Sign Up
Newsletter Signup
Free Fodor's Newsletter

Subscribe today for weekly travel inspiration, tips, and special offers.

Passport: Your weekly travel wrap-up
Today's Departure: Your daily dose of travel inspiration

El Norte Chico Travel Guide

  • Photo: Anky / Shutterstock

Plan Your El Norte Chico Vacation

For hundreds of years, people have journeyed to El Norte Chico—Chile's Little North—for the riches that lay buried deep within the earth. First came the Incas, who wandered the burnt hills in search of gold. A century later the gold-seeking Spanish arrived on these shores. The 19th-century silver book brought more prospectors. Today it is copper that yields the majority of the region's income.

No wonder locals once called this "the land of 10,000 mines."

But El Norte Chico's appeal isn't purely metallurgical. The coastline has some of the best beaches in the country. Offshore there are rocky islands that shelter colonies of penguins and sea lions. Shimmering mountain lakes are home to huge flocks of flamingos. Even the parched earth flourishes twice a decade in a phenomenon called el desierto florido, or the flowering desert. During these years, the bleak landscape gives way to a riot of colors—flowers of every hue imaginable burst from the normally infertile soil of the plain.

In a land where water is so precious, it's not surprising that the people who migrated here never strayed far from its rivers. In the south, La Serena sits at the mouth of the Elqui River. El Norte Chico's most important city, La Serena is the region's cultural center as well, with colonial architecture and a European flavor. Nearby, in the fertile Elqui Valley, farmers in tiny villages grow the grapes to make pisco, the potent brandy that has become Chile's national drink. Those in search of archaeological wonders head to Valle del Encanto, a large collection of ancient petroglyphs.

On El Norte Chico's northern frontier is the Río Copiapó. This is the region that grew up and grew rich during the silver boom. The town of Copiapó, this area's most important trade center, makes an excellent jumping-off point for exploring the hinterland. Heading toward the ocean, you'll come to Parque Nacional Pan de Azúcar, where you'll find some of El Norte Chico's most stunning coastal scenery.

Read More

Top Reasons To Go

  1. Sugar-sand beaches Soft sand, turquoise water, and warm breezes make El Norte Chico's beaches among Chile's best. In summer (January and February) you may have to fight for a place in the sun.
  2. Starry skies Thanks to some of the clearest skies in the world, Chile's northern desert is a top destination for international stargazers and scientists. A number of astronomical observatories in El Norte Chico arrange tours.
  3. Nature reserves Explore Parque Nacional Fray Jorge with its ghostlike fog, the petrified forest of Monumento Nacional Pichasca, and the barren desert landscape of the Parque Nacional Pan de Azúcar.
  4. Wine and pisco Your trip would be incomplete without sampling El Norte Chico's most famous export, pisco. The liquor's muscat grapes flourish in this temperate climate, which is also ideal for grape-growing (particularly pinot noir), making this an up-and-coming wine producing region.

When To Go

When to Go

During the summer months of January and February, droves of Chileans and Argentines flee their stifling hot cities for the relative cool of...

Read More

Check historic weather for your trip dates:



Trip Finder

Fodor's Argentina

View Details
Travel Phrases

Learn Spanish Phrases before or while you're on the go!

Download Now
Travel Deals