Must see attractions in Norte Chico

  • Top ChoiceSights in Copiapó

    Mina San José

    In 2010, 33 miners were trapped more than 700m underground after a devastating collapse within the mountain where they'd been working. Following a Herculean effort – which pulled resources from a number of countries – all the men were successfully rescued. Televised before a global audience of an estimated one billion, the survivors emerged one by one from the specially built rescue capsule to the cheers of friends, family and assorted onlookers – including the president of Chile, Sebastián Piñera.

  • Sights in Vicuña

    Cervecería Guayacan

    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.

  • Sights in Vicuña

    Museo 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.

  • Sights in Parque Nacional Pan de Azúcar

    Pan de Azúcar

    The cold Humboldt Current flows up the desert coastline, bringing with it its peppy namesake penguin and abundant marine life. The worthwhile 44,000-hectare Pan de Azúcar includes white-sand beaches, sheltered coves, stony headlands and cacti-covered hills. Pan de Azúcar is 30km north of Chañaral via a well-maintained paved road. Most people reach it by tour or transfer from Caldera/Bahía Inglesa or Copiapó.

  • Sights in Parque Nacional Pan de Azúcar

    Isla Pan de Azúcar

    The subtriangular-shaped Isla Pan de Azúcar lies a tantalizingly short distance offshore, its base often shrouded by camanchaca (thick fog) at twilight. It is home to about 2000 Humboldt penguins, as well as other birds, otters and sea lions. The island is a restricted area, but local fishers approach the 100-hectare island by boat for up-close-and-personal views.

  • Sights in Copiapó

    Museo Regional de Atacama

    This catch-all museum provides an overview of the region's natural and human history, its mineral wealth, and key events that have shaped history over the centuries. Among the wide-ranging displays, you'll find ancient zoomorphic vessels for preparing hallucinogens used by indigenous shamans, pottery from the El Molle period (c AD 700) and weaponry from the War of the Pacific when Copiapó was a base of operations for the Chilean invasion of Peru and Bolivia.

  • Sights in Valle del Encanto

    Monumento Arqueológico Valle del Encanto

    An intriguing gallery of pre-Colombian rock art can be found at Monumento Arqueológico Valle del Encanto, a rocky tributary canyon of the Río Limarí 19km west of Ovalle. An array of petroglyphs and pictographs depict dancing stick-men, alien-like figures with antennae and characters sporting spectacular headdresses. The valley rocks are also riddled with holes called tacitas, which were used as mortars to grind ceremonial plants and food.

  • Sights in Ovalle

    Museo de Limari

    Housed in the right flank of the old train-station building, this museum houses dramatically lit ceramics, most of which are Diaguita, dating from around AD 1000 to AD 1500. The museum touches on key facets of their culture, though in Spanish only: the Diaguita practiced cranial deformation, held shaman in high esteem (as intermediaries between the living and the unseen universe beyond) and had a worldview dominated by duality (night/day, man/woman, reaping/sewing), which is reflected in some of the designs.

  • Sights in Limarí Valley

    Tabalí

    Tabalí is a great little winery that's making waves in the Limarí Valley. Located at 1600m and planted on a mix of soils (alluvial, transitional, granitic), the vineyards here produce a one-of-a-kind wine that is ripe and fresh. You'll need to reserve ahead to arrange a tour and tasting.

  • Sights in Reserva Nacional Pingüino de Humboldt

    Reserva Nacional Pingüino de Humboldt

    This aquatic reserve, encompassing some 888 hectares and several islands is home to some 68 species of land vertebrates, including sea lions, with bottle-nosed dolphins and the occasional whale (humpback and sperm whales among others) spotted in its frothy seas. The biggest draw, however, is the Humboldt penguin, for which the reserve is named. The best place to spot these waddling creatures (but magnificent swimmers) is on rocky Isla Choros.

  • Sights in Parque Nacional Llanos de Challe

    Parque Nacional Llanos de Challe

    This 45,000-hectare desert park north of Huasco is a great place to escape the crowds. Several well-marked trails take in a bit of the desert flora (and with luck, you might see guanacos). The beaches here are also quite scenic, though the waves can be too rough for swimming.

  • Sights in La Serena

    Jardín del Corazón

    With its trickling brooks, drifting swans and neatly manicured rock gardens, this Japanese garden makes an idyllic escape from the city bustle. Don't miss the greenhouse collection of adorable bonsai trees in diminutive forms of ciruela (cherry), higuera (fig) and ficus trees.

  • Sights in Elqui Valley

    Observatorio 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.

  • Sights in Elqui Valley

    Observatorio 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.

  • Sights in Montegrande

    Mausoleo 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.

  • Sights in Elqui Valley

    Observatorio Collowara

    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.

  • Sights in Vicuña

    Planta 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.

  • Sights in Cochiguaz

    Centro 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.

  • Sights in Norte Chico

    Playa La Virgen

    Until just a couple of years ago, the stunning Playa La Virgen, 46km south of Bahía Inglesa along a lovely coastal road, was a well-guarded treasure of just a few in-the-know Chileans. While the secret is now out, it's worth a day trip or a couple of days' stay at this little sliver of sandy paradise. In January the parasol-dotted beach gets packed with a young party crowd; in February it's families who move in.

  • Sights in La Serena

    Museo Histórico Casa Gabriel González Videla

    Although richly stocked with general historical artifacts, this two-story museum in an 18th-century mansion concentrates on one of La Serena's best-known (and most controversial) sons. González Videla was Chile's president from 1946 to 1952. Ever the cunning politician, he took power with communist support but then promptly outlawed the party, driving poet Pablo Neruda out of the Senate and into exile. Controversy aside, González Videla was the world's first head of state to visit Antarctica (in 1948).