The Atacama Desert is full of wonders to explore. One of its highlights is without a doubt its night sky. The Atacama Desert is home to some of the world’s most important observatories since the absence of light pollution, flat landscape and global position give astronomists incredible views of outer space. While the observatories are closed to tourists, you can still enjoy the truly special experience of stargazing in the Atacama.
Jorge, from Atacama Desert Stargazing®, is an expert in all things astrology and a specialist of the Atacama sky. He grew up in a small village near San Pedro, listening to his grandmother talk with her friends in Quechua around a fire. Since he couldn’t understand them, he spent the time looking at the stars, which sparked a passion that would become his life’s work. We spoke to Jorge about what makes the Atacama so special and his best tips for visitors.
What makes the Atacama so special?
There are other places in Chile, and of course the world, where you can get a great view of the stars. But they don’t compare to the Atacama desert. Due to its distance from cities and sources of light pollution, as well as the local climatic conditions, you can see some of the clearest night skies on the planet here. Unfortunately, this is has changed in recent years with the growth of the mining industry in the area and climate change. Nonetheless, the Atacama sky still offers its admirers a jaw-dropping view of the Milky Way.
Furthermore, the flat landscape means that you get an incredible 180-degree view of the sky, rather than it being blocked by hills. The shooting stars seem closer too and if you’re lucky enough to catch a meteor shower, you’ll feel like you’re watching the best fireworks display of your life.
Who can go stargazing?
In short, anyone aged 5 and up! Although there are complex topics in astronomy, your guide will explain them to you in simple terms. You’ll learn about the history of astronomy, the different types of celestial objects like stars, planets, clusters, galaxies, and nebulae as you try to spot them through your telescope. Each tour is adapted to the interests of those taking part, too. From the celestial objects you learn about to the food provided, we personalize your tour to match your preferences.
What can you expect from a tour?
There are a variety of different tours to choose from depending on the traveler’s preferences. Talk to your Ecochile travel representative about the different options available and what each includes. For example, you can try some delicious home-cooked local flavors under the stars. If you want lots of photos of your family under the starry sky, there’s an option for that too! Why not camp out all night with top-class tents to keep you warm? All the tours include a live astronomy lecture so you can leave as experts ready to tell all your friends about the different celestial objects!
When is the best time to go?
You can go stargazing nearly all year round! Nonetheless, you should plan your trip carefully if stargazing is a must for you. Unfortunately, there are no tours in February due to the weather conditions at that time of year. Also, make sure you avoid the days before and after a full moon since the excess light reduces the visibility of the stars. For the best view, though, visit in the winter (April to September), since the lower temperature reduces the humidity and leaves the sky crystal clear.
What are your top tips for visitors?
The most important tip is to book your stargazing tour on the first night of your stay in the Atacama. If, the tour has to be changed to another day due to climate conditions, you have the rest of the stay to rearrange! You definitely don’t want to miss this one!
Tip number two is to leave yourself enough time between your afternoon activity and the stargazing pick up. You’re on vacation after all so take time to rest and get ready for the experience!
Wrap up warm! The Atacama desert is warm during the day, but at night you should be prepared for very cold temperatures! Bring a hat, gloves, and layers to stay warm and make the most of your experience. The local-style poncho lent to you will also help to keep you nice and toasty!
Do I need to bring any equipment?
Other than your warm clothing, no! High quality telescopes are provided so you can see the Milky Way and stars. If you choose the camping tour, all camping equipment including tents, sleeping bags etc. is provided for you. Keen photographers will also need to bring their appropriate camera equipment. A spare camera battery definitely does not go amiss here either!
If you have any other questions, talk to an Ecochile travel specialist today!