Chile’s Home of Pisco – Pisco Elqui and the Elqui Valley

From La Serena, on the 10th of April I travelled 100km west to Pisco Elqui in the Elqui Valley. The Elqui Valley has a desert climate with steep mountain sides and is watered by the Elqui River. The Elqui Valley is famous in Chile for producing Pisco, a type of brandy and the key ingredient in the cocktail Pisco Sour. Pisco, like many topics in South America, is subject to dispute with both Chile and Peru claiming rights to it. In fact, in 1936 the town’s name was changed from La Union to Pisco Elqui to reinforce Chile’s rights.

Pisco Elqui and the Elqui Valley

A German shepherd posing in front of my accommodation’s swimming pool with mountains in the background

Pisco Elqui and the Elqui Valley

A sign from a Pisco Elqui bar: ‘Unique sours with Los Nichos Pisco’

One day fellow traveller Peppe and I hired bikes and cycled to the nearby Los Nichos pisco distillery. Founded in 1879, Los Nichos is Chile’s oldest still operating pisco distillery. Los Nichos is also known for its catacombs. Feeling nauseous after the bike ride, I missed the catacombs and distillery tour although was better in time for the tastings!

Pisco Elqui and the Elqui Valley

Los Nichos pisco bottles in an old crate at the distillery

Pisco Elqui and the Elqui Valley

My visit to the Elqui Valley occurred towards the end of the grape harvest. In the above photo a truck carrying grapes is driving besides more grapes drying in the sun

Pisco Elqui and the Elqui Valley

Grapevines in the Elqui Valley. In the right foreground is a ‘pepper tree’, a plant native to the western South America but also an invasive species in Australia

Pisco Elqui and the Elqui Valley

Wearing my bike helmet with Elqui Valley grapevines in the background

Pisco Elqui and the Elqui Valley

I bought cheap and delicious avocados and dried fruit from a man and his cart in the centre of Pisco Elqui

Northern Chile is world famous for astronomy with its very dry climate, moderate altitude, clear skies and atmosphere creating an ideal star-watching environment. One evening I took a tour of the Mamalluca Observatory near Vicuna. The astronomer guide provided an entertaining and educational tour of the observatory and the night sky, including viewings through two different telescopes. That evening I learned  constellations, although meaningless in astrological terms, are used by astronomers to reference different parts of the sky – like landmarks are used on earth.

Pisco Elqui and the Elqui Valley

One of Mamalluca Observatory’s telescopes

Pisco Elqui and the Elqui Valley

The astronomer took this amazing photo of the moon using my camera and a Mamalluca Observatory telescope. Some of the moon’s craters have smaller craters inside them

After three relaxing days in the Elqui Valley I returned to La Serena to continue my travels south to Santiago and central Chile.