The Elqui Valley (or Valle del Elqui in Spanish) is a constellation of small pueblos tucked in the arid mountains of the Coquimbo region. Tourism is here very developed (and prices accordingly) for both Chileans and foreigners, who all have a different reason to come.
The Purest Sky in the World in Elqui Valley
Thanks to its medium-level mountains, cloudless nights all year round and very little light pollution, the north of Chile offers a real stargazers paradise. Several international organizations have opened an observatory in the region and astrophotography is booming.
Picture taken by our beloved Pia, used with permission
Elqui Valley is an Important Place for Several Indigenous Peoples
Both the Diaguitas and the El Molle cultures lived in the area, which was later colonised by the Incas. All revered the Valley as an important place (probably because of the impressive presence of the stars) and left their marks in petroglyphs and ceramics.
Elqui Valley: a Strong Magnetic Point
The Valley is also claimed by a new generation of hippies and mystics, to be the Magnetic centre of the Earth, for some unclear reasons (maybe because the place was so important to the indigenous, or because of the impressive presence of the stars). Some go as far as calling it “la Ruta de la sanación“, the Healing Path. The fact is that, just like El Bolsón in Argentina, this area was the refuge of many dissidents during the dictatorship of the 70’s and 80’s. The Halley’s comet sighting in 1986 and an alleged UFO crash in Paihuano in 1998 did much to add to the reputation.
Home of the Pisco Liquor
Thanks to a large artificial reservoir, the whole valley benefits from a constant irrigation that allows the cultivation of grapes. These are used for wine-making and the production of the local speciality: pisco. This 30 to 40% brandy is a favourite of young Chileans who drink it with cola, others who drink it Sour, and the more experienced who drink it pure (click for recipes). It is unclear -and left to national preferences- whether pisco originates from Chile or from Peru.
Birthplace of Gabriela Mistral
In Vicuña, the biggest borough in the Valley, was born the poetess Gabriela Mistral, who won the Nobel prize for literature in 1945 (the 2nd Latin-American person to ever get a Nobel prize, and the 1st Latin-American woman). Despite living in several countries for her work as a diplomat and a pedagogue, she often referred to the Valley in her poetry and was eventually buried there, in Montegrande.
Elqui Valley yet again attracted many stargazers on July 2 2019, when a total solar eclipse WAS visible from several parts of South America.
Do you often look at the stars? Where is the best place to watch the sky? Tell us in the comments section below!