The skies of northern Chile are known around the world for their sharpness and clarity, thanks to the fact that it only rains about 60 nights a year. In the Atacama altiplano and the Andean area of Coquimbo, the skies offer some truly excellent stargazing. And it’s not only scientists who come from all over the globe to enjoy the cosmos at immense observatories like Paranal. Travelers also can take advantage of centers for astronomy tourism.
Located east of San Pedro de Atacama at an altitude of 2,600 meters, Paranal is the largest and most important astronomy center from a scientific perspective. You can visit it during the last two weekends of every month except December.
The oldest center in the Southern Hemisphere is the Cerro Tololo Observatory, 87 km from La Serena in the heart of the Elqui Valley. If you’d like to see its eight telescopes, you have to make reservations in advance. Guided visits are held by day so that you can enjoy the local scenery as well.
The Elqui Valley is also home to the Mamalluca Observatory. While its telescopes are smaller, they still allow you to observe galaxies, nebulae and constellations. It’s perfect for tourists because it offers presentations on the cosmos and is easy to visit, with guided visits every night and the possibility of same-day reservations during some months of the year
The Cruz del Sur Observatory of Combarbalá in the Limarí Valley features four observation domes that can be connected to cameras, an amphitheater, and specialized tours. Perfect for astronomy enthusiasts.
Cerro Tololo: This site of great scientific value is located 87 km from La Serena at 2,200 meters above sea level and includes eight telescopes and a radio telescope. Guided tours are offered in Spanish and English and last approximately two hours. Each tour can accommodate up to 50 people, and reservations must be made a month in advance by calling (5651) 205-200.
La Silla: Located in the municipality of La Higuera, 156 km north of La Serena and over 2,400 meters above sea level, this observatory features 14 mirror telescopes of up to 3.6 meters in diameter and a 15-meter radio telescope. Its equipment makes it one of the biggest and most modern international observation centers around. Each tour lasts three hours and reservations must be made at least a month in advance by calling (562) 46303280, or by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mamalluca Tourist Observatory: Vicuña’s Astronomy Aficionados Club decided to develop this project with the support of the Capel Company, the regional government, the municipality and the Cerro Tololo Internatonal Observatory. Tours start at 6:30 p.m. in winter and 8:30 p.m. in the summer and are offered 365 days a year. You can make reservations by calling (5651) 411-352 or e-maling email@example.com. For more information, visit www.mamalluca.org.
Pangue Tourist Obsevatory: Situated 18 km from Vicuña, this observatory offers programs for the general public, including the “Tour Astro,” which lasts two hours. It is also a great place for aficionados who want to use the telescopes without time restrictions. Reservations can be made by calling (5651) 543-810.
Collowara Tourist Observatory: This observatory, which belongs to the Municipality of Andacollo, is located at the peak of Cerro Churqui, 1,300 meters above sea level. Its facilities include 14-inch Schmidt Cassegrain telescopes, a projection room for conferences and three direct observation terraces in the shape of a cross, facing east. The visits last two hours and can be arranged by calling (5651) 432-964, or by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cruz del Sur Tourist Observatory: Located in Combarbalá, south of Ovalle, this is one of the biggest astro-tourism centers in South America. The project was started by the Municipality of Combarbalá and the University of Santiago de Chile Planetarium. It offers observation domes with 16-inch telescopes and exhibit halls. The office and ticket center can be found in modul 12 of the Barrio Artesanal, in camino El Peralito s/n, Combarbalá, telephone (56-53) 7418 54. For more information, visit www.
Cerro Mayu Tourist Observatory: Just 30 km from La Serena, this center began as an initiative headed by Father Juan Picetti. It houses a 14-inch Schmidt Cassegrain Meade LX200 telescope, and welcomes visitors from Monday to Saturday from 8:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. For more information and to make reservations, call (5651) 224-508 (or 212-024) or send an e-mail to email@example.com.
Paranal: Located in Taltal, south of Antofagasta and 2,635 meters above sea level, this center is operated by the European Southern Observatory (ESO) and is home to the Very Large Telescope Project, a system comprised of four separate optic telescopes surrounded by a variety of smaller instruments. Tourist visits are offered the last two Saturdays of each month beginning at 2:00 p.m. Space is limited, so make a reservation ahead of time by calling (5655) 281-291 or e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Paniri Caur Observatory: Located outside the village of Chiu Chiu (near to Calama), in the way to Inca Coya Lagoon. The proposal is based in integrating modern sky observation with the Atacama Andean worldwiew or Lickan Antay. The tour begins with an audiovisual lecture, then a look at the sky through the classical and indian constellations (stellar charts, star location and planets in deep sky), and finally use of 14″ telescope in the observatory dome. Duration time: 2 and a half hours. Reserves (booking) at 9-5462023 or email@example.com. More information in www.soldeldesierto.cl.
Andean Astronomical Observatory: located in the capital of Chile, in km 8 of the Farellones Road, 20 minutes away from the eastern part of Santiago, 1240 meters above sea level in the mountains area. It has a main dome with three telescopes, an observation terrace and meeting rooms equipped with audio-visual means. In its dome and terrace, visitors can observe through 9 telescopes at night, and through three solar telescopes with Hydrogen Alfa filters during the day, which allow to observe details of the sun. There you can observe galaxies, nebulas, stellar cumulus, stars and planets. To make reservations, call (56) 2-215 14 59 or send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, visit www.oaa.cl.