The heart of Chilean pisco production, the Elqui Valley is carpeted with a broad cover of striated green. Famous for its futuristic observatories, seekers of cosmic energies, frequent UFO sightings, poet Gabriela Mistral and quaint villages, this is a truly enchanting – and enchanted – area, and one of the must-visit places in Norte Chico.
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Elqui Valley.
You won't get far in the Elqui Valley without someone offering you a Guayacan, and if you're even vaguely interested in beer, you should accept. This little craft brewery's reputation is growing fast, and brief tours of the facilities are accompanied by a generous sampling of its products.
MuseumMuseo Gabriela Mistral
The town's landmark Museo Gabriela Mistral, between Riquelme and Baquedano, celebrates one of Chile's most famous literary figures. Gabriela Mistral was born Lucila Godoy Alcayaga in 1889 in Vicuña. The museum charts her life (in Spanish only), from a replica of her adobe birthplace to her Nobel Prize, and has a clutch of busts making her seem a particularly strict schoolmarm.
ObservatoryObservatorio Interamericano Cerro Tololo
Probing the mysteries of stars billions of miles into the past is all in a night's work at the futuristic Observatorio Interamericano Cerro Tololo, which sits at 2200m atop its hill. And while visitors can't stargaze through its monstrous telescopes (even the astronomers don't do that as the telescopes first feed data into computer monitors), a daytime tour of the facilities is still an enlightening experience.
ObservatoryObservatorio Cerro Mamalluca
The star of the stargazing show, the purpose-built Observatorio Cerro Mamalluca, 9km northeast of Vicuña, is Elqui Valley's biggest attraction. So big, in fact, that you're likely to share the tour with hordes of other tourists, all looking for their chance to goggle at distant galaxies, star clusters and nebulae through a 30cm telescope.
TombMausoleo Gabriela Mistral
The gravesite of Gabriela Mistral lies on a hillside just south of Montegrande's main plaza. A winding path to the top is lined with quotes and biographical details about the famous poet, providing a fine tribute to her extraordinary life. Although the signage is in Spanish, photographs help illustrate her life, with images of Mistral alongside her longtime friend (and presumed lover) Doris Dana on various travels in Mexico and at their US home in Roslyn Harbor.
Like Mamalluca, the shiny hilltop Observatorio Collowara in Andacollo is built for tourists; no serious interstellar research is conducted here. Two-hour tours run in summer at 9:30pm, 11pm and 12:30am; in winter they are at 8pm and 10:30pm. The facility boasts three viewing platforms and a 40cm telescope – slightly larger than that at Mamalluca. There are also three smaller telescopes available, so you won't have to wait for long.
DistilleryPlanta Pisco Capel
Capel distills pisco at this facility and has its only bottling plant here. Located about 2km (a 20-minute walk) southeast of town, this large pisco maker offers 45-minute tours of the facilities, which includes an on-site museum and a few skimpy samples (CH$15,000 gets you the premium tour, with snacks and tastings of six top-shelf piscos). To get here, head southeast of town and across the bridge, then turn left.
Buddhist StupaCentro Otzer Ling
A Buddhist stupa in a remote corner of northern Chile? You'll think you took a wrong turn off the Panamericana and somehow ended up in the Himalaya rather than the Andes. Built in 2016, this evocative snow-white monument, complete with Tibetan prayer flags flapping in the breeze, looks all the more striking against the parched, mountainous backdrop.
ObservatoryObservatorio del Pangue
The latest of a few on the observatory front is Observatorio del Pangue, 17km south of Vicuña, run by three enthusiastic French and Chilean astronomers. The two-hour tours (in English, French and Spanish) operate nightly – unless there's a full moon – at 10pm during summer (and 6pm in winter). Transportation to the observatory is included with the tour fee from the observatory's Vicuña office.
Whether it’s a guided tour of a historic landmark, private tasting of local delicacies, or an off-road adventure — explore the best experiences in Elqui Valley.