The spirit of Gabriela Mistral's somnambulist poetry seeps from every pore of snoozy little Vicuña. Just 62km east of La Serena, this is the easiest base from which to delve deeper into the Elqui Valley. The town itself, with its low-key plaza, lyrical air and compact dwellings, is worth a visit for a day or two before you head out into the countryside to indulge in the nearby solar kitchens (where the sun cooks the food), and the fresh avocados, papayas and other fruits grown in the region – not to mention the famous grapes that are distilled into Chile's potent grape-brandy pisco.