Chile – La Serena and Humboldt National Reserve

We calmed down after the wild rush at Valparaiso with the help of an 8-hour bus ride towards La Serena.  La Serena is a city, that is situated about 1200 km away from our final destination, the Atacama Desert. It has a 22-km long beach. It is also close to the observatory Mamalluca.

We settled in and, even before visiting the city center, we arranged a visit to the observatory that same evening. The streets look like the Bulgarian pedestrian zones so it was no surprise that we crossed the street at a red light, thinking that it was safe. The drivers seemed used to that kind of antics and were not impressed at all. We ate, pulled sweaters over our heads, and headed for the observatory.

Stargazing near La Serena

Our goal was to observe the southern starry skies guided by a professional astronomer. We used our naked eyes but also took advantage of one of the telescopes. This part of Chile is one of the few areas in the world where it is dark enough to see a lot of near and distant stars. The dark is preserved by cars turning off their headlights and continuing on only on hazard lights. The telescope becomes unnecessary. We had never seen so many stars, such as a Milky Way and nebulas visible to the naked eye. For obvious reasons we don’t have photographic material, but we have the precious memory, which we’ll never forget. Without us noticing 1 AM came around and before we got home it was almost 3 AM.

beaches and sunsets from our visit to La Serena in Chile
beaches and sunsets from our visit to La Serena in Chile
beaches and sunsets from our visit to La Serena in Chile
beaches and sunsets from our visit to La Serena in Chile
Not a pedestrian zone

The city and the beach

The weather in La Serena, just like in Valparaiso, was warm, but cloudy from the morning to 3-4 o’clock in the afternoon. After that, with uncanny accuracy, the clouds disappeared and the sun shone in the blue sky. It was time to visit the beach.

beaches and sunsets from our visit to La Serena in Chile
почивка по плажовете на Ла Серена в Чили
beaches and sunsets from our visit to La Serena in Chile
beaches and sunsets from our visit to La Serena in Chile
beaches and sunsets from our visit to La Serena in Chile
beaches and sunsets from our visit to La Serena in Chile

We watched the sunset from the balcony of the hostel, because just before we had to get our photos taken for the Bolivian visas. The photographic studio was one of a kind – they took our pictures with an old camera looking uncannily like a soap dish and within a minute we each had 6 shoddily cut pictures. Also, the hairdresser was absolutely unique. Snip-snip with slightly dubious scissors and comb and we were ready for a professional photo session – that’s what we get for that price.

beaches and sunsets from our visit to La Serena in Chile
beaches and sunsets from our visit to La Serena in Chile
beaches and sunsets from our visit to La Serena in Chile
beaches and sunsets from our visit to La Serena in Chile

It is time for dinner and we are preparing to see the penguins tomorrow. La Serena turned out to be a calm and pleasant city with many churches and a huge beach, not to mention the beauty that can be observed within an hour or two of the city.

Humboldt National Reserve

Only a two-hour drive separates La Serena from Pingüino de Humboldt National Reserve, where some of the smallest penguins in the world – the Humboldt penguin can be seen. However, the local fauna does not consist only of penguins. Thousands of birds – several types of cormorant, pelicans, Peruvian diving petrels, and albatrosses are among the many inhabitants of the islands Damas and Choros. Seals and sea lions most leisurely lounge on the rocks, while several meters away from the little chungungos dive.

A ship for a tour around the islands can be hired from the nearest fishing harbor. We avoid mentioning the flora on purpose – there are only small bushes and cacti. Amid this desert-like landscape with moist air, all the aforementioned species live companionably and get along perfectly.

a journey with penguins, seals, dolphins and more animals in HUmboldt National Reserve in Chile
a journey with penguins, seals, dolphins and more animals in HUmboldt National Reserve in Chile
a journey with penguins, seals, dolphins and more animals in HUmboldt National Reserve in Chile
a journey with penguins, seals, dolphins and more animals in HUmboldt National Reserve in Chile
a journey with penguins, seals, dolphins and more animals in HUmboldt National Reserve in Chile

Several big rock formations serve as a home for hundreds of little animals. The most famous is the rock of friendship where the penguins hold court while the cormorants are practicing their diving. What could spoil their pleasure? Humans. They are the reason why this area has been made into a reserve after the widespread fishing of anchovy left many penguins without food. Now another problem is rearing its ugly head – a mining company is polluting the air and even the people are abandoning the area. What a shame! This is the main habitat in Chile of the Humboldt penguin. Several other endangered bird species nest there each year. Humboldt National Reserve even shelters a bird species from Peru which refuses to fly back and lives in the reserve all year round. And they are about to lose their home…

a journey with penguins, seals, dolphins and more animals in HUmboldt National Reserve in Chile
a journey with penguins, seals, dolphins and more animals in HUmboldt National Reserve in Chile
a journey with penguins, seals, dolphins and more animals in HUmboldt National Reserve in Chile
a journey with penguins, seals, dolphins and more animals in HUmboldt National Reserve in Chile
a journey with penguins, seals, dolphins and more animals in HUmboldt National Reserve in Chile
a journey with penguins, seals, dolphins and more animals in HUmboldt National Reserve in Chile
a journey with penguins, seals, dolphins and more animals in HUmboldt National Reserve in Chile
a journey with penguins, seals, dolphins and more animals in HUmboldt National Reserve in Chile
a journey with penguins, seals, dolphins and more animals in HUmboldt National Reserve in Chile
a journey with penguins, seals, dolphins and more animals in HUmboldt National Reserve in Chile
a journey with penguins, seals, dolphins and more animals in HUmboldt National Reserve in Chile

Damas island

On the Damas Island, there is a nature trail, about 2 km long, which has great views and it feels like being a guest to all the birds.

We are in luck – the season of brooding and hatching of the albatross’ eggs has begun. We tiptoe along the paths so as not to disturb the caring mothers who hide their eggs between the cacti. They are most definitely not pleased by our visit. The mothers make weird and loud noises and refuse to let us in their home. Thankfully, they don’t attack us and continue with their daily activities.

a journey with penguins, seals, dolphins and more animals in HUmboldt National Reserve in Chile
a journey with penguins, seals, dolphins and more animals in HUmboldt National Reserve in Chile
a journey with penguins, seals, dolphins and more animals in HUmboldt National Reserve in Chile
a journey with penguins, seals, dolphins and more animals in HUmboldt National Reserve in Chile
a journey with penguins, seals, dolphins and more animals in HUmboldt National Reserve in Chile
a journey with penguins, seals, dolphins and more animals in HUmboldt National Reserve in Chile
a journey with penguins, seals, dolphins and more animals in HUmboldt National Reserve in Chile

We felt so free. We swam with bottle-nosed dolphins, also local residents. We dove with the small chungungos. We relaxed with the seals. We walked around like the penguins despite the icy ground. We flew like a flock of birds. We became one with the reserve.

Let’s travel to South America! Here’s our 2-month South America backpacking itinerary.

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