La Serena- Elqui Valley- Pisco Elqui (19.4.12-24.4.12)
La Serena, Chile
Decided to stop at La Serena on my way north to break the long journey to San Pedro de Atacama but also to visit the Valley of Elqui which I liked the sound of from reading about it in the LP. Thursday 19th I got the bus to La Serena from Santiago, which required getting up at 6.30 but was for the best priced I ticket I found at only 5,000 pesos, £6.60, one of the cheapest journies I have had in Chile! It took about 6.5 hours to get there and I went to a hostel I had been recommended, a really nice place (El Arbol). That afternoon I had a wander around the town, which seemed nice. La Serena is Chile's second-oldest city and so has lots of old buildings and many (29!) churches! I should have explored the town more and probably also should have gone to the beach since La Serena is a coastal city but I didn't, instead I ended up spending the next day catching up with people by making phone calls or (type)chatting on the internet which was good and I also caught up on my blog! It was perfect weather for this as it was overcast and on the cold side. I had a meal out in La Serena but wasn't happy when they tried to charge me more as it was a different fish to what I had ordered, the guy's attitude was bad and basically said it was my fault for not knowing the second fish I was offered was a more expensive fish! What happened to the customer is always right?! ha ha.
On Saturday morning (21st) I went to get a bus to Pisco Elqui but they were not as often as I thought so I ended up waiting for nearly an hour. I did buy my onward ticket to San Pedro de Atacama, my last stop before Bolivia, as it is a long bus ride (16.5 hours) and they sell out so I wanted to be sure I'd have a seat for when I planned to go.
A 2 hour drive through the beautiful Elqui Valley and I was in Pisco Elqui, a small village, renamed after Pisco which is produced in this area. My accommodation was lovely (El Tesoro de Elqui) and I ended up with my own room as the one dorm was full. The accommodation is within some lovely gardens and there is a pool with a view of the surrounding mountains- beautiful! That afternoon I wandered around the village which consists of only a handful of roads but quite a lot of restaurants for its size- it's a popular tourist spot and easy to see why- it's beautiful with fab weather, apparently 320 days of sun per year! Afterwards I went and sat in a deckchair in the sun but sadly after about 20 minutes it had disappeared behind the mountains. I made up for it the next day though by spending the day lying by the pool, making the most of a perfect spot to chill and read, enjoying the hot, sunny weather and clear blue skies! There are of course other things you can do in the area, such as hire a bike or go hiking. You can also visit a Pisco distillery but as I'd done that on a previous trip to Peru I didn't do that either as I wasn't a fan of the pisco anyway. I was more than happy to spend a day enjoying the peace and tranquillity here as it really is perfect for that too!
The next morning I went to the nearby tiny village of Montegrande, took the bus there but I probably should have walked! Did a little bit of walking when I got there though so wasn't completely lazy; I did the short walk down to the river and enjoyed the views of the mountains and pisco vineyards which were everywhere. In the tiny plaza I tried out a Chilean speciality which I had seen whilst in Santiago called 'Mote con Huesillos' which is corn with whole dried peaches and a juice that comes in a glass. The juice had a bit of a funny taste though and though I am glad I tried it, I wasn't a big fan. Montegrande is the birthplace of poet Gabriela Mistral and as such the two things to visit in the tiny village are a small museum and her burial site, but I couldn't go to either as it was Monday and museums are usually closed on Mondays! In the afternoon once I had returned to Pisco Elqui and got all my stuff I got the bus to the town of Vicuna, about an hour away. I got a free bus ride as despite reminding the guy collecting money he didn't take any money from me. Whilst in Pisco Elqui I had found myself wishing I hadn't prebooked my bus ticket to San Pedro as I could have happily stayed a few more days there. A good job I did book my ticket though to stop me hanging around too long, ha ha. Turned out I could have had at least one more night as the reason I went to Vicuna was to go on a trip to the observatory to go star gazing but as it was a cloudy night the tour was cancelled. This was a bit annoying as the sky in Pisco Elqui had been clear when I left. I did however get to see the surrounding mountains changing colour and a beautiful coloured, cloudy sky at sunset. I also had a nice meal with the biggest plate of vegetables and salad I have had in a long time- very tasty! The next day I got to see a parade around the plaza for the "Dia del Carabineros" (day of the Police) which included the police but also schools from the town, including several bands. It's always nice to happen along something traditional like that. After a wander around the town I got the bus back to La Serena, where I had a few hours to spare before my bus. I put my bags in left luggage and went to the mall next to the bus terminal to have a late lunch/early dinner before my bus to San Pedro at 6pm.