My family and I finished our summer holidays with a 5-day road trip through the most representative towns in the Elqui Valley.
Here’s what we did right, what we shouldn’t have done, what we missed and what we learnt.
Realistically, in three days you can do the most famous landmarks and take the most important tours as long as you don’t mind driving a lot, waking up early and heading to bed late. And ideally, stay in only one place (so you don’t waste time).
If you’ve got no car, public transport can take you wherever you want, but they have a fixed schedule and not many options to choose from. It is absolutely feasible to visit each town in the Elqui Valley using public transport, but I’d definitely give the trip more than a few days.
- Puclaro Dam:
The view here makes the stop totally worthy. Plus, there’s a self-playing, giant harp. Though most people like it, I found it annoying.
It is located only 45 minutes away from La Serena.
- Kitesurf at Gualliguaica:
Kitesurf and windsurf classes are on the other side of the Puclaro Dam. To get there you have to cross the tunnel, and continue on “ruta 41” until you get to Gualliguaica town.
Each class is between $35,000 to $40,000 lukas (CLP), and we were told you need at least 15 classes to get the essentials.
For us it was a waste of time. Gualliguaica is not even beautiful and since I was with my kid, I couldn’t afford both first classes.
Vicuña was Gabriela Mistral’s birthplace (our Nobel Prize winning poet). That’s the reason why you’ll find everything named after her: from supermarkets to tiny stores, clothing shops, veggie shops, restaurants, parks, etc.
All camping sites are outside Vicuña. Hotels are way too bloody expensive, so we ended up staying at Gabriela Mistral Residential and Restaurant. It was super cheap- 18,000 CLP per double room- but at the same time, the place wasn’t what you could say all clean. However, the owners were amazing.
What to do in Vicuña? Visit the town centre, sit on a bench at Plaza de Armas and admire the adobe houses, have some copao natural juice, stroll around the craft market and enjoy all the street art the town has to offer.
- Mamalluca Observatory:
Mamalluca is a touristic observatory. If you’ve been to an astronomic tour before in the north of Chile I wouldn’t recommend this one, since the equipment is better and tour groups are much smaller up in the North.
For more information about observatory tours, click here!
- Guayacan Brewery.
Guayacan is a must if you are keen on beer; and if you aren’t, it is also a must.
Why should you go? It is the only brewery at the Elqui Valley. The place inside is lovely, the staff is super kind, the beer is exquisite (craft beer), and, if you are up for the tour, it costs less than two dollars.
The restaurant offers big burgers and pizzas. They don’t have vegan options, but they have salads, and you can have the cook customise the course for you.
Depending on the traffic, Guayacan brewery can be between 20 to 40 minutes from Vicuña.
- Monte Grande:
Look for Gabriela Mistral’s burial site.
- Cavas del Valle winery:
This small scale winery is a must-visit. I strongly recommend you to taste their late harvest wines. Plus, the tour is free, the staff speaks Spanish and English, and you get to taste four absolutely delicious organic wines.
Nice little town next to the Cochiguaz river. There are plenty of hike and treks here. Some people say there is a big Buda statue at the very end of the town, on your way to El Colorado town. Some say Dalai Lama himself placed it there.
If you want to know where NOT to stay, click here J.
Warning: you really want to click there.
- Pisco Elqui:
The town where we should have camped. My advice: head directly from Vicuña to Pisco Elqui. Some websites say it can get overcrowded. I went in summer, and yeah, there were some tourists, but it is never going to be like machu-pichu.
Pisco Elqui is what you may describe as a rustic town, with many constructions made out of adobe and wood. What’s unique here is the incredible amount of street art and the colours of the façades.
There are plenty of tour agencies and nice craft shops around the main square.
- Los Nichos distillery:
Though there are numerous pisco distilleries, rather than going to an industrial one, I strongly recommend you to visit the oldest pisquera (pisco distillery) in town. Not only the place is lovely, but the tour staff is really friendly. I’m not a pisco connoisseur, but after the tour I feel I’m an expert.
The only drawback would be the tour is in Spanish only. However, it costs less than 2 dollars, and includes the testing at the very end. The samples are delicious. If you do not speak Spanish, do it for the samples haha.
Check the tour schedules before you go, or call them first, since they only do one tour in the morning, and two during the afternoon.
Horcón (only 9 km from Pisco Elqui) is the last town you can reach on paved road. Horcón Artisanal Market won’t let you down. It has unique handmade clothes, crafts, food, cosmetic products and arts. The place is open from noon ‘til 8 pm approx. It also has a café, and a small stone amphitheatre.
Horcon is also a great place to have a picnic by the river. However, residents don’t like tourists eating nearby the river, since apparently many of them don’t clean up their mess. Be careful, some of them can be a bit rude if you haven’t greeted them or asked for permission first.
On our way back, we spent one night at Vicuña again, before heading back to Santiago. In the afternoon we finished shopping for souvenirs and at night, we took the Mamalluca observatory tour.
There’s a craft market very close to the main square. Though there are plenty of interesting souvenirs you can buy, check the first stand by your right. The seller has cheap “combarbalita” earings. Combarbalita is a colourful stone, which the jeweller used to create irregular and geometrical shaped earing, perfect for souvenir.