The Atacama Desert in Chile is the best stargazing place on Earth. Its clear skies have become a must-see for adventurers.
Groups of tourists gather together to gaze the dazzling midnight sky in Chile using a wide-range telescope. There are various star formations to see like a single-star, double, nebula, cluster and also a galaxy. There is always an overwhelming sense of joy and wonder at these gatherings.
The brilliant night sky on Earth found at the Atacama Desert located on the north side of Chile is the best place to stargaze. The Atacama became recognized in the world as one of the driest deserts. This place is high and unpolluted allowing many famous observatories to settle.
Tourism in the Atacama
The number of nighttime tours for this new stargazing experience is growing including the one run by Tierra Atacama, a San Pedro de Atacama-based escape town. But what’s more exciting for astronomical enthusiasts is the leading solar project in the world, the new Alma observatory. This observatory will open next month. It captures the beginning of the universe- basically, the planet formations and stars billions of lightyears away. A telescope with a range of 66 antennae provides ten times brighter resolution rather than the space telescope, Hubble.
Traveling to the Headquarters of Alma means going twenty miles northeast of San Pedro. There are wild donkeys and plenty of cacti in the area. In a little while, its features seem to transform into a Mars-like environment. The land has red shades and is filled with smoke from the fissures and craters of the ‘Liscar’ volcano.
The OSF or Operations Support Facility conducts public tours. This facility is 2,900 meters in altitude and built as a center for visitors. The tour includes visiting the control center, and laboratory. The shelter, where the antennae are prepared and revamped, always had something to work. It is also in the plan to build the Alma museum and an on-site hotel in San Pedro de Atacama.
At the Alma observatory, night-time stargazing is limited. One can’t get too close with the telescope as it is a radio telescope. Visitors are not allowed to go up at the 5,000-meters Chajnantor Plateau where the antennae located. Some are permitted to ascend but under strict scientific supervision. The oxygen level could be higher than 80% at high altitude. When it dropped down, an oxygen canister is needed to refill the lost oxygen.
At the OSF, there is a lot to explore. There might find a spectacular view of the Valley of the Moon of Chile. Bill Dent, an astronomer, said, “Astronomy is fun for more people than particle physicists. Everyone can look up at the skies. It has immediate appeal, especially for kids.”
Dent got persuaded over the popularity of this kind of tour. He also stated, “Astro-tourism is completely new. You didn’t get it ten years ago.”
The Meteorite Museum in San Pedro provides tours for stargazing. This museum built with two geodesic-domes where all the displayed meteorites found in the Atacama Desert. There are also rocks older than four and a half billion years.
The Atacama has plenty of natural attractions even if it is a desert area. El Tatio is a must-visit geyser field location which is known as the magical sunrise in Chile. It located in the Andes where icy underground rivers smash with hot rocks. It has a warm and steamy volcanic mud, and thermal pools to take a dip.
You can’t miss the flamingo reservoir, salt flats, Moon and Death Valley and lagoons.
Moon Valley or Valle de la Luna and Death Valley or Valle de la Muerte are both accessible in the area and bike is a standard vehicle to tour around. Be sure to drink plenty of water and apply sunscreen to avoid heat stroke. The dunes and natural sculptures are splendid- from the landscape to the texture to the colors.
Valle de la Luna is where the robotic vehicle testing of NASA and other international collaborators take place, and that will use on Mars.
The lagoons are jaw-dropping, surrounded by mountains and volcanoes, and its mirror-reflection.
The dusty streets of San Pedro de Atacama might be jam-packed with tourists, yet it is not as crowded as it pictured. It is a laid-back cowboy town, and extremely appealing to tourists — this town surrounded by one-story buildings, Andean church, and an archaeological museum.
The San Pedro church, built in 1744, is the largest church in the region. This church is situated along the central plaza of San Pedro. Aside from the original iconic images, its roof made from cactus wood.
The archaeological museum or acknowledged as Gustava Le Paige Archaeological Museum displayed over 380,000 artifacts. There also lies a well-preserved sacrificial mummified body of a woman sitting with her knees pulled to her chest.
The bar is the typical place to visit, and Chile has it too. Chela Cabur, a well-known bar, adorned with posters from vintage films, and football t-shirts. This bar serves only beer with micheladas as the specialty. It is a beer with salt, and lemon juice typically ordered on hot days.
Blanco is an international cuisine using a Chilean twist. It is known for smoked chicken quinoa and vanilla-sauced beef.
The best spot of dinner is Ayllu, situated near the street of Toconao. It has a courtyard-feel abode and grill around the brazier. Specialty is the llama a la Pobre, a tender and fatty llama meat, which served along with onions, fried eggs, and chips.
Also, try the “rica-rica” cocktail, a Chilean national drink. It is a pisco sour capped with an aromatic desert herb. It is also a medical food particularly for treating upset stomach, blood circulation, altitude sickness, and heart and kidney problems. “Rica-rica” can also be served as ice cream, tea or pisco sour. It is highly recommended to try in the area.
A Chilean desert food, Patasca, is a native dish of indigenous Atacama people. This dish is a hot soup with corn, pork, potatoes, beef, and onions.
For the specialties of Atacama Desert, it is preeminent to visit the local farmers market, get recommendations from the locals, and ask for locally cooked food restos.
Affordable and Deluxe Stay in the Atacama
From low-cost hostels to deluxe hotels, there are loads of places to stay in Chile.
A traditional village-like deluxe hotel, Hotel Altiplanico offers non-high prices. Its room made with a straw roof with a sunshiny veranda and an al fresco shower. At night, there is no need to use a telescope to view the dimly lit sky. Staying on the porch while stargazing the romantic night sky of Chile is more than enough.
The weather in the Atacama seldom changes from months. The best time to visit the Atacama is in June and July. In June, the desert celebrates the festival of Chile’s local Saint’s Day; whereas in July has cooler nights.
Build the excitement while traveling in a four-wheel vehicle towards the Atacama. There you will find a sci-fi countryside of dusty ground. The local dishes and drinks are incredibly unique. The place itself, the food, and the night sky are utterly surreal.