Valle del Elqui
It could be easily called the "paradise of Northern Chile". With its 360 sunny days per year, one of the clearest skies in the southern hemisphere, green vineyards climbing up high the surrounding mountains, deadly cold rivers and picturesque towns, is this valley one of the most relaxing places in Chile. Many people have said after visiting Elqui – "There is something in the air…" Scientists say that this place has special magnetic vibrations and a very strong energetic pole. It might not be an accident that Valle del Elqui is situated just on the other side of planet from the Himalayas. The explication about the amazingly high flow of energy is said to be because this is where the cosmic energy enters our planet, then it runs through the deep heart of Earth and comes out on surface in Tibet, Himalayas. The result of this is that once you breathe the pure air of the valley, you calm down and start relaxing. There are many natural healing places, yoga and meditations sites.
Don't laugh when the locals tell you they have seen a UFO!!!! THEY ARE SURE OF IT! Anyway after a few days in the valley you might also believe it!! (Chile is one of the countries with the most UFO sightings in the world and many of them are in this valley)
When to Go
Valle del Elqui is suitable for visiting all year round. It mostly has sunny and warm days, one of the places where you will be warm even during the winter. But it is advisable to also bring a warm sweater for it cools down very quickly in the evening!
The valley is usually very busy with Chileans visiting here on vacation in February
How to Get There
Valle del Elqui is about 70km from La Serena and some 470km from Santiago. It is very easy to get a bus from La Serena or Coquimbo. Buses are very frequent and you can get them in the main bus terminals. You can also hitch the bus on the street. In the front window you will see a sign reading "Valle de Elqui" or "Vicuña" or "Pisco Elqui". It takes about two hours to get to Vicuña and another about 30 minutes to Pisco Elqui.
Where to Go
This would be a good starting point if you are coming to the valley for a few days. This small town with 22.000 inhabitants can give you all the important information for traveling further to the valley. Here you can organize the visit to the observatory Cerro de Mamalluca or see the museum of Gabriela Mistral. There is a good tourist information office next to the famous Tower of Bauer (1905) on the main square. You can explore the most historical building of the Madariaga family from 1875 (street Gabriela Mistral 683).
The most popular excursion in Vicuña is definitely the Planta Capel which is situated on the edge of the town.
Opening time of the tourist office:
March – December Mon to Fri 8:30 to 13:00 and 14:00 to 17:30
January – February Every day without lunch break 8:30 to 17:30
Planta Capel – on the edge of town, just behind the bridge, is possible to visit the biggest distillation company in the valley. Every tourist coming on an organized tour will stop in this place. Here you can learn something about the secret how is made the most typical Chilean alcoholic drink, Pisco, and of course – you will be given a sample to taste at the end of the tour!!!
You don't need any reservation for this tour. There are guided tours starting about every fifteen minutes. The tour runs no matter how many people arrive, so if you come in the morning it is possible to have an individually guided tour. The tour itself only lasts roughly 20 minutes, so travel time will be longer than time spent at the location, yet we still think it is worth it.
Astronomical Observatories Cerro Tololo and Cerro Mamalluca
The astronomical observatories are a little more difficult to visit. For the best one Cerro Tololo you must have a reservation. It is necessary to do it a good time in advance because they open to public only on weekends during certain hours. This is a real serious observatory where there are reputable international scientists working. They will not let you to look through their 4m telescope (once the biggest in Southern Hemisphere, now there is the 8m huge telescope on Cerro Paranal) but they will show it to you and explain everything. For reservations see www.ctio.noao.edu/noao/. You will need to find your own way there. The observatory is situated 2200m above sea level and there is no public transportation.
The other one Cerro Mamalluca is closer to Vicuña and easier to get to. This one is more for the proper experience of observing the night stars. They have only 12 inch telescope but it is enough to be impressed by some of the closest stars like Alpha Centauri. You will need a reservation before coming. Contact the Municipalidad de Vicuña (Av. Gabriela Mistral 260, Vicuña). On line reservations: firstname.lastname@example.org
The cradle of Gabriela Mistral
The winner of the Nobel price for literature of the year 1945 Gabriela Mistral was born in this valley and never stopped loving it – her professional name "Mistral" she took after the soft breeze that flows through the valley (her true name was Lucila Godoy Alcayaga). She was born in Vicuña in the year 1889. It is where she spent most of her childhood. In Vicuña there is museum of her life and work. (Gabriela Mistral 759, phone/fax (56-51) 411-223 and 412-524).
If you travel further into the valley you can also visit the school where she was taught and her grave! It is situated in a small pretty town called Monte Grande. It is just next to the famous town of Pisco Elqui. Museum is open from Tue – Sun 10:00 to 13:00 and 15:00 to 19:00.
The grave of Gabriela Mistral is very popular destination for many Chileans. It is situated on a small hill at the end of the village.
The most popular destination in the Valley! It is a small town and despite the many tourists it has the impression of a sleepy place. You will find lots of restaurants, hotels and camping sites. Yet, despite these amenities it maintains the character of small relaxing town. It has a beautiful church on the main square. Visiting the local factory for pisco, Tres Erres is very popular. From Pisco Elqui there are also lots of tours on bikes, horses or climbing. The artesian market offers products made of local natural resources – soaps, aromatic essences, creams, decorations, herbal medicine etc... if you want to try the BEST RAISINS on the planet, try those here!!!!!!
Until recent time there was no television or even radio signal here. This was one of the really forgotten places where time stopped a long time ago. You can find really amazing things here!! A stone called "La Piedra del Guanaco" covered with antique ceremonial petroglyphs, many meditation and esoteric groups have their sites here, the landing area for UFO's, a magic river where only the bravest dare to swim because of its freezing cold water. There are many places to stay. Camping is situated on the shore of the river; there are small "cabañas" to rent or hostels. It is a starting point for many tours further into the valley (horses, biking, walking, etc). The only problem might be getting there; when we went they didn't have a regular public transportation service.
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