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A scene of the landscape at Coquimbo La Serena Chile

Coquimbo (La Serena), Chile

Coquimbo may be relatively small for a capital city (it's the seat of the Chilean province Elqui), but between its location along the Pan-American Highway and its status as an important port, Coquimbo receives quite a few domestic and international visitors. Many of them use the city as a jumping-off point from which to explore the attractions of the surrounding Elqui Valley. Reached by the Ruta de Estrellas (Route of the Stars), the valley's vineyards yield to a desert landscape that is home to approximately 70 percent of the world's astronomical observational infrastructure, including nearly a dozen observatories. Other popular out-of-town destinations include southern beach towns like Guanaqueros and Tongoy. Don't rush beyond city limits without checking out Coquimbo's own sights, though; because of its mining and port history, there's been a fair bit of global influence on local life and culture. One place where this influence is evident is the Coquimbo Mosque; while it's a recently built structure, inaugurated in 2007, it's still a testament to the long and fascinating history of this Chilean coastal town.

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