectually challenging day can be passed strolling along the avenues, shopping, or just lazing about the main square, Plazas de Armas, with its impressive “Colonial Renaissance” architecture on all sides.

Come evening there is something else on offer. Something more exciting, dramatic and outright chaotic than everything else. There is soccer.

Nothing in Latin America invokes more passion and pride, noise and color than soccer, and La Serena is no different. Tickets for the local team—Club Deportes La Serena—can be purchased from the club shop, just off the main square, for $6. The stadium is easily spotted and can be reached on foot from just about anywhere in town.

At the stadium, the tranquility of day belies the cauldron of noise at night. Although not much by Latin American standards, each home game sees 14,000 fans packed tightly into the Estadio La Portada. Charismatic fans sing and chant with gusto, waving banners, flags, scarves, shirts off their own backs and anything else that comes to hand.

Fireworks and flares are ignited and thrown and drums pound constantly. The noise is particularly remarkable considering the stadium has no roof to trap the din. And what makes this all the more enjoyable is that, in Chile, soccer matches are attended by men and women, the young and old. The atmosphere may be volatile but it certainly isn’t hostile.

The arrival of the officials to start the match is greeted by whistling, jeering and coin throwing. Wisely, they are ushered in by riot police! By the time the players make an entrance the crowd is frenzied. The frantic pace of the 90 minute match mirrors the conspiring crowds, seen scaling the security fences in vain and futile attempts to get on the pitch themselves. And when a goal is scored ... chaos ensues.

With its frenzied energy and fury of fans, La Serena’s stadium is a great spot to soak up some of Latin America’s notorious soccer culture, and after a night here you’ll surely be ready to kick back on its beaches with a cold drink or two.



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