More than 80% of the world’s population lives under light-polluted skies.
As cities around the world continue to expand, so too will that percentage. That means that, not too far in the future, most of the world won’t be able to see most of the stars in our night sky.
But there are places that remain shrouded in darkness, where you can see our galaxy and the stars and planets it contains. Chile, for example, has some of the cleanest and clearest skies in the world.
For this reason, Chile is home to more than half of the world’s largest telescopes. It’s also a burgeoning center for some of the best astrotourism anywhere on the planet.
Read on to learn more about how Chile’s stars are becoming the South American epicenter for astrotourism and how you can experience the most incredible night sky you’ve ever seen when you’re travelling with Kuoda.
What Is Astrotourism?
Astrotourism can be loosely defined as any kind of tourism that focuses on the stars and the night sky. While that may, of course, involve visiting facilities for astronomy, such as observatories, it can also involve traveling to witness astronomical events or stargazing from a glamping dome.
Typically, astrotourism contains a component of ecotourism. Many astrotourism destinations are actively evolved in the preservation of the night sky and the reduction of light pollution. Light pollution is artificial light arising from electric light fixtures that lights up the night sky as it’s scattered by air molecules, moisture, and aerosols, and it’s this pollution that’s making astrotourism all the more popular and necessary.
Glowing night skies around the world make it increasingly difficult to view the stars, constellations, planets, and galaxies. But in these far-off-the-beaten-path dark destinations, travelers can reignite their passion for the universe – and the protection of the spaces from which it can be viewed.
The Best Astrotourism in Chile
Chile is thought to be the best place in the world to observe the night sky. It has clean and clear air quality (outside of major cities), low levels of dust particles, ideal humidity, and high elevation. In some of parts of the country, there’s also little to no light pollution.
All that to say that if you’re a stargazer, Chile is a destination you can’t miss. And these are the top sites to see and experience.
Northern Chile is home to the Atacama Desert. This desert receives 300 clear nights every year. It’s high, dry, and extremely dark. And it’s here that you’ll find more than 50% of the world’s ground-based astronomy projects.
Indeed, the world’s largest astronomical observatory is in the Atacama Desert. The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) is made up of 66 antennas sprawling across the barren landscape. You can tour this facility and see the control room, laboratories, and antennas. But be sure to book in advance as these popular tours have a 2-month waiting list.
Paranal and La Silla
Paranal and La Silla are two of the European Southern Observatory’s Chile-based observatories. They open their doors to visitors every Saturday and the over 100 km drive from the nearest town of Antofagasta is worth every minute.
Tours begin in the visitor center’s before heading to see the telescopes that everyone comes to see. At Paranal, you’ll see ESO’s Very Large Telescope, which is the world’s most advanced optical instrument. At La Silla, you’ll be seeing the ESO 3.6-meter telescope, the New Technology Telescope, and the Swedish-ESO Submillimeter Telescope.
Valle de Elqui
The larger observatories mentioned above run weekly tours that are open to the public. On these tours, astronomy enthusiasts can geek-out on some of the world’s largest and most advanced stargazing equipment. However, these tours run during daytime hours, leaving the night for the scientists and researchers that work out of these facilities.
If you’re hoping to get a look at the Chile night sky, you’ll have to visit smaller observatories. In the region east of La Serena, in the Valle de Elqui, more and more observatories pop up every year. Here, you can sit in on an introductory lecture, take a tour, and have a look through the small telescopes.
As an added bonus, the Elqui Valley is better equipped for hosting tourists during the daytime. While the larger observatories are located in rural, hard-to-reach places, those in Elqui are close to breweries, vineyards, and distilleries that make the day hours just as fun as the night.
The indigenous people of South America had an intimate relationship with the night sky. Entire villages were aligned with constellations, buildings mimicked celestial bodies, they worshipped the sun, moon, and stars in various ways and used them to keep track of time.
This rich history has bred a movement to combine astrotourism with historical education. Particularly, education around the cosmovision of the indigenous peoples here: the Likan Antay, or Atacama people. These tours help visitors understand these people’s historical connection to the stars and mostly operate from the Atacama region.
Astrotourism Accommodations and Tours
Chile’s reputation as the ultimate place to peer into the universe is growing. So too are the number of accommodations and tours for astrotourism, and there are a host of ways to experience Chile astronomy and astrology.
Touring observatories is a great way to learn about equipment and new technology in the world of astronomy. These observatories often share lectures and, some of the smaller ones offer the opportunity to tour at night. Around these larger observatories you’ll find plenty of hotels and other accommodations, such as the luxurious and beautiful Tierra Atacama.
Other ways to experience the best of Chile’s night sky include stargazing cruises, astronomy museums, or sleeping under the stars in a glamping dome. In the Elqui Valley, for example, Elqui Domos Hotel’s dome-shaped rooms have removeable ceilings to allow guests to gaze into the night sky from the comfort of their bed.
Astrotourism with Kuoda
As the skies around the world brighten and we lose sight of the stars and the constellations they form, more and more people are seeking out astrotourism experiences that restore their wonder for the universe. Chile has some of the clearest and cleanest skies in the world, as well as some of the world’s most important astronomy projects.
That’s why stargazers everywhere are heading to Chile to experience a night sky like they can’t find elsewhere. If that’s the kind of vacation you’re looking for, let’s start building your itinerary today.