After spending the day in Punta de Choros we headed on to the beautiful Valle de Elquí. Driving into the valley is pretty spectacular! The mountains surrounding the valley are all dry and sandy and in between is this green and flourishing oasis!
The valley is famous for being the home of the Chilean Pisco and for it’s amazing clear and dark sky, which allows you to look at the stars in one of it’s many observatories. We rented a flat in the small town of Pisco Elquí. Our first stop for the next day (after sleeping too long) was the little café Rustika Restobar on one of it’s few streets, where we had an amazing pizza!
With our stomachs full and therefore well prepared (we thought), we headed on to one of Valle del Elquí’s must do’s, a pisco tasting! We decided to try one of Chile’s most famous pisco brands, Pisco Mistral.
Pisco is made out of grapes, similar to wine but a sweeter kind, and thanks to the very special climate conditions in the valley (hot and sunny days and super cold nights), the grapes can be fermented into the liquor called pisco. The very interesting tour around the distillery took over an hour, with the guide explaining the whole process and showing us all the machinery and part of the vineyards.
Of course the tour ended with a pisco tasting! I have been to wine tastings before, but this was a whole different story as pisco is a liquor. Nevertheless we bravely tried almost all of the different piscos. To be honest, the only difference I could notice was the increasing percentage of alcohol in the piscos they offered us. Besides me still preferring to mix pisco with soda or making a pisco sour from it, I can really recommend the tour at Pisco Mistral.
A “little” tipsy from the pisco, we headed back to our flat. Luckily Pisco Elquí is that small that you can walk anywhere in about 10 minutes. We ended our first day in the valley with an asado for dinner in the backyard of the building where our rental was and went to bed early to be prepared for the next day.
The valley is surrounded by some mountains, which to us didn’t seem so big so we decided to go on a hike! One of my friends already visited the valley before and told us about this nice hike he went on back then. He was almost sure where the trail started, which was behind a farm on a private property, that was fenced with barbwire. Before probably illegally entering that ground, we stopped by an huge rock, which is said to have some special magnetic powers and was already recognized by the Incas and two other ancient cultures, which all left some typical paintings on the rock.
As we trusted our friend we started our trekking, still highly motivated despite the already super high temperatures. Of course we were all very well (NOT) prepared for the hike! Except one of my friends (she’s a passionate hiker), none of us were wearing hiking boots. I myself was wearing running shoes, which later would become one sole short. We still had our goal in front of us – the top of a mountain range, which didn’t seem too far from our point of view and was somehow still partly covered in snow. The hike started off with a small elevation gain through a quite surreal landscape. With every step it got drier and the few plants (often some spiked bushes which left us with a handful of bleeding cuts) slowly began to disappear, and with it the shady spots. After two hours of hiking we still didn’t seem to be any closer to that mountain range and we began to discuss if we should go on or not. It became a little doubtful that we would be able to reach it and go back while there was still daylight (of course we didn’t bring headlights or any warm clothes and the phone reception was definitely gone, even with no ancient rock around). Just then my friend decided to tell us that about two weeks ago, one hiker went missing in the valley…Maybe that made our following decision easier, but not more reasonable.
We didn’t just want to give up and turn around without getting a nice view of the valley. So we made the decision to leave the trail and just hike straight up the closest mountain to our right. From down there it didn’t seem neither high nor very steep and we could even see some small paths going up, so others must have made it before us. The first few meters seemed easy enough but after a while we began to notice that the hill got steeper and with it, the rocks looser. There were various times that we saw our lives passing by in front of us – at one point we were crossing a landslide of rocks, that was definitely trying to move down further and take us with it!! We finally tossed aside our pride and admitted our failure; we would never reach the top. By that point we also realized that the paths we saw before but didn’t seem to make any sense during our ascent, were not manmade. Suddenly, out of nowhere was a wild horse standing in front of us! We stopped and took a well deserved break before taking on the challenge of going down again without sliding to our deaths! Our efforts weren’t for nothing, we still got a really nice view over the Elquí valley.
After somehow having made it back safely to our flat, we had dinner and then headed off again, this time to an observatory in the hope we’d get a closer look at the amazing night sky over the Elquí valley. In the beginning we were all sitting in a circle around the owner of the observatory, while he pointed out some big stars and star systems. Even without any tools the sky was incredible! I’ve never seen so many stars in my life. After this we headed to the dome of the observatory and each of us got to look through a huge telescope to see some far away galaxies and planets, it was an amazing experience.
On our last morning in the valley before heading back on the long way to Santiago by car, we decided to work on our tan and relax our hurting bodies. So we stopped by the hotel of a friend to spent some hours at the pool. We got some mojitos and enjoyed the sun, while having the place all to ourselves. Of course instead of a nice tan, we all (except my Chilean friends) walked away with a bad sunburn, which made the ride back to Santiago a little less comfortable…