Chile - the Valle de Elqui

Discussion in 'Central/South America' started by Bay Pisco Shark, Feb 21, 2011.  |  Print Topic

  1. Bay Pisco Shark
    Original Member

    Bay Pisco Shark Gold Member

    Messages:
    1,557
    Likes Received:
    2,072
    Status Points:
    1,270
    This is one of those rarely-covered destinations; in fact, prior to my first couple of trips, it was hard to find much information outside of a tourbook. Online requests for assistance were fairly fruitless.

    Elqui Valley is east of La Serena. La Serena is a lovely coastal city not much more than 30 minutes' airtime north of Santiago. Rental cars are available @ LSC and necessary for the trip. LSC is a simple little airport, east of the city center, making the ride out to the Valley quite simple.

    The Valley is renowned for some of the world's clearest and driest skies, and until you actually see this at night, it is hard to imagine. It isn't too long of a drive out of LSC that you reach the reservoir which is the dammed end of the river, which you continue to follow up through the Valley. The first worthwhile stop is the town of Vicuña. It has a town square reminiscent of the center of Sonoma. It is also a good place to get some lunch, and a good place to stock up on water/wine/snacks should one be spending the night further out in the Valley. There is a Gabriela Mistral museum in the town.

    The Valley is known for the pisco grapes grown, as I believe most Pisco Chileno comes from this valley. There are distilleries open for visits. For those unfamiliar with Chile, Capel (pisco) is sort of like the Smirnoff of Pisco Chileno, so you might want to choose one of the smaller artisan distilleries. As you may or may not know, Peru claims pisco as its own. So, Chile decided to change the name of a town far deep in this valley to Pisco Elqui. Pisco Elqui is pretty much the end of the paved road, and has some accommodations, in which I've never stayed. Deep in the valley there's now a winery that is putting out some decent stuff. I don't recall the name of the place, but the vintner was quite proud (on many occasions) that his were the northernmost latitude wines in Chile. You can't miss it, because you can't miss much when you see a billboard or other signage on this road.

    On my three overnight visits, I've stayed in Cochiguaz. (cochee-gwaz) Cochiguaz isn't a town, rather, it is a series of cabañas in an area that has zen-like qualities, past the end of the paved road. The road is a bit precarious and narrow at times, but not worth not going. Most of the lodgings are on generators, and your hot water tank for your room needs turning on when you get there. Cash or bank transfer only. Not expensive. Most have a dining room (limited hours and menu, and they'll usually ask if you'll be eating when you get there, probably so they can take things out of the freezer), or a kitchenette in the room. Some have horseback riding, pools (very cold - it is fresh water from the river which comes right down from melting ice), and there is camping available. But until the night falls, and then after midnight, when all the generators go off, you really don't know what "billions of stars" look like. The big caveat is making sure that you check the moon tables before your trip. Well over 300 nights a year have the clarity, but if the full moon is anywhere nearby, forget it if you are going for stars. (On one trip, the moon was far below the horizon for hours, but the light of it killed over half the sky.) No TV, limited phone service, very limited cell signal. Great for 24 or 48 hours depending on whom you are with. Especially when you've stocked up on wine and pisco.
    In a nutshell, that is the Valle de Elqui. Not everyone's cup of tea, but I wouldn't hesitate to return. It also makes a nice add-on to a trip to La Serena / Coquimbo.
     
    SoFlyOn and Gargoyle like this.
  2. Bay Pisco Shark
    Original Member

    Bay Pisco Shark Gold Member

    Messages:
    1,557
    Likes Received:
    2,072
    Status Points:
    1,270
    A few photos - River, reservoir, future pisco hanging on the vines

    100_0043.JPG

    100_0050.JPG

    100_0040.JPG
     
    QueenOfDenial, Eastbay1K and SoFlyOn like this.

Share This Page