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Along the foothills of the Andes Mountains is a valley sometimes believed to have been sculpted by extraterrestrials due to its perfected appearance. Elqui Valley is a top destination in Chile where small towns make up a vibrant culture and food scene, which is beloved by many-a-traveler. Vineyards adorn the surrounding sloped, and wine varieties like Syrah and Carmenere are as common as water. Pisco, a spirit made also from the vineyard grapes of the valley hills, delves further into the native flavors. It doesn’t take much to convince people to come to Elqui, so when here, these are some of the top things to do.
Pueblo Artesanal de Horćon is a compilation of vendor stalls, which sell Chilean crafts, trinkets and snacks. Smaller than some markets, it’s a wonderful way to dig into the cultural offerings of the region. Sauces, small handcrafts, delicious treats—this is certainly a little gem worthy of a few hours of exploration.
Enchanted Valley dwells in the village of La Serena, and has many tales to tell with its ancient petroglyphs. Discovered in the 40s, the site soon became a National Historic Monument, and allures travelers looking to fulfill the Indiana Jones within themselves. Drive into the park and use the provided map to explore on your own. Hiking paths are rich with fossils and century-old paintings from vegetable dyes. Expert tip—it’s easy to get dehydrated out there, so bring more water than you think is needed.
The soil in this Chilean valley is optimal for growing grapes that make complex wines, full of diverse flavor profiles. One can visit a vineyard for food and wine pairings, or delve into underground cellars and manors dedicated to winemaking. March and April bring grape harvesting and celebratory wine festivals praising varietals like Syrah, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Malbec, and Pedro Ximenez. Viña Falernia is one of the highest vineyards on the globe, where you can enjoy mastered wines from pinot noir and syrah grapes.
While exploring wine country among this vineyard rich destination is an absolute must, trekking to the little town of Pisco, where you better bet the best pisco spirit is made, is just another level of craft booze exploration. Muscatel grapes are used in the hand distilling process, producing earthy, yet notably fruity flavors, with hints of apple. Experts insist tasting it straight, but a cocktail with egg whites and sugar is a creamy, sweet treat. Cola is another popular mix in, with the drink earning a finite name of Piscola. Pisco Mistral Distillery is named after Gabriela Mistral, and here, an English tour is offered, along with tastings.
Elqui Valley is officially deemed as the world’s first International Dark Sky Sanctuary, meaning the night sky is not polluted with light, and the stars beam so brightly, it’s overwhelming. More than a handful of observatories, like Refugio La Frontera, Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory and Cancana Observatory are not only for stargazing but for learning or capturing stellar astrophotography. Typically smaller groups enter the structures for two hours or so and can peer through telescopes or just soak it in through the naked eye.
Mausoleum Gabriela Mistral is where the famed Chilean poet was put to rest, and while historically significant, especially to literature buffs, the route to the tomb is beautiful in itself. Quotes in the native language are strewn about the walk, as are photos, which are somewhat of a timeline for the poet’s life. Adding further substance, in the valley below was where Mistral grew up. By taking an actual tour, you could dive in a bit deeper. A museum also resides in Vicuna.
Solar Elqui Donde Martita is one of the restaurants in the area powered by solar energy, so basically, a meal here is prepared by the sun. A simple menu of authentic eats like empanadas and extremely tender chicken demonstrates the “next level” cooking method. Solar-powered kitchens became popular in Elqui Valley after a successful experiment, a few decades ago, to ultimately reduce the amount of firewood Chileans had to use, thus reducing deforestation.
Pucara Del Valle is simple enough, but this is a solid place to get hot, golden empanadas, and flavorful carne tacos. Inside is cozy, rustic, artsy and very authentic. You just can’t go wrong with flakey empanadas, which ooze with piping hot cheese. Opt for local goat cheese above all else! It’s rich, creamy and so heavenly.
Embalse Puclaro was created by a man-made dam in Vicuña. While it’s not mentioned as often as other sites, the emerald lake, which a kitesurfer or two may be traversing, is quite a spectacle. Visitors can walk out onto a concrete walkway along the dam for even better glimpses. Winds can get fairly strong, but there’s a vibrating statue at the beginning that indicates the forces.
Elqui Domos sky view cabins and domes allow guests to further enjoy the unbelievable astronomical attributes of the valley. Cozy up in your modernized private dwelling with windows aimed toward the sky and drift to sleep with views of a lifetime. On the property, there are also giant, permanent tent-like structures available for booking.