Pisco Elqui: 104km (65 miles) SE of La Serena; 578km (359 miles) N of Santiago
A long, green garden in the arid Andes, enfolded by stunning mountains streaked with improbable hues of pink, silver, beige, and blue, the tranquil Elqui Valley faces the challenge of safeguarding its rural huaso soul amid expanding agro-industrial fruit production, distilleries, and an influx of Santiaguinos fleeing the capital's urban ills. Still a backwater until very recently, in the past few years miles of ugly plastic windbreaks have gone up around this valley to protect the fruit vineyards, but otherwise, the area's unspoiled nature under a clear and bright sky remains intact. A string of wholesome villages comprising colorful low-slung adobe houses punctuates the valley's serpentine roads, which weave through mountains where locals gather to sell fresh fruit and other food. While its list of attractions is short, the valley's salubrious aura, wonderful healthy food, and humbling natural setting will relax. Here, you'll be safe from the clamor of ring tones, and many places offer to soothe your spirit with massages, yoga, and other therapies. If meditating isn't your thing, hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding will keep you busy, while pisco distilleries offer spirits of another kind. It can get very crowded in February at the height of the travel season, but the gentle climate makes the valley a great place to visit year-round.