La Serena is on the Chilean coast.  We awoke to the worst weather we have seen on our entire trip, overcast and foggy.  We would come to find out that this is the normal weather for La Serena.   Getting a taxi from the bus station was easy and we headed to Hotel Costa Real.  This hotel was more expensive, but it was close to the Plaza de Armas where most of the tourist information bureaus were located.  From there we could make our arrangements to see the Mamalluca Observatory and the highly anticipated Humboldt Penguin Reserve!

The taxi stopped in front of the hotel and as the bellhops came out to help with our luggage.    Of course we had no reservation, and didn’t even know if they would anything available.  I told Dan I would go inside and see about a room.  My plan was to talk to them before our ragtag, just off an overnight bus group with our ragtagbackpacks descended upon the lobby.  This afterall was not a hostel, but a businessman´s hotel.  We needed to have a sense of decorum.

I gave a friendly smile to the woman behind the desk.  ¨I´d like to see about a room.¨

She looked over my uncombed hair, my several layers of clothing, including the Peru sweater I had been wearing for nearly a month now.  I could see her looking over my shoulder, a bit alarmed as she saw Dan and the kids enter the lobby.

“Do you have a reservation?” she asked haltingly in English.


Again the look of alarm on her face.  “Just a minute please.”  She called for backup.  The manager came to the counter, equally alarmed. Again I stated I needed a room.  Again she asked if we had a reservation.  Again I said no.  Again she looked distressed. 

“Do you have a room available?”  I mean really, reservation or not, you either had a room or you didn’t.  End of story.

Finally she came up with a room option.  A king size bed, they would bring in a rollaway bed, and there was a sofa in the room.  She gave me the room price, which included a breakfast buffet.  The price was very reasonable, considering the location and the fact this was listed as a five star hotel.  But I had to ask.

“Can you give me a discount?”

The manager looked at me as if I had asked if  could sleep in the lobby.  She said she could take $1o (US dollars)  off the price.  Sold! 

Our room was incredible.  First it was huge.  The biggest room we had yet.  Located on the second floor, it overlooked the small outdoor swimming pool.  The bathroom was large and beautifully tiled, we had a minibar.  But it was the sight of the stereo system and 48 inch flat screen TV that sent me scrambling for the phone to book another night. 

After showers, and dragging ourselves away from the TV, we walked toward the Plaza for lunch and to find a tourist office.  The guidebook suggested a cafeteria, near a really nice grocery store.  We feasted!  Roast beef, turkey, chicken, mashed potatoes, you name it.  It was like being in a US style cafeteria for about a quarter of the price.  We loved it.  Afterwards, we walked around the city, doing some window shopping. 

La Serena is Chile’s second oldest city.  Of course it has the usually beautiful tree lined, well enjoyed plaza, but we were also in a major shopping district.  Everyone was well dressed and I felt a bit out of plaza in our Peru attire.  The Chileans, for the most part, totally ignored us, as if we didn’t exist.  It was so surprising to us.  When you dealt with them one on one, they were mostly friendly and helpful, but out on the streets, the atmosphere was different.  We mostly wandered that first day, taking in the sights, enjoying the cool air, going to bed early.  The next day, we found El QuiValley tours, where our very friendly, English speaking tour guide, sold us the tour to the Humboldt Penguin Reserve and the Mamalluca Observatory. After another great meal at the cafeteria, we were in bed early as the van to the penguin reserve would arrive at 8 am the next morning.