Located 400 km north of Santiago on the edge of the Atacama Desert, Elqui Valley is Chile’s most northern wine producing region. Its arid climate paired with warm sunny days and cool crisp nights aids in growing the valley’s special band of grapes. But before carmenere and syrah from this valley became famous, Elqui Valley was known for Chile’s most popular grape-based brandy, pisco.
Today, vineyards cover the valley from the Pacific coast to the Andes Mountains. The bright-hued, aromatic Elqui Valley wines attract a lot of international attention despite being relatively new on the scene. Pisco distilleries continue to thrive as well. Add to this the charming towns, vineyard-covered hills and amazing stargazing opportunities the valley provides, and Elqui Valley can be a perfect holiday destination to relax and unwind. Below, find our recommendations (in no particular order) of wineries and distilleries in Elqui Valley that should be a part of your itinerary.
This vineyard began decades earlier as a pisco distillery by an Italian named Aldo Olivier who was living in Elqui Valley. In 1995, he teamed up with his cousin Giorgio Flessati (an oenologist) and transformed his distillery into a premium wine producing vineyard. Today, Viña Falernia is considered the best in the business, boasting four different vineyards. One of these vineyards is among the highest in the world (1,580 – 1,935 meters above sea level) and is perfect for growing pinot noir and syrah grapes.
- Opening hours: Saturday and Sunday, 11:30 – 19:00
- Tour details: Wine tasting and tours operate on the weekends between 11:00 – 14:00 and again at 16:00. Tours last an hour and include the tasting of two reserva wines (1 white, 1 red). A premium tour can be booked which includes the tasting of four wines — 1 reserva (white), 2 gran reserva (red), 1 premium (red). Reservations are needed in advance.
- Wine to taste: carmenere and Pedro Ximenez
This winery’s exclusive products are only available in the winery or at very nearby establishments. The family-run boutique vineyard and winery prides itself on the limited production of wine that flaunts intense aromas and a deep color. The main theme here is quality over quantity, and it shows in the end result. Only 25,000 bottles of wine are produced annually and the owners have made it clear they have no ambitions to pursue mass production.
- Opening hours: Monday to Sunday, 10:00 – 20:00, (10:00 – 19:00 in low season)
- Tour details: Tours are short; lasting only 10–15 minutes and include the tasting of four different wines. The tour is free. No reservation is required unless you are a group of more than 10.
- Wine to taste: Alto del Silencio (syrah, merlot, and moscatel mix), Autumnal Harvest syrah merlot (best of the late harvest grape wines).
Established in 2005, the vineyard may be new, but the experience behind the label isn’t. Mauro Olivier is the cousin of Aldo, owner of Viña Falernia, who decided to get in on the family business as well. He struck gold and today has a successful winery and multiple flourishing vineyards. Each of the four separate vineyards were planted in specific locations in order to grow each variety of grape to produce the fruit’s precise wine.
- Opening hours: N/A
- Tour details: N/A
- Wine to taste: Syrah Reserva 2013, Pedro Ximenez 2016
Established in 1921, this distillery has been in the Aguirre family for three generations. The Muscat grapes are ABA’s secret to making the best Pisco. ABA maintains that every grape is hand-picked, ensuring only the best ingredients are selected. ABA also uses small, traditional copper stills to process the Pisco, producing a fragrant, flowery, fruity result with a strong kick.
- Opening hours: Monday to Saturday, 9:00 – 19:00, Sunday, 10:00 – 19:00
- Tour details: The 40-minute tour of the production facilities includes two tastings
- Pisco to taste: Pisco ABA, Maquire (a pre-mixed cocktail made with pisco and native Chilean berry).
Destileria Pisco Mistral is one of the heavyweights of all the Pisco producing establishments. The care and precision that goes into making each bottle of Pisco is obvious upon a tour of the grounds. The taste is unique, the fragrance intoxicating, and the presentation is pure perfection. There’s even a pisco museum on site in case you’re interested in an in-depth schooling of Chile’s most famous drink. The tours here are excellent — informative, educational and entertaining. By the time you leave Mistral you’ll be an expert on how Pisco is processed, how to identify it, and how to drink it!
- Opening hours: January to February: Monday to Sunday, 12:00 – 19:00. March to December: Tuesday to Sunday, 11:00 – 17:00
- Tour details: Tours operate once every hour
- Pisco to taste: Catad’or, Gran Nobel
The Chilean summer (December – February) has the best and warmest weather, however this is the busiest time of the year for tourism. If you want a more laid-back and private experience, visit in spring (September – November) or fall (April – June) and contend with far fewer travelers.
The easiest way to get in and get out is to take a flight from Santiago to La Serena. The flight lasts an hour and deposits you about 100 km from Elqui Valley. There are public buses leaving every hour from La Serena to Elqui Valley, and the bus journey is roughly 2.5 hours. Alternatively, you can also a rent a car to Elqui and cover journey at your own pace.
If you want to drive from Santiago to Elqui, bear in mind that it is a 400 km drive that takes roughly 5 hours. Therefore, day trips are not recommended. Make a weekend out of it so you can truly relax and enjoy the tastings at the various wineries and distilleries.
There isn’t an overwhelming number of accommodation options, but that makes it easier to pick something. Luckily, there is a variety when it comes to price. Hostels to hotels to cabanas — take your pick. Below are three of our recommendations, one for each price range.
- Balcones de Pisco Elqui
Located in an excellent location, 100m from the town’s main square and near plenty of bars and restaurants, Balcones de Pisco Elqui offers a great deal on self-catering apartments. The apartments are brightly colored and boast fully equipped kitchens. Two-person apartments with double bed start at USD 75* per night (USD 37.50* per person). Balco USD 20* per night per person.
- Refugios La Frontera
Privacy, comfort, and space is the name of the game here. A desert ranch-style locale in a rugged desert setting, the place offers one, two, and three-bedroom houses. The lofted, thatched roofs and warm wooden interiors make it cozy, and multiple rooms including kitchen, bedroom, and dining area make it spacious. Each room includes a fireplace, private pool, BBQ facilities, terrace, and outdoor dining area. An excellent deal for those traveling in large groups, the three-bedroom house costs USD 220* per night and can accommodate up to 8 people, bringing down the cost to USD 25* per person. One bedroom houses cost USD 120* per night.
- Casona Distante Eco Lodges
One of the most expensive accommodations in the area, Casona Distante Eco Lodges may not be the most extravagant digs ever, but for the middle of the desert, this is as good as it gets. The style can best be described as rustic luxury. The two-story lodge is made entirely of wood, which gives it a warm and welcoming feel. The beds are incredibly comfortable and the lofted ceilings with exposed beams gives it class. Nestled amongst the mountains, the grounds are bordered with greenery, which is a stark contrast to the rest of the desert surroundings. The outdoor pool is encompassed by a lovely garden setting as well. Two-person rooms start at USD 150* per night or USD 75* per person. If you feel like splurging USD 205* gets you a bigger room with a spa bath en suite.
There are many guided tours available from Santiago as well as La Serena to Elqui Valley that combine Pisco and wine tasting, along with stargazing and a little bit of outdoor adventure; there’s options for hiking, biking, and off-roading. While it is very much possible to visit Elqui in a day trip, it is difficult to not extend the trip to a few days at least. Hence, we recommend you book at least a 2-day tour if you are looking for a guided trip.
You can also visit Elqui on a solo tour, or make it a road-trip. The quaint towns, beautiful vistas, local cuisine, wineries and distilleries, majestic night skies, and the overall aura of this oddly all-inclusive, remote desert is worth investment and exploration.
- Elqui Valley has some of the clearest skies in the world which makes it absolutely amazing for stargazing. Tours are available with some of the world’s strongest telescopes!
- Scientists have stated that Elqui Valley has some of the purest air in the world — many visitors report feeling more relaxed and energized after breathing the air.
- Syrah grapes account for the highest number of vines grown in Elqui Valley.
- The first Piscos were developed in the 16th century by Spanish settlers who arrived to this valley.
- In 2013, the annual Pisco production in Chile reached 30 million liters!
- Elqui Valley has the highest number of UFO ‘sightings’ in the world, if you believe in aliens.
Elqui Valley is a unique mix of modernity and centuries old culture. Here you can find sophisticated restaurants standing next to basic local shops. This region hasn’t forgotten its roots, and it’s the main reason for the valley’s charm and allure. At first glance, you may not think there’s much to this desert suburb. However, once you dive in, you’ll begin to peel back the layers of one of Chile’s most mysterious and fascinating regions.
*Note: Prices listed in this article are from 2017.