By Car -- The journey from La Serena to Vicuña takes around 45 minutes on the excellent Rte. 41. To reach Pisco Elqui, turn south on Rte. 485 just past Rivadavia; it takes another 30 minutes along a serpentine mountain road. Vicuña has the only fuel station (Shell, on Rte. 41, just before the turnoff to town) beyond La Serena, as well as the last pharmacy, hospital and supermarket. It's a relatively short trip on good roads, and a rental car is convenient as attractions are pretty far apart. There is an ATM next to Pisco Elqui’s Plaza de Armas.
By Bus -- Tur Bus (tel. 51/411466 in Vicuña) and Expreso Norte (tel. 51/411348 in Vicuña) provide daily service to Vicuña's bus terminal at Prat and O'Higgins (tel. 51/441348) from Santiago's San Borja terminal. The latest buses to La Serena leave Vicuña around 8:30pm. To Pisco Elqui, Via Elqui departs La Serena's terminal every half-hour Monday through Sunday from 6:30am to 8:30pm; some continue on to Alcohuaz at the end of the Claro Valley. Buses charge $2 (£1.30) for the La Serena-to-Vicuña and Vicuña-to-Pisco Elqui legs, while the direct trip from La Serena to Vicuña costs $3.20 (£2.15). Buses from Sol de Elqui depart next to the footbridge over the Panamericana Norte at La Serena’s Japanese garden. Alternatively, you can also get on the Sol de Elqui bus from the parking lot at the Unimarc at La Recova in La Serena. Prices are the same as in the case of Via Elqui, but Sol de Elqui’s buses never stop at La Serena’s bus terminal. First bus from Pisco Elqui leaves around 6:30 am, the last bus back to La Serena at around 9:30pm from the village’s Plaza de Armas.
The area popularly called Valle de Elqui actually includes the three valleys of the Elqui, Claro, and Cochiguaz rivers. Vicuña, 55km (34 miles) east of La Serena, is the main town, with services, a rural hospital, and four small museums, one in honor of Nobel Prize-winning poet Gabriela Mistral.
A string of villages continues on up to the higher reaches of the Claro, including (north-south) Paihuano, Monte Grande (Mistral's birthplace), and Pisco Elqui, a quaint, hillside place on the left bank of the river. All are easily navigable on foot but poorly lit in the evenings.
In Vicuña, the municipality operates a visitor center in the landmark faux-medieval tower Torre Bauer on the plaza (tel. 51/209125). In January and February, it's open daily from 8:30am to 9pm; the rest of the year, it's open Monday through Saturday from 8:30am to 5:30pm, and Sunday from 9:30am to 2pm. In Pisco Elqui you won’t find a tourist information office, but there are several tour operators in the village. On Calle O’Higgins s/n there are two, Tours Místicos and Turismo Migrantes (tel. +56 51 245 1917). While the first one focuses on those searching for a mystical experience, the second one offers horseback riding, hiking and bike excursions, guided visits to the distilleries and vineyards of the valley as well as astro-tourism. Also, they can give you information on how to best discover the valley by yourself by bike, horse or foot.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.