72km from La Serena it’s a little town called Vicuña, Vicuña is well known in Chile because here was born Gabriela Mistral and it’s located in a point that is considered between mystics as energetic which is called Valle de Elqui: This valley is full of fantastical and even extraterrestrial stories; here is harvested the pisco grape and it is where the best chilean piscos are distilled, there are tours for every tourist type, from alcohol enthusiasts to I want to see ovnis kind, the night skies are an spectacle by themselves and if you are not satisfied by them there are also tours to the observatories around… If you want to do sports there is everything you want: trekking, bicycles, motocross, walks and even horseback riding you can do in the valley. This is a magnificent place to go and have some family fun.
All of this sounds terrific to all of you guys, after this story you’ll have a nice and safe travel guide of how to go there and enjoy everything I just told you without losing money or time lucky you…
To us this trip was an almost no trip at all and I will tell you why:
One of the prettiest things in the world are the sunrises.
It’s unlikely that I decide by myself to get up and see one, it has to be in a place where its beauty would left me without words and it would be worthy the early rise.
The Elqui Valley is without a doubt one of those places, so I demanded to get of the bed really early the day we went to the valley and excited and freezed to the bones we went at 5:45am to the valley, we went out of the hostel with a big smile. To the adventure, to freeze us, to see the sunrise over a mountain and to take cool pics.
We crossed the street and walked to the bus stop in the dark and there was nobody outside… In Chile this is normal in the early morning except at Santiago because is a bit more cosmopolitan, but the rest of Chile if there is no sun there is no life and this I learned it at La Serena. 5:45am we crossed the street to the bus stop and wait for the bus, 6:00am and there were taxis, vans, some people walking and no bus, we started to wonder if the buses to La Serena worked at those hours, 6:15am still no bus, the cold was really freezing us and the breeze wasn’t helping, 6:30am the first bus to Vicuña was leaving and us there in the bus stop, luckily to us those buses go to Vicuña every ten minutes… 6:45am the lack of buses started to deepen in our systems and we understood that there weren’t really buses at that time of the day, 7:00am and a bus that was coming from a town past Coquimbo took us and made us the favor of getting us close to the terminal of La Serena (for a few chilean pesos) and as our bus was departing at some blocks uptown we had to walk over there.
We arrived there at almost 7:40am, there was an hour and a half left until the sunrise and we have just arrived to the bus stop of the bus that would take us to Vicuña and to the Elqui Valley to taste the pisco and to take cool photos, the bus that pass every 10 minutes starting at 6:30am. That bus that never came. at 8:00am the buses we were expecting since 5:45am and about 8:15 I realized that only if I could have a rented car I would not see any sunrise at the Elqui Valley. About 8:30am and with lesser starried and something more gray than black sky I was in the room’s bed, wrapped up the head.
Travelling sometimes you find situations that leaves you bummed.
After a few days we could give ourselves permission to try again and get to Vicuña, this time at a more reasonable hour to Chileans, we arrived at the morning with the sun very up in the sky to the bus station and we took our transportation to Vicuña, the bus is easy to find next to a footbridge, we thought about buying a bread with avocado for the road, as Avena didn’t get one (we bought one for it, but never got ripen), we give up the idea and the journey begun, the ticket to Vicuña is about 2000 chilean pesos (3$) and the trip lasts about an hour and a half, at Vicuña we had to grab another bus that goes to Pisco Elqui which is the town of the Valley and because the lack of information we asked to the driver where to find it and the driver himself told us he was going next to Pisco Elqui and the ticket was 3000 chilean pesos (4,5$) extra each.
This is Avena a Mason Jar, the lunch for our travels are always in Avena, this one actually it’s a Taco in a Jar.
Oh! We thought, how nice, thanks, we paid and we sat down and the doubt hit us immediately: it is foolish to charge a ticket twice. We asked again and yes, the ticket from La Serena to Pisco Elqui is 3000 chilean pesos (4,5$), we paid for the big lack of experience of not knowing and that were 2000 chilean pesos each. Anyway.
From Vicuña to Pisco Elqui is all uphill, you pass over a road between the mountains, the bus travels across many towns before heading to Pisco Elqui, one of them is Monte Grande where it is a public library in honor of Gabriela Mistral. If you are interested on this kind of things and places (as my mother) it’s a nice place to watch a while and learn its story.
The Elqui Valley bus road between the mountains
At Pisco Elqui the bus leaves you in front of the main Square, that was completely closed and covered because of its restyling. First impressions from Pisco Elqui: Very small place, VERY touristy with lots of restaurants and many pisco promotions, there was people sitting in the sideroad and close to the street waiting for their transportation (there was no square to sit and wait). Our first step was to go to the first restaurant where we read “pisco”, but soon we changed our minds and decided to explore the town first.
Walking up the square on that street we started to notice the touristy thing of the town, at every door there is a hostel or a sign offering tours of pisco, night observatories, horseback ridings or bikes, after a moment and taking accounts we noticed that the best way of taking advantage of the day at the Valley and to return saying that we did and knew the Elqui without spending too much was to rent a bike and to pedal until our souls let us. We went into a store that caught our attention because of the people outside of it and we rented the bikes, the man who greeted us told us that for 20000 chilean pesos (31$) he could give us the lift to Horcón which is a town that is higher to Pisco Elqui and there us with the bikes go up to Alcoguaz that is the last town of the valley or as well go down directly to Pisco Elqui.
We said yes without thinking it too much and we hop on the truck with our bikes, a child that was the daughter of Mr. Eduardo and Mr. Eduardo himself, on the way we spoke of many things since the fruits and tasty stuff we had tasted in Chile to the awesome dream of Mr. Eduardo about going to Canada by plane, buy a car and go down all America, his only frustration was the frontier Panamá-Colombia and the car, but when we talked to him about the ferry that now works to cover that route all of his hopes of fulfilling his dream were renewed and we hope he makes it and gives us his experiences.
Natha with her bicycle and part of the road to way down in bicycle
Already at Horcón they carried us a bit more uphill as the ascent in front of the town is the most exhausting one, we thanked the lift and we stood alone with the bikes and the magnificent Valley, here we started to go up sometimes riding the bike sometimes a side of the bike. until a time before reaching half of the road in which I felt that if I didn’t ate I couldn’t go further so Avena made its first apparition on the road.
After the taco things weren’t better, thinking that was more that half of the way left and the time we had to visit all and go down until the last bus departed to La Serena made us decide that it was better to go down and visit what was left on the descend and that’s why we started our descend over the Elqui Valley.
In my family I’m the always be considered the “Hippie” or the “Green Sheep” because I’m not into some family standarts that I won’t be telling next, but actually the truth is I could not stand a Hippie life as it is stereotyped.
Pueblo de Artesanos
At Horcón there is an “Artisan Town” which is a commune that without any effort you could put the Hippie tag to it, is a small town that is entirely dedicated to artisan crafts and to sell the tourists its products that goes from tapestries to dreamcatchers and jams, jellies and very artisan honeys.
The town took us about 20 minutes to cross it and the interesting things at it is its amphitheater that is in the middle of it and the picnic zone besides the river, another interesting stuff is at it you can do some spiritual tours they sell, in which you meditate and your chakras are cleaned at a tour on the valley.
The descent is that, a way down, sometimes over a dirt road beside the river and sometimes the main road having special precautions with the curves and the cars.
The road lasts about an hour and a half if you don’t stop, but if you are like us that needs to stop at every turn to take a pic or to tape a video the time stretch to about two hours or less.
Over the way down to Pisco Elqui you pass an artisan and organic Pisco distillery very old from Chile called “Los Nichos” here they offer guided tours for 1000 chilean pesos (1,5$) so you can see the process of the distillation of the pisco and they tell you a bit of the history of the place and gives you to taste the final product.
View from Los Nichos
The tour is very recommended despite the winter, there are machines that works and it is always interesting to know a bit more of the things one consumes regularly *ahem*
Piscos in Los Nichos, here we tasted the warm shot of 45° alcohol
To drive a bike after drinking two shots of 45° of alcohol is-not-easy-but-the-intention-makes-all-possible.
Back to Pisco Elqui we returned the bikes and thanked for the experience, we walked a bit more of the town and took pictures and pictures, we sat down at the wall of a parking lot and finished the taco that was in Avena and the nachos we brought in the bag. After we decided to wait the last bus to La Serena that was at 8:00pm to see the sunset, and the best way to wait was to spend the time drinking pisco sour at some restaurant with a terrace and that we did.
Piscos to the end of our travel in El Duermiente Elquino. With ginger its Epic.