Vicuña, an often unnamed gem in the desert.

To say that Vicuña is a quaint little town in the Atacama desert is to scratch the surface of the place that Gabriela Mistral – Noble prize for Literature in 1945 – called home and where she wrote so much of her poetry.

Vicuña is in the Elqui Valley, a valley famous for its “out-of-this-world experiences”  and for wine production thus most people who make their way there are either trying to see UFOs, contact aliens  or have some good wine.  Most have never heard of Gabriel Mistral (can’t blame them for that, coz come on, unless you are a poetry aficionado chances are you’ve never heard of her) and they only find themselves in Vicuña because it offers a good choice of accommodation.

Thing is, once you cross the bridge over the Elqui river and enter Vicuña it’s impossible not to be captivated by the gorgeous adobe houses, the sense of tranquility that permeates it, and the spirit of Gabriela whose name can be found everywhere.

Like most towns built in the Spanish tradition, Vicuña has a geometric plan centered on the Plaza de Armas (the town square). The square itself is big, full of trees, and sculptures honoring Gabriela. In fact, it has so many trees that if it wasn’t for the unrelenting sun burning you, you would forget you are in a desert.

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Opposite the square are the Church and an odd clock tower that now houses the tourism office but whose design is so unlike the rest of the town that for the life of me I couldn’t fathom its original intentions…

Two blocks past the square is the Gabriela Mistral Museum. Built on the site of where she was born and lived, the museum houses a collection of her published works (some with amazing autographs), personal letters, photographs, and diverse furniture used by her.

But ultimately for me the real appeal of the town was in none of the above and yes in all the charming and unique adobe houses that lined the streets. No two houses were the same, the colours and the windows with their striking intricate designs were just brilliant. I could have walked the streets of Vicuña admiring the houses forever but alas this was only a short stop on our massive road trip. 

So if you ever get a chance to visit Vicuña do me a favour and spend and hour or two walking the streets and absorbing all they have to offer you.

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