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.

valle elqui chile stars pia

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.

Valle del Elqui petroglyphs
Ancient petroglyphs…
Valle del Elqui signs
…modern hieroglyphs

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.

valle elqui chile buddhist temple
Buddhist temple in the valley

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.

valle elqui chile pisco sour

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.

Valle del Elqui landscape
Typical landscape

Valle del Elqui vinyard

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!


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Who am I?

Anthony fell in love with the world, and more particularly with South America. He wants to offer inspirational guides to the curious backpacker, travel stories to the online generation, and incentives for a more responsible and greener way-of-travel for everyone.

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  1. le pisco est originaire du Chili ou du Pérou ???
    Querelle diplomatico-gastronomique qui semble sans fin !!!!
    Les 2 pays présentent cette délicieuse eau-de-vie de raisin, le pisco, comme « boisson nationale ». Il y a d’ailleurs deux communes nommées Pisco, une au Chili (Pisco Elqui ) et une au sud du Pérou. On trouve donc des “pisqueras” dans les 2 pays.
    Chaque premier week-end de février depuis 2003 c’est Fête du Pisco, le festival Omnivore au Perou. De grandes dégustations publiques fêtent le breuvage à travers le pays dont celle offerte à une fontaine géante sur une place de Lima. J’ai eu le plaisir de m’y retrouver, impressionnant. Sur une place publique importante une grande et très belle fontaine est emplie de Pisco pur, le breuvage y coule à flot, gratuit pour tous !!! En revanche il faut faire la queue pour récupérer un minuscule verre en plastique et continuer la file jusqu’à la fontaine (15 bonnes minutes). Arrivé là une personne vous remplit votre micro verre… aussitôt vous voyez les hommes (et quelques femmes il faut bien le dire !) partir en courant pour se remettre dans la file d’attente et recommencer jusqu’à ce que leurs jambes et leur tête ne répondent plus ! J’ai fait la queue comme tout le monde, c’est tellement folklorique, mais au moment de boire, j’ai cru avoir brûlé mes lèvres et ma langue, j’ai recraché immédiatement.
    Petite anecdote, j’ai vu les pigeons se poser sur le haut de la fontaine pour boire, comme à l’accoutumée et repartir très vite.

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