Torres del Paine National Park

Astronomical Tourism in Chile

Astronomical tourism in Chile.

  More than 300 clear days and nights a year, the almost zero light pollution and a great infrastructure of scientific and recreational nature, make northern Chile the world astronomical capital.
In addition, in order to protect this natural heritage, since 1999 the country has an environmental regulation whose objective is to prevent light pollution of the skies in the Northern Regions. 

According to statistics, 21.3% of international tourists say that their travel to Chile was mainly motivated by the option of astronomical tourism. To meet this need, in Santiago, La Serena, the main towns of the Elqui Valley, San Pedro de Atacama, Antofagasta and Iquique you can find several agencies that offer guided tours with great equipment.

It is important to note that in Chile there are both scientific and tourist observatories. Unlike tourist observatories, which can be visited at night and make observations, the observatories of scientific nature can be visited only during the day, touring the facilities, telescopes and control rooms, but you will not be able to make observations, as it is the place where the astronomers work. 

Those interested in tours can contact the Regional/ National Tourism Agencies or consult the contact information indicated in the corresponding paragraph.

Main Astronomical Observatories in Chile

ALMA Observatory

ALMA Observatory in Northern Chile.
 Atacama Large Millimeter/ Submillimeter Array is the largest astronomical project in the world, constituted by an international association between Europe, North America and East Asia in collaboration  with the Republic of Chile. With a cost of more than 1000 million Euros, it is the largest and most expensive ground-based radio telescope, consisting of 66 antennas or radio telescopes installed on the Chajnantor plateau, at 5058 meters above sea level, in the Atacama Desert. ALMA will make possible to learn about the origins of galaxies, stars and planets. 

ALMA is open for those who wish to know its facilities located in the North of Chile (50 km from San Pedro de Atacama) every Saturday and Sunday morning prior registration. Only previously registered persons may visit the ALMA Operations Support Site (OSF), a camp where ALMA staff works and where visitors can see the control room, laboratories and antennas in maintenance and an antenna carrier, in case they are available. For security reasons, visits to the Chajnantor plain (AOS, where the antenna set is located) are not authorized, due to its altitude, 5,000 meters above sea level. 

Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory

It is located at Elqui Valley, approximately 80 km from La Serena, in the Coquimbo Region, also known as Chile's Fourth Region, at an altitude of 2200 meters above sea level. It is operated by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, AURA, a consortium of American private universities in collaboration with the National Optical Astronomy Observatories, NOAO, under an agreement with the National Science Foundation and the Universidad de Chile. 

Cerro Tololo is one of the oldest and probably the best known observatory in the country, the project to build it began in 1962 and ended in November 1967, when it came into operation. However, it has a cutting-edge technology that includes a radio telescope and seven optical telescopes. Cerro Tololo is considered the fourth observatory in the world for its ability to observe the celestial vault, especially new constellations and passage of artificial satellites. 

It is possible to make free guided visits to the facilities every Saturday of the month, although reservations must be made several weeks in advance. The tour has a total duration of approximately two hours. 

Paranal Observatory

Paranal Observatory in Northern Chile.   Paranal is an optical astronomical observatory operated by the European Southern Observatory, the most productive in the world, since its findings and results include more than one scientific document per day. It is located on the Paranal hill, Atacama Desert, 130 km. South of the city of Antofagasta.
Paranal consists of the Very Large Telescope (VLT), which has four 8.2 m telescopes. These four main telescopes can combine their light to use a fifth instrument, the Very Large Telescope Interferometer (VLTI). It also has four 1.8 m Auxiliary Telescopes (AT) which can join the VLTI in case the main telescopes are being used in other projects, a 2.5 m VLT Survey Telescope (VST) and the Visible & Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy (VISTA) of 4 m.
Visits are free, Saturdays from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. but places are limited. Click here for Weekend Visits to Paranal Observatory.

La Silla Observatory

La Silla is located about 160 km. NE of La Serena, near the Atacama Desert on a mountain of 2400 meters. It has eighteen telescopes, of which five were built by the European Southern Observatory (ESO), while others are partly maintained by ESO. The observatory is one of the largest in the southern hemisphere.

Its facilities house one of the world's most modern spectrographs, the High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher (HARPS), which aims to observe exoplanets. Another outstanding instrument that works here is the Gamma-Ray Burst Optical / Near-Infrared Detector (GROND).
Click here for Weekend Visits to La Silla Observatory.

Gemini South Observatory

Gemini South Observatory, Chile.

  The Gemini Observatory consists of two 8.1 meter optical / infrared twin telescopes located in both hemispheres of the Earth. North Gemini is located on the dormant volcano Mauna Kea, Hawaii and South Gemini on a mountain called Cerro Pachon, 80 km away from the city of La Serena, Chile.

These twin telescopes, together, manage to cover the entire sky of both hemispheres throughout the year, obtaining high quality images due to the excellent atmospheric conditions presented by the sites where they are located. 

Gemini is made up of an international cooperation that includes the USA, Canada, Great Britain, Brazil, France, Argentina, Australia, and Chile as host country. It is administered by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA) under a cooperation agreement with the National Science Foundation of the United States (NSF).

Las Campanas Observatory

Las Campanas, belonging to the Carnegie Organization of the United States, is located in the Atacama Region, on the border with the Coquimbo Region, near the commune of Vallenar. It is at a height of 2380 meters above sea level, 27 km. North of La Silla Observatory. Currently it has 4 large Telescopes, in addition to several other instruments, some in operation and others under construction. The Giant Magellan Telescope, which will consist of seven primary segments of 8.4 meters in diameter, is expected to be completed by 2025. 

It is recommended to book one month in advance, it is open to tourists every Saturday of the year. The tour lasts about 3 hours and there are no specialized guides to receive visitors, but are attended by the technicians who work at the scientific observatory. 
The administrative office is located in the city of La Serena. Visits are scheduled by calling (56) 51 2207301

APEX Observatory

Atacama Pathfinder Experiment is located at the Chajnantor Plain, 5,100 meters high in the Atacama Desert, in an extremely dry place, inhospitable for humans but excellent for submillimeter astronomy. The telescope, operated by the European Southern bservatory, was built by VERTEX Antennentechnik in Duisburg, Germany and it is an alliance between 3 European research institutes, the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy (MPIfR), the Onsala Space Observatory (OSO) and the European Southern Observatory (ESO).

APEX, the largest submillimeter wave telescope that operates in the southern hemisphere is based on an antenna prototype built for the ALMA project and explores objectives so that ALMA Observatory studies them in much more detai, so these two monitoring centers complement each other in the exploration of the outer space.

Cerro Mamalluca Tourist Observatory

Mamalluca tourist observatory, Chile.                              
  Located 9 kilometers from the town of Vicuña, Mamalluca ("mother who shelters" in the ancestral Quechua language), is the oldest tourist observatory in Chile, it has a 12-inch telescope in addition to other equipment and accessories donated by Cerro Tololo to the local municipality. The tours last about four hours,  in charge of a specialist who will explain how to observe the sky in detail and answering the questions of the visitors. The tours start at four different hours, from 8.30 pm during the Summer.
Click here for Tours to Mamalluca Observatory.

Paniri Caur Tourist Observatory

Paniri Caur, just like Mamalluca, is another of the tourist monitoring centers in Northern Chile. It is located in the little town of Chiu Chiu, half an hour from the city of Calama, Antofagasta Region.The visit to this tourist center belonging to the Sol del Desierto company, is another unforgettable experience.

Paniri Caur is the only Andean Archaeoastronomy observatory, which seeks to combine the idea of the Cosmos that the ancient Atacameño people had with the modern vision of the Universe. The tours to Paniri Caur not only include the visit to the observatory itself, but also guided tours by routes, excursions to villages and places with rock art.

Visits are scheduled by calling (+56) 99546 2023

Cruz del Sur Tourist Observatory

Cruz del Sur (Southern Cross Observatory) is located on El Peralito hill, 3.5 km from the main square of..... (continue to read about Cruz del Sur Observatory)