Almost 380km north of Santiago – some 140km beyond Los Vilos – a lone sign points to the little-visited market town of OVALLE. The town’s main claim to fame is as the birthplace of one of the country’s outstanding contemporary writers, Luis Sepúlveda. It’s also a good base for exploring the dramatic Hurtado Valley or the deeply rural Limarí Valley, home to a few low-key attractions, including the Monumento Natural Pichasca, the Termas de Socos hot springs and the petroglyphs at the Valle del Encanto.
If you have your own car, you can take the scenic road northeast of Ovalle – an alternative route to Vicuña and the Elqui Valley – which winds slowly up into the mountains, passing ancient petrified wood stumps at Pichasca and the delightful oasis village of Hurtado. If you head west, you’ll find a concentration of rock carvings in the Valle del Encanto, a hot springs resort at the Termas de Socos and the impressive cloudforest reserve of Parque Nacional Fray Jorge.