While some tourists might make a brief stopover in the Norte Chico of Chile to visit La Serena’s golden sanded beaches, those who only see the city miss a true hidden gem. The Elqui Valley, Chile is the country’s main pisco-producing region and considered one of the best places in South America for stargazing. Plan a trip to the Elqui Valley using this list of five things to see and do.
Pisco tasting in the Elqui Valley
The Elqui Valley’s premier attraction for local and international tourists is the wealth of pisquerias or pisco producers nestled into the vineyard-striped edges of the valley.
While the most famous is Capel, an industrial pisco distillery a short distance south of Vicuña, the valley’s main town, there are plenty of smaller-scale producers that welcome visitors for tours. Beyond Vicuña, find Pisqueria Aba and Los Nichos, both of which are examples of small-scale producers and that offer guided tours around their facilities, including the all-important tasting session of this Chilean brandy at the end!
It’s easy enough to organize a trip to visit a selection of distilleries from La Serena or Vicuña and be sure to try a pisco sour – the ubiquitous and delicious Chilean drink – during your stay.
The Atacama Desert further north might normally take the crown for the clearest night skies in Chile, but the Elqui Valley isn’t far behind. The whole region experiences, on average, 360 clear nights per year, and is home to many of the globe’s strongest telescopes, some of which can be visited during the day to learn more about the capacities of this high-tech equipment.
For astrotourists rather than professionals, over a dozen observatories are found within the Elqui Valley, Chile and the best tours can be organized from either Vicuña or Pisco Elqui. Although chances are pretty high that you’ll have clear skies, visiting outside of winter is your best guarantee for optimum conditions.
Visit the Gabriela Mistrál museum
Once home to Nobel Prize-winning poet Gabriela Mistrál, this museum in Vicuña contains a collection of her letters, manuscripts and her 2,000-strong personal book collection, all of which give a sense of the life of Latin America’s first winner of this globally-renowned prize.
Go horseback riding through the Elqui Valley
For more active travelers, a number of companies arrange horseback riding tours through the valley, allowing you to trot through verdant vineyards and bask in the glorious sunshine that so often characterizes the weather here.
An even more adventurous option is to combine this with a stargazing tour, where you trek out into the hills on the back of your steed to enjoy the night sky.
Camp beneath the stars in Pisco Elqui
Smaller in size and more remote than Vicuña, Pisco Elqui is a town at the very heart of the valley and a beautiful place to relax for a few days. While there are a number of basic but comfortable cabins and hotels in the area, a truly adventurous choice is to pitch up at one of the campgrounds.
Bring all the necessary equipment, including a stove and food if you plan on cooking, and kick back and relax beside the river – just remember to bring some layers for the night when it can get cold!
How to visit the Elqui Valley, Chile
Most tourists visit the Elqui Valley in the Chilean summertime (December through February) as this is when the warmest weather prevails. Out of this period, tourist numbers are reduced (particularly in the accommodations in Vicuña and Pisco Elqui) but you may find that some tours are not running and there is always the possibility of cloudy weather that stops you from taking a stargazing tour.
It’s possible to book most activities from La Serena, including day trips into the Elqui Valley.