- Ovalle is located 54.6 miles south from La Serena and 251 miles from Santiago of Chile. Ovalle has a population of 66.405 and it lies in the banks of the Grande river, at an altitude of 656 feet. The city of Ovalle was founded on April 21, 1831, a period where the landowners were connected with La Serena and Ovalle was dependent on it, a feature that’s maintained up to today. Ovalle is the capital of the Province of Limarí.
Currently, the inland valleys of Ovalle have the greatest agriculture, fruit and “pisco” (a strong grape liquor) production of the IV Region. Ovalle is an active communication center, with buses going to all of the North; generally there are no spaces left. It’s is a thriving and alive urban area in the process of growing.
Ovalle as a destination attracts attention due to its rural natural beauty that invites the visitor to discover and admire it. People coming from far away lands are attracted to perform eco touristic activities in the Fray Jorge National Park , in the of Pichasca Natural Monument and the Valley of Encanto (Valle del Encanto). There are also are agrotourism activities offered by the Rural Tourism Network of Tricahue (Red de Turismo Rural Tricahue) located in the area of Hurtado river. Let’s not forget the nautical and fishing activities practiced in the Recoleta, Paloma y Cogotí dams. And there’s also the possibility to enjoy and get one’s strength back in the Spa facilities of Socos. Besides are of interest the cultural, folkloric and local traditions of the inhabited picturesque towns, which integrate the communes of Ovalle, Río Hurtado, Monte Patria, Punitaqui and Combarbalá.
To see the city of Ovalle in one visit, taking Av. Vicuña Mackenna you get to the square, where it’s recommended to leave the car to go on walking. Two blocks to the West, on Av. Vicuña Mackenna, you can see the typical houses in a row, having beautiful inner patios. The square is surrounded by centennial Phoenix palm trees and rows of Jacaranda trees, framing an interesting pave road, constructed with slag of cast minerals. At the center stands out a slim fountain made of brass, cast in the Panulcillo mine and donated by José Tomás Urmeneta, the lavish miner of Tamaya.
To the East of the square is the Church of San Vicente Ferrer. Since 1668 a chapel existed here dependent on Barraza, which was the main parish. In 1824 it was built in its actual location. At that time, the Tuqui ranch, property of José María Campos, had a church that was destroyed by the 1847 earthquake. Two years later this church was inaugurated, designed by Eugenio Herbáges in thick adobe, with exterior arcbotants and a pretty tower. In 1997 it suffered severe damage, being magnificently restored in the year 2002. Its discrete interior has a navel with a reduced height. Masses hours are, between October and February, from Monday to Friday at 12 pm, Saturday at 8 pm; Sunday at 8 am, 12 pm and 8 pm; between March and September, from Monday to Friday at 12 pm, Saturday at 7:30 pm, Sunday at 8 am, 12 pm, and 7 pm.
Keep on going by car until Av. Ariztía and turn to the left to go up on Amalia Errázuriz street, where you will find and splendid balcony to contemplate the city of Ovalle. Go back to Av. Vicuña Mackenna and turn left on Av. Benavente. Take the Antofagasta street up to the building of the former station, currently occupied by the Cultural Center “Guillermo Durruty Alvarez”; here there are a library and the Limarí Museum (Museo del Limarí), exhibiting the biggest collection of Diaguita pottery, including objects from the Inca period with more than 1.800 pieces, many of them unique due to their formal appearance and style. It’s a must see. Visiting hours are from November to March, from Tuesday to Friday, from 9 am to 6 pm; Saturday from 10 am to 1 pm and 5 pm to 8 pm; Sunday and holidays, from 10 am to 1 pm. Between April and October, from Tuesday to Friday, from 9 am to 6 pm; Saturday, Sunday and holidays, from 10 am to 1 pm. The admission ticket costs $600, children up to 17 and seniors $300, children under 8 free. Sunday is free.
At the Museum of Limarí stands out the enigmatic Huentetauquén Lithes (Litos de Huentetauquén), of medium size, dated to 6000 years BC. It also has many objects from the local cultures such as El Molle (0 to 700 AC), Las Animas (700 to 900 AC) and mainly the rich Diaguita culture.
The Museum of Limarí was created by individuals in 1963 beginning with exhibits of Pre-Columbian objects found in excavations around the province. Coming to this museum is a nice experience, due to the exhibited beauty and also its clarity, it should be a must see.
In the 1960’s during the construction of the Fiscal Stadium of Ovalle (Estadio Fiscal de Ovalle), a cemetery from the Diaguita-Inca period was found (1490-1540), containing extraordinary ceramic pieces, unique in Chile, that are an evidence of the importance of this place during the Inca Empire. They also reveal the quality of the local ceramists, who interpreted the new cultural influence producing objects of great beauty and originality.
Go back to Benavente and continue East up to the Design Fair of Ovalle. It’s located within one of the big sheds of the former locomotive workshop, is the biggest agriculture fair of the North. It surprises the great amount of people attending and its dynamic activity. You will find delicious dried food of the area, the famous fig cakes and the exquisite goat cheese from the mountains. Visiting hours are Monday, Tuesday, Friday and Saturday until 4 pm.
To finish the trip around Ovalle, we suggest going Northwest on the Av. Romeral. Three blocks after the Vip disco, go down on the dirt road to the right, cross a railroad and continue along it until a rocky point, where a high bridge crosses the Limarí river; underneath there’s another bridge on the main road going to Monte Patria. Go up using this old road to Santiago until crossing the Camarico channel. There you will find the best viewpoint of the city of Ovalle and the valley.
Among the attractions in Ovalle is Salala, a small state located 19.8 miles south of Ovalle trough the 5 Route. Salala is on the bank of the Limarí river. It’s inhabited by small farmers dedicated especially to grow and rear goats, these are called “goatherds”, and are indigenous people of this region.
Another activity in Salala is the handicraft clay production made by using the technique used by the indigenous people more tan 1000 years ago.
Monte Patria, is a farming town near Ovalle, where stands out the extensive vine plantations and crops of early bore fruits in greenhouses. In this commune there’s one of the largest dams of the region, the La Paloma Dam (Embalse La Paloma), with a storage capacity of 980 million cubic yards of water. Nearby Monte Patria in Tulahuen there’s the lapislazuli mine, lapislazuli is a semiprecious stone declared the National Stone (Piedra Nacional).
Other interesting destination is located 6 km southeast of Ovalle. La Chimba, is a picturesque town, whose main activity is horticulture, going back to the time when the Incas used it as mitimae (small agriculture community). They called it La Chimba that in the Quechua language means ‘on the other side of the river’.
The Cogotí Dam was built between 1934 and 1939, making it one of the oldest of the region. The Cogotí dam has a storage capacity of storage of 196 million cubic yards of water and its affluent rivers are the Cogotí and the Pama. The Cogotí dam is located at 93.8 miles of Ovalle through Combarbalá, at a distance of 10.5 miles from the dam. It’s possible to practice sport fishing and windsurf in it.
Barraza, is located 18.6 miles of Ovalle towards the Southwest. It’s an ancient town, that in Colonial time, was the second most important after La Serena. Is of interest its church, declared National Monument in 1977, and religious museum. Also it stands out the customs festivity held on February with the participation of the entire local community.
Carén, is located 37.9 miles of Ovalle and 19.2 miles of Monte Patria. It’s a small town dedicated to agriculture activities related to vines plantations. In the town you will be able to visit its church and the La Gallardita Ecological Park (Parque Ecológico La Gallardita ) that has an extension of 7.4 acres that visitors can walk around. It’s a botanical park where native trees grow together with a variety of roses. The fauna that lives here is dominated by birds, among them scale-throated earthcreeper (bandurrias) and southern lapwings (queltehues).
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