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2nd April
written by Hazel
We left Valparaiso and headed north up the coast.  It took pretty much a whole day of travel (without many bird sightings) to get to our destination – Pisco Elqui, in the Elqui Valley in the Andes.  This town was renamed in the early 1900s so that it would have the same name as the alcohol which is produced in the region, Pisco.  Both in Chile and Peru the pisco sour is a very popular drink and both countries have renamed towns in regions which produce pisco to try and draw tourists.  We were told that the area around this town was very beautiful and peaceful and we were not disappointed!

We arrived after dark, but quickly found a hotel and a very tasty meal.  Dad and Justin both tried the Pastel de Choclo (Corn Pie) which is basically a steaming hot bowl of cornmeal pudding/pie with all kinds of meat, egg, and other treats inside.  People often sprinkle a thin layer of sugar on the top.  It is really tasty, but didn’t turn out to be the light dinner they were hoping for!  We also discovered at our meal that there was a very local brewery in the area, and since we liked what we tasted we decided to head there the next day.

Guayacán brewery

The brewery was a very small operation, about 600 bottles a day.  The owner was really nice and showed us around so we could see the whole process.  Then we tasted some of the beer and took some bottles with us for the next day’s trek over the Andes!  Since the brewery was in Vicuña (a small town about 30 minutes from Pisco Elqui) we had lunch there and did a little exploring.  It was very scenic, but unfortunately there were absolutely no birds to be found anywhere.

View from hilltop of Vicuña

We checked out the valley and the local reservoir.

Elqui Valley


Having had no luck at all with the birds we decided to go back to Pisco Elqui and visit the pisco distillery there so that we could do a little tasting.  Pisco is most commonly served in a drink called a pisco sour, and we hadn’t yet tried it by itself.  We tried a couple and in the end the closest description we could come up with is that it’s a bit like a tequila with a little extra grape flavor.  We liked the pisco, but in the end I think I prefer the pisco sour.

That night we stayed in a cosy cabaña at El Tesoro de Elqui, which had a beautiful garden and a really nice pool (which we didn’t use).

Beautiful flowers

Our awesome cabaña

More pretty flowers

The next day we headed back south, but this time we took the back roads.  We went over a pass in the Andes in order to cut back south towards the coast.  It was 100 kms of gravel road with some of the most dramatic desert scenery I have ever seen.  Flowering cactus, colorful hillsides, Andes in the background, and luckily for us, condors and many other birds!

Winding road up from the valley


Flowering cactii everywhere!

Vineyard in the desert

Observatory - the stars are incredible up there

Us in the desert

Consulting the bird book

Pretty desert colors

Lots of birds - click through for more


The "we just spotted our first condor" victory pose!!!

Heading down the other side, another reservoir

It was an absolutely beautiful drive and highly recommended to anyone in the area.  Unfortunately, no buses go that way, so it can only be done if you have your own transportation.  We ended up that evening in Socos, a tiny dot on the map with a nice hotel (although the food was slightly mediocre) with some relaxing hot spring baths.  After a good night of sleep and a long soak we were ready for our next adventure….

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