El Norte Chico - 'the little North' is the name given to the area around La Serena, Coquimbo and the Elqui Valley. It is a dry semi-arid region crossed by two large fertile valleys, irrigated by the rivers running off the Andes. The region has long been a favourite holiday destination for Chilean and Argentinean tourist looking to relax on the long sandy beaches of La Serena.
The Elqui Valley - from La Serena on the coast, the Elqui valley snakes its way inland, becoming ever narrower as it reaches high into the Andes. The dry orange hills contrast sharply with the greenery of the orchards and vineyard that cover the valley floor. The grapes grown here are used to make Pisco, Chile's national spirit, usually served with lemon as a Pisco Sour. There are a number of distilleries than can be visited.
Observatories - with the exception of the coast, which is often covered with a sea mist called the "camanchaca", the region enjoys almost year-round sunshine. The clear skies are one of the reason why several international observatories are located on hills around the Elqui valley. Smaller than the international installations, but more accessible, is the Mamalluca observatory which is open to the public for a tour of the clearest night sky in the world.
Given all the region has to offer it is a surprise that it is not in much demand with foreign visitors, which makes it a more interesting destination for those looking to get off the beaten track.
The Limari Valley - south of the Elqui Valley, and following a similar trajectory, runs the Limari Valley, an important agricultural center, providing much of the regions fruit. Near the entrance of the valley, where the sea breezes keep the temperature down, there are several vineyard producing wines of increasing stature within Chile and abroad. Tamaya and Tabali are two of the best known. A tour of either with wine tasting and lunch is a highly recommended day trip. Higher in the valley, in the foothills of the Andes is Hacienda los Andes, a charming and well run hacienda, specialising in horseback treks. Against the backdrop of the Andes there are Inca trails and old gold mining tracks to be explored.