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, and many 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 (such as cycling, hiking, windsurfing and horseback riding), stargazing at Cerro Pachón and Cerro Tololo, among other activities. You can also go for wine and pisco tasting made from the grapes that ripen along the valley’s hillsides.
Elqui’s Must Do’s
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.
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.
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.
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