Stars, Pisco, and Biking in the Elqui Valley

After a relaxing few days on the beach in La Serena, Chris and I made our way to the village of Pisco Elqui in the stunning Elqui Valley. With Chris behind the wheel of our “micro machine” we wound our way up the Ruta de Las Estrellas into arid hills and bright green valleys.

I first read about this area of Chile in a post from the Globetrotter Girls. It’s worth reading the post for more detail about the valley and villages dotted throughout the region. I thought it would be a great place to do a little exploring, get outdoors, (and the photographs looked beautiful). Plus, it was a chance for us to taste pisco right from the source.

Producing Pisco

The Elqui Valley is the center of Chilean pisco production. So, what the heck is pisco, anyways? Pisco is produced from grapes and distilled into a brandy. We’ve had a few pisco sours (delicious) in Chile that have knocked our socks off. There are a few different ways this drink is made between Chile and Peru. It usually includes a combination of pisco, lime juice or lemon juice, egg white, and bitters. We really enjoyed our time in the valley. It was a great place for mountain biking, pisco tasting, and exploring the small villages throughout the area.

Finally, we participated in a stargazing tour, which was all in Spanish, and believe it or not, we’re able to pick up a decent amount. Does this mean our Spanish is improving? I hope so. One quick tip. If you plan to travel to the Elqui Valley, check out the lunar cycle. We were there right before a full moon, so the stars were a bit out shown. The stargazing would be out of this world during a new moon. Check out this feature from the New York Times travel section if you dig astronomy and want to learn more about all the Elqui Valley has to offer.

Up next we head to the Atacama Desert, the driest in the world. Keep your fingers crossed I spot at least one flamingo.

La Serena: A Seaside Escape (With All of Chile)

We’re a little bit behind on posting, but here’s a recap of our time in La Serena.

As we rode the bus back to Santiago, Emily and I discussed how much fun we had in Valparaiso. The vibrant colors and graffiti murals were amazing. The journey back to Santiago was quick as both of us were deep into our respective books. We changed buses at Terminal de la Alameda, and were off to the airport.

Spotting a Supertanker

We did have a small highlight waiting to board our flight. A large red and white plane with the tail number 944 landed. I noticed a lot of people getting up to take photos of this plane. Emily and I assumed the plane belonged to the Chilean President, as President Michelle Bachelet had been visiting the regions affected by wildfires. We were both wrong, it was in fact the 747 Supertanker airplane from the United States that was sent to help drop water onto the fires.

Exploring La Serenachurch in la serena

In La Serena, we hired a car and thus I got my first opportunity to drive. Observing the way people drive up to this point, I was slightly nervous. You definitely have to be aggressive and pay attention to your surroundings. Overall, it has been fun…and nerve wracking!

La Serena is the second oldest city in Chile (after Santiago), and is the Capital of Region IV or Norte Chico. The local population is roughly 200,000, but it is also one of the most popular beach vacation destinations in all of Chile. And since we are here in the middle of summer, we are vacationing just like the Chileans!

We had two different hotels in La Serena. This was because we had to make some changes to our original itinerary. The wildfires we wrote about in our Santiago post were starting to affect areas near the Colchagua Valley. We had planned to spend a couple of nights in wine country and decided to adjust our plans because of the fires. When we went to rebook our accommodation, we discovered there were hardly any rooms available in La Serena.

The first hotel was located right next to the Plaza de Armas in the center of town. The city center is home to a lot of small churches and a very quaint place. There were some local markets in the Plaza de Armas, and we strolled through these. We also discovered Chileans love their freshly made fruit juice, and for good reason as the temps hovered in the mid to high 80’s F. There were natural juice stands on pretty much every corner.

Beach Timesunset in la serena chile

Hotel number two, Cabanas Vegasur, was about a half block off the beach, and it was great. We were able to check in and then head down to the beach. The beach at La Serena is very long. Over the course of the next two days, we walked approximately 12 miles along the beach. Now this figure does cover the return journey, but if you cut that in half, that is 6 miles of sandy beach, and we didn’t walk all of it. On a whole, our stay here was nice and relaxing. Having lunch next to the Pacific Ocean, watching a little bit of the under-16 and under-18 National Surf competition, and of course enjoying our vacation with what seemed like 50,000 people on the beach. Emily and I enjoyed our first sunset together on this trip as well, and she took some great photos.

Tomorrow we head inland about 100km to the Elqui Valley, home of the famous Pisco grape growing region. I’ll also get a chance to see what this little Chevy Spark can do. (Emily has started referring to it as the ‘micro machine.’