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Getting There

By Plane -- La Serena's Aeropuerto La Florida (LSC; tel. 51/272652), 5km (3 miles) from downtown on Rte. 41, is served by LANExpress (tel. 600/526-2000; www.lan.com) with up to three daily flights from the capital. Check for deep discounts on early bookings. A taxi to downtown costs around $8 (£5.30); airport transfer vans cost $3 (£2) per person to downtown, $4 (£2.70) to beachfront hotels on Avenida del Mar.

By Bus -- It takes close to 7 hours to reach La Serena by bus from Santiago. You can make it an overnight trip, but that means a crack of dawn arrival as no buses leave Santiago later than shortly before midnight. Tur Bus (tel. 600/660-6600; www.turbus.com) departs from Santiago's Terminal Alameda at Av. Alameda 3750 (Metro: Univ. de Santiago); prices for the five daily semi-camas are $20 (£13) one-way, $40 (£27) for the two salón camas. Note that if you want to head back to Santiago, you might prefer to board a bus that starts off in La Serena rather than way up north, because these are frequently delayed. Pullman Bus (tel. 600/320-3200; www.pullman.cl) leaves eight times daily from Estación San Borja (Metro: Estación Central). Prices for a semi-cama are $11 (£7.30) one-way and $25 (£17) for salón camas. In general, prices are lower during the off-season. La Serena's bus terminal is just south of downtown at El Santo and Amunátegui.

By Car -- The trip up from Santiago takes about 6 hours on Rte. 5, a toll road (the trip will cost around $23/£15). The speed limit is 120km; beware of police radars. Coming from the south, stop and put some fuel in your tank at Pichidangui or Los Vilos as the next station is at Socos, a stretch on one tank all the way from Santiago and with frequent long waits to boot. That said, if you're renting, it probably makes more sense to pick up the car in La Serena than in Santiago. A car is the means of transport of choice in the Elqui Valley. You won't need a 4*4, though the drive out to Punta Choros is a little rough.

The airport has rental kiosks for Avis (tel. 600/368-2000 or 51/200921; www.avischile.cl), Budget (tel. 2/362-3200 or 51/270975; www.budget.cl); and Hertz (tel. 2/496-1000 or 51/200922; www.hertz.cl). Downtown, you'll find Avis on Av. Francisco de Aguirre 63 (tel. 51/227171; laserena@avischile.cl); Budget at Av. Francisco de Aguirre 15 (tel. 51/218272); and Hertz at Av. Francisco de Aguirre 225 (tel. 51/218925).

Orientation

La Serena's square-grid colonial center lies on a bluff about a mile from the ocean, with the main square just a block from its western fringe and all the sights within easy walking distance. You'll need a taxi to travel to and from the beachfront hotels, which run north-south 12km (7 1/2 miles) all the way down to the port of Coquimbo.

Visitor Information

Sernatur operates a visitor center with friendly, helpful staff (some English spoken) at Matta 461 on the west side of the plaza between Prat and Cordovez, almost across from the cathedral (tel. 51/225138). In January and February, it's open daily from 8am to midnight; the rest of the year, Monday through Friday from 9am to 5:30pm, and Saturday from 10am to 1pm and from 2 to 4pm.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.