Vicuña, with a population of 25,000 in 2012, is the largest town in Valle de Elqui, Northern Chile. Vicuña is a major center for producing pisco, a brandy made in Chile and Peru. You can visit the nearby pisco distilleries.
The area is dominated by a mountainous backdrop, and extensive plains on the valley floor, where high-quality grapes for pisco are grown, along with other fruits and vegetables. The La Punilla, Atimonate, Balalita, Los Tilos mountain ranges contain several peaks with altitudes over 4,000 m.
Cooperativa Agrícola Pisquera Elqui Limitada (CAPEL) runs the main pisco distillery in the zone. Economic activity centers on the culture of grapes, fruits, cereals, and vegetables. Other industries include sheep ranching and iron and copper mining.
The area around Vicuña experiences approximately 300 totally clear days and nights annually, and several large astronomical observatories are located nearby, including the touristic Mammalluca Observatory.
A few kilometres outside town is the Route of the Grappa, visiting the factories known as pisqueras: Ruta Norte, Capel, Mistral, Tres Erres and Artesanos de Cochiguaz.
There is a tourist information at the NW corner of the Plaza de Armas, San Martín 275. ☏
From La Serena there are buses (2,500 pesos) at 06:00, 06:55, 09:20, 11:30, 12:15, 13:00, 14:00, 16:30, 18:30 and 19:30 from Terminal de buses, and colectivos/minibuses (3,000 pesos) at least every hour from the provincial bus station north west of the Japanese Garden.
Heading back from Vicuña to La Serena, colectivos leave at 09:30, 09:50, 11:30, 13:00, 14:15, 15:00, 16:30, 17:20, 18:30, 19:30, 20:00, 20:30 and 21:15 (as of Oct 2022). The last colectivos back are at around 20:30 from Pisco Elqui and 21:15 from Vicuña. Furthermore, there are also at least two Turbus buses from Vicuña after that, the last one at 22:45, but please re-check onsite.
Route 41-CH is an international route between Chile and Argentina that begins in the city of La Serena and ends at the Agua Negra border crossing.
The Antakari Heritage Route connects Vicuña with the municipalities of Río Hurtado and Andacollo. A variant of this route leads to the Province of Petorca in the V Region of Valparaíso.
The town is entirely walkable. Tourist information center on Plaza de Armas provides simple map of town.
- The urban area is made up of buildings from around 1900.
- The city has a square of ancient trees, which displays sculptures that honor Gabriela Mistral, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.
- 1 Bauer Tower (Torre Bauer). It houses the office of tourism.
- Immaculate Conception Church, Gabriela Mistral street, at San Martín. The church was inaugurated in 1909. In the current church it is It is possible to observe the paintings in the sky of its main nave with religious motifs, made by students of the School of Fine Arts in Santiago, using colored earth from the area. It has an image of the Virgen del Carmen, who accompanied the Chilean troops during the War of the Pacific, and donated by Bishop Florencio Fontecilla. It also keeps the baptismal font where the poet Gabriela Mistral received the first oil paintings. Occasionally, there is a display room for ancient images and religious items used in the Valley.
- Stargazing. If you came here because you were told the valley offers the most stunning views of the night sky, you will be disappointed. Nowadays, the city produces so much light pollution, you will have a hard time finding a spot that is really dark. Even deeper into the Pisco valley, it will be hard to keep up the darkness due to the ever increasing flow of tourists into this region. However, do not be disappointed and kill your sadness with a fine Pisco (coke, sour or pure).
- 2 Mamalluca Observatory (9 km north of Vicuña). It provides tours in Spanish and English. Tours are in the evening and include star observation using big telescope, outside constellation description using laser pointer, taking pictures of the moon and short theoretical PowerPoint. Tours can be booked on the same day at the office: Gabriela Mistral 260. Instead of taking a minibus, you can also hike there and potentially see the night sky after dusk. 4,500 pesos for the tour and 3,000 pesos per person for minibus to observatory.
- At the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory, daily tourist visits are offered.
- 3 Gabriela Mistral Museum, Gabriela Mistral 759, ☏ . Dedicated to the life and work of the Chilean poet, Lucila Godoy Alcayaga, Nobel Prize for Literature in 1945 and National Prize for Literature in 1951. The museum was built in the original old house of the poet, which she used in her first years of life, remaining intact until today.
- 1 Cerro de la Virgen. Climb the small mountain (the one with the antennas on) just north of town for a complete panorama of the surroundings. Mind the sun, and bring some water along.
- A local Pisco distillery offers tours for 2,000 pesos per person.
- Elquino Carnival. This popular festival has more than 100 years of history in the Elqui Valley. It is based in Vicuña, and is celebrated in the months of January and February. It consists of the participation and competition of each town, through the election of a Queen, with dances, invited artists and a great parade of floats with groups and individual costumes.
Pisco, of course.
- Tito's (just off the Plaza de Armas). Neat and spacious. Set menu at 2,500 pesos.
- Hostal La Elquina, O'Higgins 65 (from the bus terminal's south side, walk west for 3½ blocks), ☏ , email@example.com. With friendly managers and homey atmosphere, this place offers a beautiful garden in the back to pitch your tent. Kitchen (small but usable), Wi-Fi, hot water. 5,000 pesos/person camping, 25,000 pesos double with private bathroom.
- Continue up the valley to Pisco Elqui.