An hour by bus inland from La Serena, VICUÑA is a neat and tidy agricultural town ringed by mountains and laid out around a large, luxuriantly landscaped square. It’s a pleasant, easy-going place with a few low-key attractions, a good choice of places to stay and eat, a couple of pisco distilleries just out of town and two visitor-friendly observatories on its doorstep. If you’re looking to stretch your legs, there are panoramic views of the town and entire Elqui Valley from the top of Cerro de la Virgen, north-east of the centre.
Life revolves firmly around the central Plaza de Armas, which has at its centre a huge stone replica of the death mask of Nobel Prize-winning poet Gabriela Mistral, the Elqui Valley’s most famous daughter. On the square’s northwest corner stands the Iglesia de la Inmaculada Concepción, topped by an impressive wooden tower built in 1909 – take a look inside at its vaulted polychrome ceiling, painted with delicate religious images and supported by immense wooden columns. Right next door, the eccentric Torre Bauer is a bright-red, mock-medieval tower prefabricated in Germany in 1905 and brought to Vicuña on the instructions of the town’s German-born mayor, Adolfo Bauer; the adobe building supporting it houses the Municipalidad.