This short 5 day self-drive itinerary explores El Norte Chico - Chile's 'little north' which is not only famous for its Pisco grapes, but is also regarded as one of the best places to star gaze.
This tour starts in La Serena, the gateway to 'El Norte Chico', the little north, with its beautiful coastline and stunningly clear skies. The biggest telescopes of the planet are gathered here to observe what is going on deep in space. Even some of the hotels feature star gazing as an attraction and have provided clear top windows and telescopes for their guests.
Pick up your car at the airport or town rental office in La Serena. Before you leave town for the Hurtado Valley, it is worth taking a look at the historical center of La Serena and its interesting port of Coquimbo.
When you are ready to leave town, head southeast, towards the city of Ovalle. From here you will drive up into the Andes, following the river Hurtado until you reach the colonial-style 'Hacienda Los Andes', high up in the Hurtado Valley. Overnight at the Hacienda. (B)
Today you will have all day to explore the varied natural setting of the Hurtado Valley. In this valley time seems to stand still. Visit several small historical villages, enjoy the beautiful landscape of perfectly cultivated green fields hugging the slopes of majestic Andean peaks. Or, visit a petrified forest. At the hacienda itself there are various walking trails as well as horseback riding excursions. Overnight at Hacienda Los Andes. (B)
Today you will cross the Andean foothills from south to north, driving from Hurtado Valley to Elqui Valley. Enjoy spectacular views of the Andes and these gorgeous valleys. Elqui Valley is famous for the cultivation of grapes - table grapes, as well as those used for making the Chilean national drink Pisco Sour. As you drive into the valley you will pass historical villages like Vicuña, Monte Grande and Pisco Elqui. You will reach your hotel 'Elqui Domos' in the afternoon.
This "Astrohotel" offers exclusive dome-shaped rooms with a detachable ceiling and private telescope in each "room". In the late afternoon you can observe the incredibly clear sky from your private Dome or take an optional tour to the observatory of Mamalluca, close to the village of Vicuña. Overnight at Elqui Domos. (B)
Today you will have time to explore some of the small villages in the Elqui Valley. In Vicuña you can visit a small museum dedicated to Gabriela Mistral, the first Latin American woman to win the Nobel Price for Literature, who was born here. In the afternoon you will leave the dry valley behind and head for the attractive beaches of the Pacific Ocean. Overnight at resort on the shore of the Pacific Ocean. (B)
After breakfast you will return to La Serena where you can drop off your car, either at La Serena Airport or the downtown rental office. (B)