The beautiful Elqui Valley, which runs from the Andean foothills to La Serena on the Pacific Coast, is surrounded by desert and stars. It is a region rich in tradition and history and yet at the forefront of scientific discovery and modern experimentation. It is the perfect place to explore for a weekend or more as you make your way through Chile’s arid north.
Famous for Chile’s national spirit, pisco, the Elqui Valley, has a lot more to offer than a great cocktail. We spent a weekend in the heart of Elqui discovering the best things to do in the Elqui Valley.
The Elqui Valley is five hundred kilometers north of Santiago and fifty kilometers inland from La Serena and the Pacific.
Situated on the La Ruta de las Estrellas, or the route of stars, the Equi Valley is renowned for its stargazing and astronomy. As such, the valley is home to a number of important observatories.
Elqui is also famous for its pisco, the iconic brandy that ostensibly originated here, in the town of Pisco, in the 18th century. More recently, winemakers have begun establishing in vineyards in the area, creating Chile’s northernmost wine region.
What to Do in the Elqui Valley
Discover pisco in Pisco
Pisco, a brandy or distilled wine, is the national liquor of Chile and, contentiously, also of neighboring Peru. While this traditional brandy may be equally loved throughout the two countries, its origin is an ongoing dispute. The debate rages on between historians as to where Pisco was first made.
According to Chileans, the iconic brandy originated here in the town of Pisco. But if you thought that would help settle matters, Peru also has a town called Pisco where they insist pisco was first made.
Politics aside, here you can visit a distillery to see how the liquor is made and sample some too.
Skip the mass production distilleries and visit Pisquera Aba located in Vicuña. Aba makes two different piscos, one for consumption within Chile and one for exportation which mostly ends up in Europe.
A free tour in English culminating in a tasting of their range was informative. And you can pick up a bottle of their pisco to make your own pisco sours for only 8,000 CLP or $10 USD.
- Hours of Operation: Monday – Saturday 9:00 am – 7:00 pm and Sundays from 10:00 am – 7:00 pm
- Address: Fundo San Juan, El Arenal, Vicuña, Chile
The Wine of the Elqui Valley
Though Elqui’s claim to fame has historically been pisco, more recently, the region is developing a reputation for wine. Chile’s northernmost vineyards produce a range of wines and are most famous for their Syrah and Sauvignon Blanc varieties. Visit one of the wineries here to experience this up-and-coming wine region.
Located in the heart of the Elqui, Viña Falernia offers tours of its vineyards and tastings of its popular wines.
- Hours: Saturday and Sunday 10:00 am – 5:00 pm and 11:00 am – 7:00 pm in Summer
- Address: Ruta 41, Km 52 Vicuña, Chile
Star Gazing in Elqui Valley
The Elqui Valley is one of the world’s most significant regions for astronomical observation. A combination of climate, geology, and an absence of light creates the optimal conditions for viewing the night sky. As a result, this region is home to many observatories.
The opportunity to see the Milky Way stretch horizon to horizon is breathtaking in its self. However, if you are interested in learning more about astronomy and the night sky, this is the place to do it.
Alfa Aldea Observatory
A family-run observatory set up in a backyard, Alfa Aldea is a relaxed and enjoyable way to observe the night sky with knowledgeable and welcoming hosts. The tour even includes a glass of wine and a bowl of soup. Two-hour tours cost $15,000 CLP. You can stay onsite as well with rooms starting from $20,000 CLP.
Reserve ahead by calling +56 51 2412441 or emailing [email protected] .
- Hours: 9.00pm – 11.00pm
- Address: La Viñita, Parcela 17, Vicuña
The Pangue Observatory is another opportunity to experience the night sky through powerful telescopes. Two-hour tours guided in English, French or Spanish cost $25,000 CLP.
- Hours: 9.00pm – 11.00pm
- Address: Oficina Observatorio del Pangue San Martin 233, Vicuña (This is the address for the offices the observatory is in the hills above Vicuña)
Cerro Tololo Observatory
This tour is of the impressive scientific facility rather than an opportunity to use the telescopes. Cerro Tololo is one of the foremost professional astronomical compounds in the world. And it offers free tours. Reservations are necessary as spaces are limited and fill up months in advance. Reserve by telephone or go to their office in La Serena. Call 56 5122 05200
- Address: Vicuña, Chile
- Reservations: By telephone at 56 5122 05200 or at their office in La Serena
Where to Eat and Drink in the Elqui Valley
The popular bar and restaurant Fuente Elquina serves simple Chilean dishes in a garden patio. Reasonable prices, great atmosphere, and friendly service.
- Address: Gabriela Mistral 240, Vicuña, Coquimbo, Chile
- Hours of Operation:
- Tuesday – Thursday: 1:00 pm – 11:00 pm
- Friday – Saturday: 1:00 pm – 2:00 am
- Sunday: 6:00 pm – 11:00 pm
The Guayacan Brewery is located just outside of Vicuña. Their beer is some of the more popular craft beers in Chile. A beer flight including six small tasters gives the opportunity to sample their range. Our favorite was the Pale Ale, but all of them were delicious. The brewery also serves pub fare for lunch and dinner.
- Address: Calle Principal 33, Diaguitas, Vicuña, Coquimbo, Chile
- Hours of Operation: Daily from 12:00 pm – 8:00 pm
Homemade pastas and pizzas are some of the menu highlights at this cosy brew pub.
- Address: D-333 34 Diaguitas
- Hours of Operation: Wednesday – Monday from 12:00 pm – 6:00 pm (closed Tuesday)
A great place to grab a pisco sour or draught beer in a garden patio. The food can be hit and miss.
- Address: Gabriela Mistral 565, Vicuña, Coquimbo, Chile
- Hours of Operation:
- Sunday – Wednesday: 9:30 am – 11:00 pm
- Thursday: 9:30 am – 12:00 am
- Friday – Saturday: 9:30 am – 1:00 am
Solar Elqui Donde Martita
Simple food where the focus is on the novelty of cooking with solar. The terrace overlooking a vineyard adds to the experience. Open daily for lunch.
- Address: Vicuña, Coquimbo, Chile
- Hours of Operation: Daily from 11:00 am – 5:00 pm
Where to Stay in the Elqui Valley
Camping in the Elqui Valley
Camping under the stars in the Elqui Valley is one of the best things to do here and it’s absolutely free. As with the rest of Chile, wild camping is permitted throughout Elqui. And the roads that lead out of the valley provide numerous campsites just off the road.
We spent two days camping above Vicuña below the Mamalluca observatory.
One night the police stopped by to check our paperwork but were friendly.
Accommodation in the Elqui Valley
Clean and comfortable this hostel has great facilities, friendly staff and is perfectly located. Cosmo Elqui offers dormitory-style beds from just $12 USD a night.
Hostal Boutique Esquina Elquina
For a private room try Hostal Boutique Esquina Elquina. Located in the heart of Vicuña has comfortable rooms and simple breakfast. Rooms start from $50 USD.
Located above the town of Pisco, Cabañas Miraelqui offers modern, self-contained cottages that have everything you need for a relaxing weekend in the Elqui Valley. Cottages start from $110 USD.
How to Get to the Elqui Valley
The Elqui Valley is easily accessed by bus or car. La Serena, on the coast about 500 km north of Santiago, is the end of the valley and the closest hub.
The drive from La Serena to Vicuña takes forty-five minutes. Pisco is another 30 minutes up the road.
You can find bus timetables at Rome2Rio.
Have you visited the Elqui Valley? What did you think? Let us know in the comments below.
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