The incredible clear skies, high altitude and remote location of the Elqui Valley in Chile have long made it the ideal environment for large research telescopes. But it has recently also become a hotbed for astrotourism. Small, private observatories now dot the landscape, along with quaint hotels catering to stargazers.
Declared one of top places to go in 2015 by the New York Times, Elqui Valley has a lot of of other things going for it, too. There are distilleries specializing in the production of the local spirit, Pisco, as well as world-class vineyards that have helped make Chile one of the prominent wine exporters in the world.
This astonishingly beautiful, pristine and lush valley in the Andes also features magical landscapes that are the perfect backdrop for hiking, horseback riding and other outdoor activities.
Best of all, the marvel of modern air transportation has made this remote place easily accessible, while a marvel of a different kind—frequent flier programs—has made it more affordable than ever. As an added bonus, Chile recently stopped charging U.S. travelers fees for visas. So you’ll save even more.
A flight to Elqui Valley consists of two segments: from the U.S. to Santiago, Chile, and from Santiago to La Serena. Since there is only one way to get to La Serena, let’s start there.
Santiago to La Serena
The flight between Santiago and La Serena, is about an hour long. Two airlines fly this route: LAN Express and Sky Airline. Sky Airline is not a member of any alliances or a partner of a major airline, so it’s not a good option for booking an award flight.
LAN Express, on the other hand, is a LAN Chile affiliate and part of the oneworld alliance. There are several ways to book this award flight, but the best option is to use British Airways Avios. It only costs 9,000 Avios plus a small charge for taxes and fees per roundtrip. That’s a good deal considering only two airlines fly from Santiago to La Serena.
The U.S. to Santiago, Chile
Fortunately, finding award flights from the U.S. to Santiago is relatively easy. You can use any of the three major alliances.
The oneworld alliance
American Airlines flies to Santiago from Miami and Dallas. Availability is normally good.
Another oneworld member, LAN flies to Santiago from Miami and New York (JFK). It’s harder to find an award seat on LAN, but their aircraft and on board service are better. It can be worth the hassle for the superior seats, food and personal entertainment systems. The only way to book an award fight on LAN is to call. Since you can’t book it on American’s website, they will waive the phone booking fee.
A flight to Santiago will cost 30,000 miles in economy, 50,000 in business and 62,500 in first each way, but during the off-peak dates between March 1 and May 31, or August 16 and November 30, your economy seat will only cost 20,000 miles.
The Star Alliance
United Airlines is the only Star Alliance member that flies non-stop to Santiago. Those flights leave from Houston.
There are several other options, though, if you’re willing to add a stop to your itinerary. Copa Airlines flies to Santiago from the U.S. via Panama City, while Avianca stops in either Bogota or San Jose, Costa Rica. Availability is usually excellent.
An award seat costs 30,000 miles in economy or 55,000 miles in business. No Star Alliance member currently flies three-cabin aircraft to Santiago.
Delta Airlines flies to Santiago from Atlanta, and award availability is usually good. Other options include SkyTeam partners Aeromexico, with a stop in Mexico City, and Aerolineas Argentinas, which stops in Buenos Aires.
An award seat costs 30,000 miles in economy or 62,500 miles in business. You can’t book a first class award seat with Delta SkyMiles.
The options are plentiful for the first leg of the journey, and if you’re prepared book the second leg with a oneworld alliance member, your miles can get you all the way to Elqui Valley. So grab your telescope and hiking boots and prepare to watch the night sky.