Almost 300 miles north of Santiago, the Valle del Elqui region has always been known as the birthplace of pisco (Chilean national liquor), as well as the perfect spot to observe the sky, thanks to its remoteness and high altitude. Although El Valle del Elqui is a destination itself, this destination page also includes information about La Serena, Coquimbo and some beach/penguin observation options, which, along with a visit to El Valle del Elqui, represent perfect 3/4 day trips from Santiago. You can check out the activities we offer in the section below. If you need more information about the destination, scroll down or click here
El Valle del Elqui is a narrow valley in central Chile that is very much worth a visit. The valley is 40 miles from the coast and is part of the arid Andes Mountain Range. The closest big cities along the coast are La Serena and Coquimbo, on PanAmerican route 5. The main city in El Valle del Elqui is Vicuña, which is situated in the lowest part of the valley. The landscape seems as if it’s from another planet — a mixture of green from the vineyards (to produce pisco, not wine), light brown from the arid, desert-like mountains, and the blue of the sky. During winter, a fourth color joins the party — the white of the snowcaps.
The first people to inhabit the Valley were the Diaguitas, who started populating different villages in the area during the 10th century a.c. The Changos lived in the area known today as the Coquimbo region, meaning “place of quiet water” in an indigenous language. They led sedentary lives throughout the region, not only at the seafront.
From 1470 a.c. the region was dominated by the Inca Empire and the Diaguita and Chango cultures blended with the Incas’ culture, since the Incas didn’t invade or fight to conquer territories.
In 1536, the first Spaniards, commanded by Diego de Almagro, arrived in the area.
The culture nowadays is a melting pot of all these cultures, predominantly influenced by the Spanish conquerors, especially in the local architecture, agriculture and Catholic religion. But you can still find vestiges of ancient cultures in the crafts and medicinal practices. The best place to explore them is the Pisco Elqui village on Sundays when they hold a street market. Another option is to go to the Horcon Artisanal Village, which is kind of a hippy village, where a little community lives and creates crafts from natural elements.
Chile has also been recognized as the number one place in the world to ‘hunt’ for UFOs. Cochiguaz in the Elqui Valley is where many of Chile’s most spiritual people call home; an extraordinary setting, a perfect extra-terrestrial location. Many who live here are the remainders of a cult who climbed up a mountain and waited for a UFO to come and pick them up. Safe to say, the UFO never arrived. But for sceptics and UFO hunters alike, this is a fascinating place.
If you are visiting the Elqui Valley in one day (totally doable), we would recommend staying in La Serena and from there visit El Valle del Elqui. If you are thinking about staying more than one day for a more relaxed visit, then Vicuña is the place to stay, since it is the biggest village in the Valley with better transportation options and more services. In Vicuña you can choose between staying in the village or outside of it, depending on your transportation. If you rent a car (which is advisable) then you can choose one of the ‘Cabañas’ outside of Vicuña. If you don’t, then we highly recommend to stay in one of the hotels/hostels in downtown Vicuña. Personal recommendations are Zaguan Hostel and Terral Hotel.
As we mentioned, if you are visiting the Elqui Valley in one day, then we recommend staying in La Serena, a peaceful and beautiful coastal city in central Chile, adjacent to Coquimbo. In La Serena, you will find lots of lodging options, especially along the coastline, where lots of beach hotels and apart-hotels have emerged in the past 10 years. These are a great option if you want to spend some time at the beach (summer time goes from December to March). If that’s not the case, it isn’t a bad option if you just want to explore the downtown area. The only issue is that you will have to take a cab every time you want to go, or you can walk roughly 25 minutes.
If you are not traveling during the summer time or don’t want to stay by the beach, we highly recommend staying in the beautiful colonial-style downtown area. If you like hostels, a personal recommendation is ‘Hostal El Arbol,’ which is located right next to the Japanese Garden. It is a beautiful and peaceful place and the staff are very helpful.
La Serena and Valle del Elqui are very nice getaway destinations from Santiago de Chile all year round. Perhaps the beginning of the summer or the end of it is the best time to visit the area. During the summer, the temperatures range from the mid-50s to high 70s. Summer lasts from December to March.
A good time to visit Valle del Elqui is during the Vendimia, the vineyards harvest. The end of the Vendimia is normally in February, and the different villages and pisco producers host a big celebration.
In El Valle del Elqui, the main activities are to visit a pisco producer during the day and stargaze at night.
There are up to 6 pisquerias that allow visitors and offer tours through their facilities. We recommend Mistral and Tres Erres, which are located in the village of Pisco Elqui, Capel, which is outside Vicuña, and Los Nichos, situated along road between the villages of Pisco Elqui and Horcón.
Regarding stargazing, there are three observatories that run astronomical tours at night. For more details on stargazing in Chile, visit this page.
Don’t forget it’s the 2020 Solar Eclipse in Chile, so why not lengthen your stay to experience some magic with us?
Keteka grants access to authentic activities run by local tour operators and guides. You can book and secure your place in advance, and we will take care of everything else. We’ll let you know where to go or where you will be picked up and at what time.
El Valle del Elqui and La Serena are almost 300 miles north of Santiago — that’s 5 hours by car without traffic and 6 and a half hours by coach, which is the cheapest way to get there from Santiago. The other option, probably the most convenient, is to take a 1 hour flight from Santiago.
There are two airlines flying to La Serena airport — Latam (www.latam.com) and Sky Airline (www.skyairline.com). Their flights for a weekend are around $100 USD round trip from Santiago de Chile.
If you are going to take the bus, you will probably depart from Estación Central Bus Terminal. We highly recommend to book your tickets in advance at pasajebus.cl and be at the terminal 30 minutes before the departure of your bus.
If you are taking the bus, you can also look for tickets to Vicuña directly.
To go from La Serena to other villages inside the Elqui Valley, there are several public buses that operate along Route 41. You can wait for them at the bus stops on the road. A network of colectivos and taxis also operate in the area even at night. We always recommend to get a taxi company’s phone number just in case you miss the last bus.