Hurrah for syrah at Elqui’s wineries
Thanks to an extensive irrigation system that waters the parched valley, the region has literally blossomed from an arid desert into one of Chile’s foremost viticultural areas. Picture bright-green vineyards blanketing the cordillera’s ochre slopes, where famed red grapes that grow in hot and dry climates -- syrah, malbec, and Chile’s signature carmenere -- thrive. Check out Viñedos de Alcohuaz, a 10-year-old winery focused on growing organic and biodynamic varietals at a mindblowing 7,000 feet above sea level.
But don’t sleep on the country’s national booze: pisco
It’s no shocker that with its abundance of wine, the Elqui Valley is also the epicenter of another famed Chilean export: pisco, grape brandy made from local grapes, in this case, moscatel. Chile and Peru have long grappled over whose pisco reigns supreme, but why choose? Pisquerias of all sizes dot the Elqui Valley, from emblematic Capel, Chile’s behemoth producer, to artisanal distilleries like Fundo Los Nichos and Pisco Mistral. Most locations offer guided tours and tastings in English, ending with sips of their own version of a pisco sour, Chile’s national cocktail. For the full picture, the Pisco Museum is a stellar place to learn about the entire pisco-making process, from harvest to barrel-aging.
Channel your inner space hippie
Cochiguaz is Chile’s New Age capital (every country’s got one) and home to many ballyhooed UFO sightings. Since the ‘70s, healers, eco-conscious hippies and UFO enthusiasts have flocked to Cochiguaz to just like, escape, man. You’ll hear a lot about the convergence of cosmic and mystic energies in this truly stunning hamlet-- popular activities (beyond hiking and outdoor adventuring) include meditation, yoga and retreats with mystic leaders. Two groups, Tour Misticos and Turismo Migrantes, are trusted regional guides.