The must-sees of the Elqui Valley

Francisca Pizarro | Live the World

November 23, 2022

Chile is a country of landscapes, you can find everything from desert to snow! One of the most visited places in the country is the Elqui Valley, an area of nature and mystical energies. It is located in the region of Coquimbo, in the so-called "norte chico." The Valley is the perfect place to do relaxed tourism, there are plenty of different activities to do while visiting it! Since there are too many to fit them all in here, I will take you through the must-sees of the Elqui Valley.

Puclaro Dam

Do you like water sports? If the answer to that is yes, the Puclaro Dam is your place! Located approximately 46 km away from La Serena is a hotspot to practice kitesurf and windsurf (among other water sports). But the dam is not meant for that purpose alone; its primary function is to control the flow of the Elqui River in case there is a drought. Another fun thing to see in the dam is a "sound monument," it consists of a  big harp that produces sounds with the wind of the place. The monument is called "Eolian Images of the Elqui." To visit the Puclaro Dam, you have to get to the wall and get a pass. It is definitely worth the visit.

©Istock/Alexis Gonzalez

Vicuña, hometown of Gabriela Mistral

Located approximately 60 KM from La Serena, it is the birthplace of poet Gabriela Mistral, Chile's first winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature. In Vicuña, you can visit the Gabriela Mistral Museum, a place filled with her personal belongings, the testimony of her life, and her work as a poet. Fun fact! The museum was built in the same place where Mistral´s home was, but that is not all! Next to the museum, you can visit a replica of said home.

©Flickr/Gabriel Vera León

Another fun thing to do in town is to visit its central square, a place where Mistral's figure is also commemorated, something you can appreciate as you walk by it. While there, I recommend you visit the Templo Inmaculada Concepción (Church of the Immaculate Conception). It was inaugurated in 1909 and has beautiful religious paintings inside, especially in the ceiling. There are a lot of religious objects inside the church and a museum of sacred art. A highlight among those items is the image of the Virgen del Carmen; it is said that the Virgin´s image accompanied the Chilean troops during the War of the Pacific. Also, you can see the baptismal pile where Gabriela Mistral was baptized (as Lucila Godoy Alcayaga, her actual name). 


Pisco, home of distilleries 

Pisco is the national drink of Chile and also a small town in the Elqui Valley, where you can see how the drink is made. You might be asking yourself, what is Pisco? It is an alcoholic beverage of the brandy family, and it can only be produced by the distillation of wine from particular grapes and just in the regions of Atacama and Coquimbo. As a fun fact, it is debated between Chileans and Peruvians whether pisco was born in Chile or Perú, I think it is not that important because Chilean pisco is very different from the one made by our Peruvian neighbors. If you have the chance, I highly recommend trying both, but beware, it is a strong drink!


About Pisco town, it is a small place in the Elqui Valley where you can visit distilleries of the liquor. One of the most well-known and visited distilleries in town is the Pisco Mistral Distillery, in there you can take tours, see how pisco is made and eat at an excellent restaurant inside. Also, even when if it is not in Pisco town itself, I have to tell you to visit one of the eldest artisanal pisco distillery: Los Nichos Distillery. The interesting part of the tour through Los Nichos is that they still use artisanal methods to pisco production and is the last artisanal winery in the country. The great part of visiting a distillery while in the Valley is that the production of pisco is very traditional and specific, you can see it step by step and taste the final product in the very same place it was made! 


Besides the distilleries and everything pisco related, you can visit the town's main square. It has an Ancient Church, the "Iglesia Señora del Rosario," this small church is extraordinary because its architectural design was made in the workshop of Gustav Eiffel, furthermore, constructing this church was no easy task! Bringing the materials from the USA and Europe was achieved using mules and horses. Fun fact about the church: Seen from above, it is noticeable that it is shaped like a cross. Also, while in the square, I recommend you look at the artisans and take a break from the sun and heat under the trees.


Astrotourism, stargazing in the Valley

What a sin it would be to visit the Valley and not to see the stars! This is the place where you find the clearest skies of the world, so it obviously has a lot of observatories! I will briefly mention you just a few of them because there are too many to fit them here!


First, I will present to you a pioneer among them, the Mamalluca Observatory! Mamalluca means mother that shelters or protects in Quechua. It was built in 1995 and was one of the first to promote astrotourism in Chile. The observatory is located 9 km away from Vicuña in the Mamalluca Hill, in there, you can observe with the stars, the moon, and even Jupiter! There is also a planetary, and the tour includes a talk about the universe.

©Wikimedia/Miguel Carvajal

Maybe the most known observatory is the Tololo Inter-American Observatory (CTIO), it is said is the eldest observatory center in the Region of Coquimbo. It is located approximately 80 km away from La Serena and consists of 34 telescopes. The main activity of this observatory is not touristic but scientific, namely research in astronomy. Anyway, they offer free tours every Saturday of the year! For safety reasons, the number of people allowed per tour is very reduced, so if you want to visit it, I recommend you book the tour at least a month before traveling. 


The Elqui Valley is a land of energy and nature. The activities there are as endless as the beauty of the place! If you want to relax and connect with energy points and mystical experiences, the Valley is perfect for you. There is a lot more to see in Elqui than what I have shown you here, unique tours and fantastic nightlife in nature, visit the Valley and see it yourself!

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