In 2014 I remember a disgusting pizza, a delicious juice made of papayas and sleeping on a rockhard hostel mattress with an unimpressed baby. Oh and I narrowly avoided being pickpocketed too, apparently.
That was three years ago. Fast forward to 2017 and I didn´t much relish the prospect of returning to the mining town, despite this time being paid to do so. However I am now a guidebook writer and so one must weed through the bad in order to find something good.
And in 2017´s Ovalle, there is plenty of the good stuff.
There is the Valle del Encanto, for starters, a barren valley punctuated with rock art known as petroglyphs, made most likely by the El Molle people between 200-700AD. There are also clusters of piedras tacitas, holes in the rockbed floor (you may remember Chile has the biggest site of these at Cerro Blanco), and a cavernous opening believed to have been used for bathing. The canyon is also home to the loica (Long-Tailed Meadowlark), liebre (the European Hare, introduced as a game animal) and the degu, an inquisitive rodent endemic to Chile, among others.
Nearby the Valle del Encanto is the Viña Tabali and the Termas de Socos thermal spring resort, and all of these are part of the Limari Valley. This region is where the majority of Chile´s muscat grapes are grown and harvested to make pisco by the country´s largest pisqueras, Capel and Control (look out for the ¨armed guards¨ signs at the orchard entrances!). The valley is achingly beautiful, much wider than its sister valley, the Elqui, but nowhere near as touristic . As we drove around the sharp bends beside the Embalse Recoleta and over the wide rivers, we were really struck by how few cabañas and restaurants we saw.
It is in the heart of this valley (and quite a drive so be sure to check opening times before you leave) that you will find the Monumento Nacional Pichasca, a dry reserve containing the remains of a petrified forest and more petroglyphs.
The Plaza de Armas of Ovalle is interesting enough, but the real must-see of the town is the Museo del Limari which houses a small but impressive collection of artefacts found in the local area. The pieces date back to the Diaguitas (1000-1536AD), Las Animas (800-1000AD), el Molle (200-700AD) and the Huentelauquen (1000-5000BC). The museum is also housed in the former railway station, one of the first in South America.
Outside the Feria Modelo there is an original carriage which is open to visit when the Feria is open.
Where We Stayed
We stayed at Ovalle Suite Hostal Boutique a new addition in Ovalle and right in the center of town just a block from the Plaza de Armas. For clp$40,000 we had a super king bed, breakfast, wifi and the most glorious shower – there were TWO showerheads and it was divine!!
Stop by the Fray Jorge national park, a luscious green oddity amongst the semi-arid landscape, for a picnic or do as we did (because Fray Jorge close at 13.30) and take a break at the Laguna Conchali on the outskirts of Los Vilos. This wetland is a great place to look for birds including (for you Dad!) the Chiloe Wigeon.
Stay tuned for the next installment chronicling our trip to El Norte Chico! Follow me on Instagram to see my favorite photos from the road – vlog coming soon!
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