The Elqui Valley’s Stars, Solar Ovens and Vineyards

Chile’s Elqui Valley is my most visited location in Chile. Everyone goes to La Serena and the Elqui Valley since it’s just a couple hours drive from Valparaiso and Santiago, but for some reason I somehow end up spending more time in the valley than at the beach in La Serena and Isla Damas with the penguins.
Why stay in the Elqui Valley when there are beaches and penguins nearby? My first and foremost reason is THE STARS.
Elqui Domo – perfect observatory hotels for stargazing. (Photo: www.elquidomos.cl)

Located between the Andes and the la Cordillera de la Costa, the valley has over 300 clear days in the middle of Chile´s semiarid desert. Since there are only very small towns there, there is also very little light pollution creating a dark sky lit by stars so vivid you feel as if they were touchable.
Full moon from El Observatorio Cerro Mamalluca. Stargazing is best when the moon isn’t present, but this is an impressive sight to see.
We went to the Mamalluca Observatory and got to clearly see millions of stars and the Milkey Way, Mars, and on another occasion, the big, bright moon through their telescope. A guide pointed out all of the constellations in plain sight with a laser – the first time I saw the sky alive and moving while feeling like a mere speck in the wind.
The Valley is best known for its vineyards producing some wine but mainly pisco, Chile’s national grape brandy. Yes, Elqui is in the middle of Chile´s desert, but it´s also a valley with a micro-climate perfect for growing grapes producing mainly pisco, but there are some renegade vineyards making it onto the scene taking advantage of the terrior producing one of my favorite Syrahs at Cavas del Valle. It’s a small 50 acre, organic vineyard who is also famous for their sweet Late Harvest Muscat, locally referred to as ´´mata minas´´ – chick killer – getting its name from its reputation as a deceptive sweetness that creeps with hidden drunkenness at the bottom of a couple glasses, and apparently popular with the ladies.
Photo: www.tonyaspler.com
Pisco vineyard tours are more common, and you can find brands of pisco that you otherwise would have never heard of before, but the bigger companies are present as well such as Mistral and Capel. We chose to take a tour of Capel since it was on our way to a unique restaurant. Although my least favorite pisco, it was still cool to see how it was made and gave me new-found respect for the brandy.
Capel vinyard and production plant
There is a Solar Restaurant cooking all of its food in solar ovens and decided to take a 3km walk from our home base Vicuña through the valley for lunch (in retrospect it would be best on bike!). In the day, the ovens are oriented in the direction of the sun to preheat and cook the food taking up to four hours to cook one offering the like the traditional pastel de choclo to ribs and lamb. There are about 10 ovens feeding about 70 people a day.
Photo: Screen capture of video by EcoIdeas.net
Follow how we’re going on the A to Z Challenge here: Favorite Travel Destinations
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