Unplanned Visit to Chile’s Elqui Valley

Country Chile | City Pisco, Elqui Valley | Dates May 29-30 | Accommodation Cosmo Elqui (Rivadavia location)

We had not planned on going to Elqui Valley. In fact, we had never heard of Elqui Valley. But our hostel had a second location there and the imagery looked cool, so we capitalized on our flexibility and booked a night (plus we got ½ off our laundry). Halfway into the 1 hour 45 minute bus ride we knew we’d made the right decision. Amazing views emerged as we cut through the imposing mountains of the valley, with desolate cactus-covered peaks towering over an impossibly-blue winding lake, bright yellow crops of grapes for wine and pisco, and tiny towns with shacks scattered on the mountain.

We arrived in what might be described as the “middle of nowhere” and spilled out of the bus onto the street. The driver missed our stop, so we circled back a bit, past a field of vines with men picking crops. They waved at us. 

Outside our Hostel

The hostel was open-air, with a few buildings and rounded clay-domes with bright paint housing the dorms and private rooms. At the far end was a jungle-gym like structure, presumably for glimpsing stars from the “clearest skies in the entire southern hemisphere.” Naturally, on the days we visited it was one of 30 or less cloudy days of the year.

We took a quick trek to the local town, Rivadavia, to check out the streets and stores. A man opened up his shop, painted in bright green, just for us. We browsed the local wine in the utter darkness of his shop, with tape with red marker announcing the prices. On the way we glimpsed a quick triangle of pink orange light highlighting the mountain peak.

For dinner we had frozen vegetable and tomato sauce, which we referred to as “mixed vegetables and rice.” We spent the night drinking Crystal beer, boxed red wine (vino tinto) and hanging by the fire with a guy from England and 3 European girls with yellow fleece blankets knotted around their waists for warmth. Later, we played an animated card game of “asshole” which I repeatedly kept losing. It always amazes me what things are culturally universal (like this random card game). In the night I rolled over onto my headlamp which I left in my bed and got a bruise.

Pisco Elqui

We spent a quiet morning at the hostel, eating breakfast, reading and I went for a run. Next we headed on the bus to Pisco Elqui, one of Chile’s pisco-producing regions! The bus wound through even smaller towns until we ended up there in a small town square with an off-white church.

We visited Mistral distillery, which is one of the more famous piscos from Chile. It was off-season so tours were half off, and we got to see the cement tanks, old equipment and wooden barrels the pisco (made from grapes) is aged in. After a large tasting we headed up the road to explore the remote town on the mountain, overlooking deep green and yellow valleys with more grapes and homes. We walked a few miles to Dona Josephia, a family distillery, for another tour of some more antiquated and simple equipment and a tasting of strong liquor. Pisco Elqui also boasted some cute restaurants, great photos of the dusty facades on the mountain, and beautiful nature along the winding roads.

Afterwards, at the hostel we chugged the remainder of our wine out of the box to avoid carrying it. Also we ate stale tortillas we found in the “free food” box for lunch as we had no food.

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