Quiet, rural and extremely beautiful, the ELQUI VALLEY unfolds east from La Serena and into the Andes. Irrigated by canals fed by the Puclara and La Laguna dams, the valley floor is given over entirely to cultivation – of papayas, custard apples (chirimoyas), oranges, avocados and, most famously, the vast expanses of grape vines grown to produce pisco. It’s the fluorescent green of these vines that makes the valley so stunning, forming a spectacular contrast with the charred, brown hills that rise on either side.
Some 60km east of La Serena, appealing little Vicuña is the main town and transport hub of the Elqui Valley. Moving east from here, the valley gets higher and narrower and is dotted with tiny villages like Montegrande and the odd pisco distillery. Pisco Elqui, 105km east of La Serena, is a very pretty village that makes a great place to unwind for a couple of days. If you really want to get away from it all, head for one of the rustic cabañas dotted along the banks of the Río Cochiguaz, which forks east of the main valley at Montegrande, or delve beyond Pisco Elqui into the farthest reaches of the Elqui Valley itself. Buses and a paved road will get you all the way to Horcón but not to the farthest village of all, Alcohuaz.