Chileans know this place by the fertile hollows and steep mountains that precede the Andean mountain range, from where the local pisco comes out. It is also a place full of magnetic energy. Some say they have even seen flying saucers...
It is a valley in which you are invaded by an environment that mixes magnetic energy, poetry and the last halos of pisco, the powerful Chilean aguardiente. Here we propose eight activities to capture its essence.
1. La Serena
Capital of the Coquimbo region, La Serena is a city that breathes peacefully next to the Pacific Ocean, about 470 kilometers north of Santiago. La Serena, with its airport and bus station, is the gateway to the Elqui Valley and perhaps that's why visitors tend to overlook it. However, it is advisable to spend at least a few hours walking the cobblestone streets of the center and the Plaza de Armas, where you can see impeccable colonial-style buildings and the stone cathedral. The square markets are home to an eclectic mix of peasants from nearby towns, indigenous artisans and natural remedies vendors.
2. The hill of the Virgin
The town of Vicuña, about 60 kilometers west of La Serena, is the first stop for those entering the Elqui Valley. From this village of low adobe houses it is possible to walk or drive up to the hill of the Virgin. At the top, a handful of telecommunications antennas dwarf the figure of the virgin, who presides over a simple uncovered chapel. From there it is possible to see the entire valley; the vineyards below, crowned by brown mountains whose silhouettes are cut out against the blue sky.
3. Homage to Gabriela Mistral
Chilean poet Gabriela Mistral was the first Latin American poet to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1945, and the only woman in Latin America to have received it to date. Mistral was born in Vicuña and spent her early years in various parts of the Elqui Valley. The Gabriela Mistral Museum, in her hometown, is a tribute to the life and work of the poetess, a staunch defender of gender equality and the importance of education.
4. Sun-flavored bread
In the village of Villaseca, just 5 kilometres from Vicuña, a group of women have popularised food cooked with solar ovens. In this valley that the sun strikes mercilessly 300 days a year, this technique has become a cheap and clean way of cooking food. Donde Martita serves delicious lamb and chicken stews cooked according to this method, as well as loaves of bread that keep the sun's heat inside.
5. Winding from village to village
The D-485 road that departs from Rivadavia, 15 kilometres east of Vicuña, leads the traveller to the bowels of the Elqui Valley. The valley narrows subway by subway and the towns of Pahiuano, Montegrande, Pisco Elqui, Horcón and Alcohuaz follow one another. Steep streets, wooden churches painted in bright colors, vineyards, artisans' workshops and countless backpackers dot a place where it is impossible to stop looking up to admire the immensity of the mountains and the intense color of the sky.
6. A sip of Chilean nectar
The debate over the origin of pisco, a brandy made from grapes, leads Chileans and Peruvians headlong. But controversial apart, most of the grapes grown in the Elqui Valley are used to make this powerful beverage. The Pisco Mistral distillery, one of the country's main producers, organizes guided tours of the facilities, shows the winemaking process and offers a pisco tasting.
7. Horseback riding in Cochiguaz
Cochiguaz is reached by following a narrow road from the town of Montegrande. The neighboring valley of Elqui is less touristic, more rural and wilder. Those who believe in it claim that the valley has an electromagnetic energy that makes it special. There are even those who claim to have seen UFOs. Perhaps because of this, workshops and activities related to esotericism abound. It is advisable to leave mysticism behind and continue beyond the paved road, along the road that enters the valley and borders the Cochiguaz River. Along this trail, several campsites and stables organize horseback rides along the valley trails.
8. Under the starlight
Chileans know the Elqui Valley as "the place where heaven and earth meet". The truth is that, during the night, the celestial labóveda is so clear that it looks like the ceiling of an enormous bubble whose walls are the pre-Andean mountains. Astronomical tourism is one of the great attractions of the valley and several observatories organize guided activities that allow you to contemplate the sky with the naked eye and through telescopes of different caliber. The Cancana, in Cochiguaz, is recommended for its price something cheaper than the rest, the magic of the place and the passion with which they speak their guides.
These are 8 places not to be missed on your next visit to Valle Mistral, we have partnerships with the best tour operators in the region to make your adventure is the best and most complete for you.
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