Internationally acclaimed, astro-tourism in Chile is one of the true highlights of global travel. With over 300 days and nights of zero cloud cover, Chile’s skies are the clearest on Earth and offer optimum conditions for looking into outer space. This has made Chile vital to scientists in their quest to decipher the mysteries of the universe.
Other optimal conditions for star-gazing include the low amount of dust particles, the perfect level of humidity and Chile’s high and dry geography. These factors make Chile a key player in the world of astronomy and the best place in the world for astro-tourism.
In fact, northern Chile boasts over 40% of all astronomic observation centres globally, an amount that is expected to increase up to 60% within the next 10 years.
Chile has some of the largest and most important astronomic observatories on the planet, such as the ALMA Observatory’s radio-telescope (Atacama Large Millimetre Array), the Paranal Observatory, and soon, Paranal’s newest ELT (Extremely Large Telescope) which will make Chile the world’s largest optic astronomic centre.
Public interest in learning and appreciating the mysteries of the universe has sparked the development of the astro-tourism offer by the Chilean state authorities. Furthermore, an ethnic factor has also been embraced into the process, seeking to mix astronomy with history and use this to teach about the interpretation of the cosmos by native, pre-Columbian communities.
For example, in Atacama there’s an initiative to promote Ethnic-Astro-tourism also called, Archaeological Astronomy, which helps people today to understand the ancient Andean interpretation of the cosmos, developed centuries ago by the Likan Antay or Atacama people, whose lives were very much influenced by the stars, even impacting the social structure of their communities.
In fact, tour guides in Atacama have been educated in this scientific field in order to organise a number of Ethnic-Astro-tourism programmes. Many of them offer Astro-photography guided tours with experienced photographers, inviting even the most amateur of photographers to capture the galaxy through their camera.
A free tour
The observatories are free to visit during the daytime although it is necessary to factor in their limited capacity. This is why astro-tourism in Chile is an activity that needs to be planned ahead of the visit, to make sure tourists do not miss the opportunity of witnessing the cosmos in its entirety.
Some of the scientific centres that open their doors to the public are: the Paranal Observatory, located 130km South of Antofagasta, it has the most advanced optic instruments of the World.
The ALMA Observatory, located on the road to San Pedro de Atacama, is 5,000m above sea level, and due to security reasons, it only offers tours in controlled rooms. La Silla Observatory is located towards the outskirts of the Atacama Region, and they offer visits every Saturday.
The Coquimbo region, widely known as the Star Capital, is home to Cerro Tololo. This Inter-American Observatory is in the Elqui Valley and its neighbours, the Gemini Observatory, that offers tours every Fridays year-round.
Some tours offer you exclusive and unique ways to experience the Milky Way, both for amateurs and experts, ranging from horse-riding tours to presentations. There is a plethora of options to choose from with different price points, but what they all have in common is their warm welcome and their engaging immersion into the world of astronomy and open sky experience.
The astronomic route starts close to Antofagasta at the Paniri Caur Observatory, located in Chiu Chiu towards Calama. Here, Astronomy is complemented with the archaeology of the place. The tour includes an introductory talk, both classic and Andean constellation gazing and the use of 14- inch telescopes.
The Alarkapin Observatory is located in San Pedro de Atacama and offers different activities as well as telescope observation, such as expert-led courses and night walks, during solstices and equinoxes.
Northwest of Vicuña, in the middle of the amazing skies of the Elqui Valley you can find our pioneer in Astro-tourism: The Mamalluca Observatory. The tour of this giant of Chilean Astro-tourism includes transportation, an introductory talk, plain-sight observation and gazing at the stars with different types of telescopes.
Under the same clear sky you will find the Pangue Observatory, which includes the biggest public telescope in the country. Other ones include the Cancana in Cochiguaz, the Cielo Sur in Pisco del Elqui and the Cerro Mayu Observatory, 25km from La Serena.
The Collowara Observatory, close to Andacollo, is one of the country’s most modern research centres. It boasts several high-end astronomical gazing materials such as telescopes and audio-visual gear. It also offers different activities like thematic dinners and horse-riding tours. Also, the Cruz de Sur Observatory, located south of La Serena, has four domes with 12 to 16 inch telescopes to watch different areas of the sky.
As you can see, astro-tourism in Chile is abundant, with sites that will give visitors a unique experience, and offers everyone the chance to get closer to outer space and the infinite cosmos. Θ