History of Vicuña

Under the name Villa de San Isidro de Vicuña and by command of don Bernardo O´Higgins, a town was founded on February 22, 1821 which would later become the City of Vicuña.

According to records, fourteen thousand years ago, the Valley of Elqui was dwelled by natives who belonged to some pre-Columbian culture. They would have entered the area from the high Andean plateaus. Their lifestyle, the tools and paintings rescued from this territory give proof of a highly developed culture. They would hunt guanacos, llamas and alpacas, harvest chañar and carob tree fruit and fish croakers, jack mackerels, anchovy, and the like, and they left significant vestiges of their agricultural methods and their artificial irrigation systems through channels and terrace crops.

Once in the Christian Era and until the thirteenth century, they became known as excellent potters. Vessels used in their daily life and their religious rites have been found. In turn, and in spite of having their own tongue, their political and social organization seems to have been quite primitive.

As the Spaniards arrived, the region known as Near North was the first to be pacified and colonized. Due to their characteristics, vineyards were planted in the large valleys of Copiapó, Elqui, Limarí and Choapa, where extraordinary wine was grown. This activity was carried out according to the Spanish proposal. The natives would represent the manpower.

It was then when the history of the eau-de-vie made in the area and then sent out to other districts using mules emerged. At the City of La Serena, founded in 1514, the commercialization conditions for the coveted spirituous drink that would come to be called pisco were established. Today, pisco is Chile’s national drink and it has its own tourist route. At the Valley of Elqui, the most famous pisco breweries are visited by travelers from all over the world.

Train Elquino is part of the history of the Valley of Elqui. Ever since its creation in 1888, it let passengers make connections with other branches towards the North of the country. An accident in 1971 caused it to be removed from circulation. The building of the Vicuña Railway Station still survives and gives proof of a prestigious past.


A popular legend goes that on the shores of the Elqui River, opposite the present City of Vicuña, there lay La Compañía estate, run by the friars of the Company of Jesus. It had been founded to spread out the Catholic faith among the peasants. When in 1767 the Jesuits were expelled from the estate, they did not have enough time. They abandoned their vineyards and the famous winery where their delicious and spirituous mass liquor was made. Part of their precious church treasures, among them the bell and a gold chalice, were buried under a palm tree.

It is said that on the nights with a full moon, the silhouette of a friar may be seen leaving his chambers in haste, crossing the yard and heading for the palm tree, dragging its dark habit without leaving any trace.