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Chile: La Serena and Elqui Valley

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La Serena is Chile’s second-oldest city and a very pleasant university town. Following the discovery of silver nearby in the 19th century the town’s prosperity saw the building of fine churches and mansions. It was given a colonial-style facelift in the 1940s and is now a resort town popular among local holidaymakers, who flock to its beaches and nearby attractions. The Elqui valley is a gorgeous oasis with orchards and vineyards set in a cleft in the mountains. Because of the dry climate the sky here is particularly clear and there are two astronomical observatories open to visitors.

Our insider tips for La Serena and Elqui Valley


David Nichols

The clearest view of the southern sky anywhere, from one of the astronomical observatories’ telescopes.

Mary Anne

Mary Anne Nelson

Beach time on the lovely sands of the bay’s (Bahia de Coquimbo) resorts, especially La Herradura, an upmarket place with cabins and restaurants. There’s some good swimming in the bay.


Jamie Swan

Tasting the grape brandy, pisco, in a distillery in the town of Pisco Elqui, where Chile’s famous grape brandy has been created since colonial times.

What our experts say

One of the first things that will strike you when you get to the Elqui Valley is the contrast. The valley is narrow and fertile thanks to the Elqui river and thus it’s green. Very green. Lush and deep green. But when you look up to the mountains, these are barren and sandy coloured – it’s the beginning of the desert and therefore incredibly dry. The landscape is surreal – and mesmerising.


David Nichols

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