Torres del Paine National Park

Elqui Valley, a must-see Tourist Destination

Elqui Valley, North of Chile.
 
Valle de Elqui is one of several tourist destinations in Chile, located 500 kilometers north of Santiago, the country's capital. It is a mystical place, associated with UFO phenomena, as well as a fertile place for agriculture from the Andes to the sea. Its pollution-free air has also favored the installation of telescopes both for tourist purposes and by important scientific research centers. In recent years, several awards and mentions from around the world have confirmed the discovery of the site by the international media. 

The valley itself is a popular tourist attraction for its natural landscapes, vineyards and colonial villages that combine agrotourism, ecotourism and astrotourism.

This is how Lonely Planet, one of the most prestigious travel guides in the world, has chosen the Elqui Valley as one of the 10 best places to visit in the world in 2019. Since then, several other publications have highlighted the charms of this valley in Chile's Norte Chico region.   
  
Astrotourism, Valle de Elqui.
A privileged place for astronomy lovers
Image: Astrovida.cl
  The publication highlights this specific destination because of many reasons, such as its association with Astroturism, as well as the products that identify with the region as the Pisco (an alcoholic beverage made from certain varieties of grapes) and its status as a national cultural heritage site, attributed to Gabriela Mistral, Nobel Prize in Literature. It is mentioned that the attractions for the tourist are many and that the place had remained hidden from the World's gaze, but little by little it has started to become known, especially for its famously clear skies. In this regard, it is also said that Elqui was a key place in the World in 2019 to witness a total solar eclipse.

Meanwhile, for the second time in a row, The New York Times highlighted Valle de Elqui as one of the 52 places to visit in 2019. Valle del Elqui extends along the entire basin of the Elqui River and is one of the most visited places in Northern Chile. This part of the country is also known as the "Norte Chico" (Small North), Coquimbo Region.

Here are some of the treasures you can discover in the Elqui Valley, a place full of magic and charm that is worth visiting.

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How to get There
By Air: From Santiago to La Florida Airport, city of La Serena.
By Land: Buses or private vehicles, mainly from La Serena and Santiago.
Local Tours: Departing from La Serena (the regional capital, another of the must-see cities in Chile), there are a number of agencies offering excursions to this tourist destination.
  

Tourist Attractions in Valle de Elqui:

Vicuña

Bauer Tower, town of Vicuña, Chile.
Torre Bauer, a symbol of the village
Image: rallymobil.emol.com 
  Vicuña is the most important town in the area and the birthplace of the Chilean poet Gabriela Mistral, winner of the 1945 Nobel Prize for Literature. Like much of the "Norte Chico" (Small North), the place is internationally recognized by its clear skies, which makes it an ideal place for the observation of the firmament. Highlights include the Observatorio Cerro Tololo, one of the most important observatories in the World, operated by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy; the Observatorio Turistico-Educativo Cerro Mamalluca; the facilities of Observatorio Collowara, tourist observation post run by the Red de Alojamiento de Andacollo; Observatorio del Pangue, another of the stations receiving guided astronomical tours, at its peak today in this part of Chile. 

Other attractions include the
Museo y Biblioteca Gabriela Mistral (Museum and Library); the Museo Entomologico y de Historia Natural; the Torre Bauer, emblematic symbol of the village, built in 1905, today turned into the Oficina Municipal de Informaciones Turisticas; the Planta de Produccion Pisco Capel (Distillery); the Embalse Puclaro (Puclaro Dam, finished building in 1999, to contain the scarce rainfall and regulate the waters of the Elqui River; Villaseca, small village known for its traditional Chilean gastronomy based on solar ovens and grills.

Museo Gabriela Mistral

The Gabriela Mistral Museum is a space dedicated to the life and work of the Chilean poet and intellectual, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1945 and the National Literature Prize in 1951. The museum is located at 759 Gabriela Mistral Street, next to the writer's birthplace in Vicuña, the heart of the Elqui Valley. 

In the museum you can see personal objects, documents, photographs and books that belonged to Gabriela Mistral, as well as learn about her literary, educational and diplomatic career. The museum was inaugurated in 1957 and has a library that houses part of the poet's personal collection.

Valle de Cochiguaz

Remote hidden valley between hills, located in the commune of Paihuano, near Elqui and approximately 110 km from La Serena. Although it is watered by the river of the same name, the place presents a landscape with semi-arid hills around and a green scenery along the river basin, much appreciated by those who enjoy meditation and seek tranquility that cannot find in other parts of the World. 

The hills flanking the valley are rich in quartz and magnetite. Many of the boarding houses and cabins that house visitors also offer alternative therapies such as Reiki, Meditation, Esotericism, Yoga, Aromatic Baths, etc. Another great attraction is its clean sky, practically free of all contamination, a great advantage for astronomy lovers, because generally at night there is a spectacular view of the stars, even without the need of a telescope.

Pisco Elqui 

Town of Pisco Elqui, Chile.
Image: piscoelqui.com
Organizacion Turistica Valle de Elqui

   Small town of pre-Columbian roots located in the commune of Paihuano, 107 km east of La Serena and 37 km South West of Vicuña. Before taking its current name, it was called La Greda and then La Union, which was replaced in 1936 by the current Pisco Elqui. 
 
It is a special place for those who enjoy nature, full of vineyards because its main activity is the Pisco industry, grape brandy from the Andes that had its origin in the sixteenth century. Its main square is characterized by beautiful trees and next to it is the Nuestra Señora del Rosario Church, finished building in 1922, made with materials brought from Europe. Its tower of more than 30 meters height can be seen from afar, the temple is constituted by a central nave and two aisles, with religious images brought from France.

Craft Beer Route

Not all is grapes and Pisco in the amazing Elqui Valley. Since the end of the 19th century there has been a brewing tradition that began with the Bauer beer in Vicuña and re-emerged strongly a few years ago. 

At local agencies you can hire the 8-hour guided tour Cerveceros Ancestrales, that goes through much of the Valley to enjoy and taste in an unforgettable trip, visiting the most important craft breweries in the Coquimbo Region.

Montegrande

Small village located 98 km from La Serena and 31 km from Vicuña, commune of Paihuano, declared in 1990 a National Monument under the category of Typical Zone. It is especially known for having been the town where the Nobel Prize poet Gabriela Mistral lived during her childhood. Among its streets are still the house, school and tomb of the distinguished author. You can take guided tours through the old architecture of the town, the central square, the church, and the pisco industry.
 

Astronomical Tours in Elqui Valley  

Cerro Tololo Observatory
Image: latercera.com
With the birth of
astrotourism, the best places for educational and recreational observation of the universe have emerged. The Elqui Valley, one of the most privileged places in the world for observing the universe, today hosts a large number of facilities for amateurs and professionals of astronomy, since here, in the north of Chile, the most important scientific centers in the world have been established. In addition to the climatic conditions, the political and economic stability and the security that Chile offers are important factors that these international research centers have taken into account when deciding to locate here.

Guided tours depart mainly from the city of La Serena, with specialized personnel who, through an introductory talk, teach visitors how to distinguish planets, stars, constellations, etc., then taking advantage of the skies, usually very clear, the stars are observed without instruments, then making inspections with common telescopes and finally with last generation devices. Today there are many tours offering Astronomical routes to enthusiasts who like to enjoy the mysteries of the cosmos, here are some of them:


Astronomical Tourism
Alfa Aldea Centro Astronomico
Observatorio Andino Chakana



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