Stargazing In The Atacama Desert: The Why, The Where & The How
The Atacama Desert is a unique and otherworldly destination in northern Chile, boasting stunning salt flats, barren beaches, bubbling geysers and lunar-like landscapes. Yet its most show-stopping spectacle is above; when the sun goes down, the Atacama Desert is wrapped in a blanket of dazzling stars, making it the perfect place for an unforgettable stargazing experience.
As far as luxury travel inspiration goes, Chile’s Atacama Desert ranks high. It is shockingly diverse in natural features, presenting fantastic opportunities for outdoor adventures like hiking, biking and horseback riding. You’ll also find incredibly diverse wildlife, such as three species of flamingos, guanaco, Andean fox, and a variety of rodents.
However, no luxury tour of Chile’s Atacama Desert would be complete without a private stargazing experience. Here, we share the why, the where and the how of stargazing in the Atacama…
Why Does The Atacama Have Some Of The Best Stargazing?
The Atacama Desert has some of the best stargazing in the world because of several natural and geographical features, such as:
- High altitude: the best stargazing locations are often situated about 6,500 feet and can reach up to around 13,000 feet. High altitudes benefit from thinner and drier air which contains fewer particles that could potentially block the light from stars.
- Dry climate: its naturally dry climate means there is less moisture – and therefore atmospheric humidity – in the air which can distort starlight.
- Low-to-zero light pollution: as one of the most remote and sparsely populated regions in the world, the Atacama Desert boasts minimal artificial light pollution.
- Geographical location: as the Atacama is closer to the equator, it actually offers views of both the northern and southern celestial hemispheres.
- Lack of clouds: of course, the less clouds the better chance there is of seeing stars. Its location teemed with dry climate means the desert has a high number of cloud-free evenings each year.
Where Is The Best Place To Stargaze In The Atacama Desert?
Since the mid-20th century, Chile has been a magnet for international astronomers in search of the perfect spot to set up telescopes. Explorations on horseback eventually led to setting up in the remote area north of Santiago, near La Serena. Some of these telescopes remain, such as European South Observatory’s La Sillo Observatory, and Blanco Telescope at Cerro Tololo. However, these days, most astronomical research happens in the north, where a cluster of high-powered telescopes have been built.
During your luxury tour of the Atacama, you can visit the futuristic facilities of Paranal Observatory, run by the European Southern Observatory. Set at 266m above sea level in the desert, the tour includes a stop at the center’s literally-named Very Large Telescope, made up of four 8.2m diameter telescopes, allowing vision 25 finer than with an individual telescope.
However, the groundbreaking Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter (ALMA) is the most impressive observatory. Located 5000m above sea level on the Chajnantor plateau, ALMA is the largest land-based observatory ever built. With its 66 antennae – which, when combined, make up a 16-km-long telescope – the ALMA has revolutionized astronomy and can capture star and planet formations billions of light years away – with more clarity than ever before.
Unsurprisingly, this concentration of observatories and the rise of astronomy tourism in the region has led to some hotels offering star-gazing experiences too. Among them are the Nayara Alto Atacama and the Atacama Lodge Explora which both have their very own observatories.
Both of these luxury properties give you the chance to observe the faraway planets through first-class telescopes with expert guides. Digital cameras can also be mounted onto these telescopes for spectacular astro-photography – the perfect souvenir from an adventure in the Atacama.
However, serious astrophiles might prefer a private star-gazing session on the outskirts of San Pedro de Atacama with French astronomer, Alain Maury. During this once-in-a-lifetime experience, you will enjoy a one-on-one talk about the galaxy and the latest developments in astronomy research and have a fascinating insight as to what life is like as an astronomer working in the Atacama Desert.
How To Have The Best Stargazing Experience
Like any natural wonder, it is impossible to guarantee an incredible stargazing experience. However, there are a few things to keep in mind when booking your luxury tour that will give you the best chance of seeing this glistening wonder…
- Check the lunar calendar before heading out to see the stars. When planning your luxury Chile tour, we will customize your itinerary to ensure you get optimal star-gazing conditions.
- Avoid stargazing when there is a full moon as the increased illumination can impair the glow of the stars.
- Factor in the opening times of the observatories as most of the Atacama’s observatories are open one day a week, usually Saturdays. When planning your bespoke Atamaca tour, we will check the schedule of each observatory in advance and advise on the best days to visit.
- Have a private stargazing tour so you can enjoy the natural wonder on your own; we can arrange private access to certain observatories for you and your group.
- Dress appropriately. It can be windy at such high altitude so we advise wearing layers, and we also suggest bringing sun-glasses, wearing high-factor sun-block, and packing a good moisturizer as the desert air is very dry. Our preferred luxury accommodations provide blankets for extra comfort during night-time star-gazing sessions.
For more information on our luxury Chile tours to the Atacama Desert, view our example itinerary.
Tailor-Made Itineraries to The Atacama
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