Seeing Stars in Atacama
For the ultimate stargazing experience, head to the Atacama desert where the clearest skies on earth make for dazzling night-time displays. A lack of light pollution and cloud cover, combined with the desert’s dryness and height, create perfect conditions for a canvas like night sky. As such it’s a magnet for both astronomers and tourists who come to gaze at faraway galaxies. Several important international observatories are based here, including the new Atacama Large Millimetre Array (ALMA), which sits 5,000m high on the Chajnantor plateau. It’s the world’s largest astronomical project – with a single telescope composed of 66 high-precision antennas.
You can pre-register for tours of ALMA’s Operations Support Facility, situated at 2,900 metres, which take place on Saturday and Sunday mornings and offer a fascinating insight into the workings of an observatory. The sweeping views of Moon Valley add to the surreal, space-like experience.
While you’ll get the best views from ALMA, the best experience is on astronomer-led trips deep into the desert from San Pedro de Atacama. Boutique hotel Tierra Atacama arranges night-time visits to the Ahlarkapin observatory, where local guides share insights into both traditional astronomy and Andean cosmology.
A Full Moon
Ahlarkapin also leads atmospheric two-hour hikes into the desert when there’s a full moon. But the best thing about the Atacama is that you don’t need fancy equipment to enjoy the skies.
Simply gaze upwards and prepare to go starry eyed.
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