In the Coquimbo Region, the arid desert begins to give way to the pleasant plains of central Chile. This area combines features of both types of terrain and its port, highway, and airport infrastructure has been totally renovated. The population is mostly urban and increased by 19.6% between 1992 and 2002, far above the national average.
The capital city, La Serena, founded in 1544 by Spanish Conquistador Juan Bohón, zealously preserves its Colonial architecture. It is 475 kilometers away from Santiago: about 45 minutes by air or five hours by an excellent four-lane tollway inaugurated in 2001. It is the economic, political, financial, administrative, and tourist heart of the region.
A short distance away, the port of Coquimbo does honor to its indigenous name – «place of quiet waters.» It operates 365 days a year and is the region’s main export terminal, as well as a port of call for leisure cruises. It is complemented by Guayacán, a primarily mining port.
A major prospect for business growth is the improvement of the road to the Agua Negra Pass, which connects the region to Argentina’s San Juan province. This will position Coquimbo at the start of a bi-oceanic corridor to Porto Alegre, Brazil.
Sun and cosmic energy
This region is a very popular travel destination. Visitors are mainly attracted to its long beaches, many of fine white sand, bathed by a calm sea, and the region’s pleasant climate.
From La Serena, a road leads to the Elqui River valley, where vineyards and other crops cover the hills and ravines. The tiny one-street villages along the way look as if time has stopped for them.
This environment and its clear blue skies are conducive to contemplation and rest; for many it is a mystical place, a pole of energy, in which to «cut oneself off» from the world.
The Fray Jorge National Park, 150 kilometers south of La Serena, offers a lush contrast to its drier surroundings. Mean annual rainfall reaches only 113 mm, but the condensation of the fog on the coast has helped to form a hydrophilic forest. Native olivillo trees, canelos (cinnamon trees), and a large variety of ferns from prehistoric times survive more than 1,250 kilometers north of their natural habitat, the Valdivia area. It is a World Biosphere Reserve.
Just south of La Serena, near Tongoy, there is an area of swamps rich in vegetation, native flora, and varied fauna, especially birds such as pilpilenes, herons, seagulls, and penguins. A project for an ecotourism park is under evaluation.
The region is another privileged site for astronomy. Thanks to its clear skies, low level of light pollution, and over 300 cloudless nights per year, five large observatories are located there: Cerro Tololo and Las Campanas, operated by U.S. organizations; La Silla, run by the European Southern Observatory (ESO); Gemini South, operated by a association of seven countries; and the telescope of the Southern Observatory for Astrophysical Research (SOAR), which since April has been capturing images of the universe as sharp as those provided by the Hubble Space Telescope.