Huasco Valley's principal town, Vallenar is a bucolic settlement that runs at a soothingly slow pace. Strange as it seems, its name is a corruption of Ballinagh – an Irish town and home to the region's colonial governor, Ambrosio O'Higgins. After serious earthquake damage in 1922, Vallenar was rebuilt with wood instead of adobe, but the city's buildings still rest on unconsolidated sediments.
Though there is little to do in town other than stroll around the central plaza, it's a good jumping-off point for visits to Parque Nacional Llanos de Challe and a place to break the journey if driving or heading up north.
Motorists often bypass Vallenar because Puente Huasco (Huasco Bridge), which spans the valley, does not drop into the town itself. At the bridge's southern end, the Vallenar–Huasco Hwy leads east then branches across the river.