Valle de Elqui

This valley is famous for pisco (Chile's outstanding brandy-like liquor), Nobel prize laureate Gabriela Mistral and of course clear skies, ideal for astronomical observation.

Friday, July 24, 2009 Category: Top destinations
Elqui

90 kilometers east of La Serena, Valle de Elqui is another world. The valley takes its name from the river running from the mountains to the sea and fascinates visitors with fruit orchards, vegetable plantations and clear night skies perfect for astronomical observation. The valley enlightens the spirit with alternative medicine, yoga and meditation. Don't be surprised if your hostel or hotel has pyramids or a quartz pool. This is all part of the valley's style.

It has earned a reputation as an area with unique energy, something like Tibet's South American brother. Many people believe this to be so, and take advantage of gorges and small towns to find peace and a mild Mediterranean climate. But there's more:  the valley is home to adventure sports, stargazing, wine and pisco tasting. These spirits are made from the grapes that ripen along the valley's hillsides.

The area is ideal for cycling, hiking, windsurfing and horseback riding. The valley is located between hills that frame a panoramic view, and the area's geography offers different possibilities to get to know this place little by little.

Your five senses will come alive with guided visits to astronomical observatories at Cerro Pachón and Cerro Tololo. You will have the chance to admire the clearest skies in the southern hemisphere, as well as different production plants that distill pisco from grapes that have been grown in these fertile lands for centuries.

Valle de Elqui's unique energy seems to emanate from Cerro Cancana. This hill is believed to be the geographic antipode of the Himalayas. Some  people in the area say that NASA once measured the hill's energy, which came to 1,500 electromagnetic mega units, the highest on Earth. Whether this is true or not, several people have started a spiritual life in the valley, leaving the traditional urban living model far behind.

Take highway CH-41 to La Serena, turn right when you get to Rivadavia and take the D-485 highway going up into the valley.

Buses go as far as Pisco Elqui and can be taken from Coquimbo or La Serena.

Main Attractions

One day is never enough but maybe even a week isn't enough to fully appreciate the spirit of Elqui. There is much to see and to feel here. Here are some of the best attractions:

Puclaro Dam

21 kilometers east of Vicuña. These are 760 hectares which have been flooded in order to accumulate irrigation water. This is considered one of the best places in Chile for kitesurfing and windsurfing. Puclaro has a natural ventilator, ensuring strong winds practically all year round.

Vicuña

This is the largest city in the valley, birthplace of poet Gabriela Mistral, Nobel Prize for Literature in 1945. There is a museum in the city commemorating the writer. A visit to the Capel Pisco Plant is also highly recommended, where visitors can see all stages of the pisco production process. A visit to the Mamalluca observatory is not to be missed.

Mamalluca

9 kilometers from Vicuña, the Mamalluca observatory invites visitors to gaze at the sky, stars, galaxies, planets and satellites with powerful telescopes. Moonless nights are ideal, since stargazing improves the darker it gets. Reservations at the Mamalluca office in Vicuña. Gabriela Mistral 260. Phone. 51-411352.

Montegrande

A town with stately homes and vineyards. Montegrande welcomes visitors with a wide variety of restaurants, meditation centers and handicrafts, including the Zen Art Gallery. The Artesanos de Cochiguaz pisco factory is right next to the town's square. A road runs between Montegrande and Cochiguaz, a one-time center for paranormal communities claiming to have contacted extraterrestrials. The Alma Zen campsite and bed and breakfast is highly recommended, with a swimming pool, quartz crystal and Buddha statue all included.

Pisco Elqui

The valley's main tourist attraction with the widest variety of lodging and restaurants. This is a small, picturesque town that still showcases architectural heritage in its old manor homes and the Nuestra Señora del Rosario chapel. The oldest distillery in the region, Solar de Pisco Mistral, is just on the outskirts of town. The distillery can only be visited by taking the guided tour. Don't miss the Solar restaurant.

Alternative Therapies

Take some time to experience old or new rites, including bee venom therapy, Reiki, medicinal baths and yoga. These are all part of Elqui's identity.
The valley's maestros perform rites or healing sessions using natural medicine techniques. You can find everything from bee venom therapy to metamorphic massage, reiki, meditation and fire therapy.

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