In the beginning of August, Angela and Marcela were lucky to escape the steady South Chilean winter rain and investigate for us in Chile´s central region. Their itinerary consisted of the increasingly popular destination of La Serena and the Elqui Valley, as well as some of the various wine valleys around Santiago. Of course, we had many questions about their trip!
Astrotourism in Chile is growing exponentially. What was your impression?
M: The Elqui Valley has always been closely tied to astronomy, even before astrotourism became fashionable. The Cerro Tololo Observatory was built in the 1960s for example.
A: This is because of the special conditions given in the area: A very dry climate, clear skies, and a certain altitude. For this reason, there is definitely a lot of potential for astrotourism.
What observatory would you recommend visiting?
A: Both Cerro Tololo and the Observatorio del Pangue are worth a visit. Cerro Tololo does not offer stargazing tours at night, but their tour is really the perfect introduction to astronomy in Chile. It takes place each Saturday, for around 3 hours.
M: Yes, actually Cerro Tololo prepared us very well for the stargazing tours at night. If you have the time and are interested in astronomy, it is a good idea to combine a visit of Cerro Tololo during the day and another observatory at night, preferably Observatorio del Pangue.
A: Yes, we really enjoyed our stargazing tour here! Even though it is a bit more expensive, the quality makes it worth it. We didn’t like Mamalluca Observatory too much, it was extremely touristy and the guides were not as well capacitated.
So, is the Elqui Valley only recommendable for people interested in astronomy?
A: Not at all. The valley in itself is very picturesque with its colorful mountains. I loved the contrast with the blue sky! We really enjoyed walking through the little villages with their adobe houses and churches. They were so peaceful and pleasant! You could also do trekking and horse rides.
M: We also visited the Pisquera Aba, close to Vicuña. After all, our famous pisco is produced here in Elqui Valley. During the visit we learned about pisco production and had a tasting as well. It was really an interesting experience.
A: Besides pisco, there are also many other local products of high quality that are worth trying. If you´re interested in artisan and gourmet products, you should really visit the La Recova market in La Serena. The goat cheese from here is quite famous for example.
M: And of course, the beaches around La Serena are beautiful as well. It´s a good place if you´re up for a beach break!
And what about accommodation? Are there good options?
A: Yes, there are definitely some options of good quality. We were very impressed with Hotel Las Molles, in between La Serena and Vicuña. Even the smallest details matter here.
M: Definitely a good hotel for clients looking for something more exclusive! And maybe want to spend several days in the valley in order to relax.
A: Generally, the offer of good quality accommodation in the valley is growing. We found Vicuña to be a convenient town to stay as well. It offers all the services you need, but at the same time is quiet, picturesque, and allows you to reach all places of interest in a day.
How much time is needed for a visit?
M: Of course, more time is always better. Ideally you should spend at least 2 or 3 nights in the valley, for example in Vicuña. But you can even visit from La Serena in a day.
You visited vineyards in both Maipo and Casablanca Valley. Can you tell us about the main differences between the valleys?
A: The main difference lies in the wines produced. Maipo Valley in the Andes foothills produces mainly red wines. Casablanca Valley, near the coast, is renowned for its white wines of premium quality. Most vineyards have production of both types of wine. But to give you an example, vineyards in Casablanca Valley usually bring the grapes for red wine from other valleys (such as Maipo or Colchagua).
Are there some vineyards that you can particularly recommend?
M: It really depends on your taste; nowadays there is a great variety of vineyards, each of them working with a different approach.
A: A good example is our new day trip “Full Day Wine Tour Casablanca Valley”. It is a good combination of two very different vineyards with an exquisite lunch, so really a perfect day for gourmets. It includes a visit to the small boutique vineyard La Recova, which offers a very personalized attention, and Bodegas RE, with a much bigger and more industrialized production.
M: Both are different approaches to wine making; none is better than the other. Nevertheless, some vineyards are of course more suited for a certain type of clientele, such as Viña VIK, which is not for everybody.
And wouldn’t it be possible to include a third vineyard in the Full Day, for example Emiliana?
M: Three vineyards are too much for one day, really! Emiliana is special in its own right. It has one of the few organic wine productions, and as a result, its tour has a different focus as well.
A: But if you want to visit a third vineyard, it is a good possibility to do so during a day trip to Valparaíso.
What was the most surprising experience of your trip?
M: The incredible peace and serenity that we found in the villages and surroundings of Pisco Elqui!
A: The sudden awareness that we are just a grain of sand in the endlessness of the universe.
If you could give one recommendation to future clients, what would it be?
M: Rent a car to travel in Elqui Valley. The area is signposted very well and the roads are in good condition. Arranging transfers is possible, but more complicated, and multilingual guides are scarce.
A: And take your time to try the local food in Elqui Valley. It is really worth it!