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Atacama Desert Stargazing Tour

Learn about and experience the world’s most amazing view of the night sky in the Atacama desert.

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4.83 out of 5 based on 6 customer ratings
(6 customer reviews)
USD $43.00

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Highlights

  • Gaze from what’s considered to be the best place for stargazing in the world!
  • Knowledgeable astronomer as your guide
  • Learn the history of the cosmos and their relationship with local culture and legends

Overview

For centuries, astronomers and observers have traveled from all over the world to view the universe from the Atacama desert. Due to the uniquely clear skies almost all year around, they come to experience the cosmos in a way that can’t be experienced anywhere else.

In this ethno-astronomy tour, you will experience the night sky through an Andean lens, the same lens that is still observed and recognized by native Atacameños. You will leave knowing the name and significance of every constellation, and with knowledge and respect for the native people and their beliefs. The astronomer-guide will also take you through a brief history of how the Greek view of the stars has changed over the years and what we know now about our spectacular universe!

This tour will pick you up at your place of lodging between 20:00 and 20:30 (8:00pm and 8:30pm). The tour ends around 23:00 (11:00 pm).

Itinerary

The Atacama Desert Stargazing Tour is divided into three parts:

  1. The first hour will be a presentation of the current objects in the sky. We’ll use our equipment to provide you with detailed information about what you are observing: distances of the planets, dimensions and temperatures, etc.
  2. During the second part we’ll break to get to know each other over coffee and hot chocolate.
  3. During the second hour of the tour, we’ll use a laser in order to explain both the Greek and Andean cosmo vision/tradition.

Both English and Spanish guides are available.

What’s Included

  • Roundtrip transport from your hostel in San Pedro to the stargazing site
  • An astronomer-guide (available in English or Spanish)
  • A hot cup of either coffee or hot chocolate!

Important Notes

  • Depending of the weather conditions and positions of some stars at the night sky, it might change the order of the first and third part of the observation.
  • We recommend that you wear warm clothing, as it can get quite chilly at night!

Moon Tour

When the moon is full or close to full (+/- 3 days from the full moon), the regular stargazing tour is not possible, since the moon is too bright, but you can instead do a Moon Tour! The Moon Tour has the following rough itinerary:

  • Walk in the desert to observe the moon and discuss how San Pedro’s ancestors used the moonlight to work on their crops.
  • Observe certain stars and planets through the telescopes
  • Enjoy some coffee or hot chocolate and ask the astronomer questions about the universe!

The Moon Tour, instead of the Stargazing Tour, runs on the following dates:

2017

  • July: 4-11
  • August: 5-9
  • September: 4-8
  • October: 3-7
  • November: 2-6
  • December: 1-5

2018

  • January: Dec 30-Jan 3, Jan 29-Feb 2
  • February: Jan 29-Feb 2, Feb 27-Mar 3
  • March: Feb 27-Mar 3, Mar 29-Apr 2
  • April: Mar 29-Apr 2, Apr 27-May 1
  • May: Apr 27-May 1, May 27-31
  • June: Jun 26-30
  • July: Jul 25-29

Map

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Atacama, Chile

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Atacama, Chile -27.566056, -70.050314

The Best Place to Stargaze in the World

Hundreds of scientists and astronomers work in the Atacama desert at Paranal Observatory, La Silla Observatory, and Chajnantor Observatory, located in the region due to its prime location for viewing the night sky. But what makes the Atacama desert the best place in the world to stargaze? It turns out, it’s a combination of several factors.

The Atacama desert is quite high in altitude (around 2500 meters above sea level / 8200 feet, approximately), which allows one a closer look at what lies above. Also, as it is a desert, it is must less populated, and therefore less polluted by light from human activities and settlements. This allows the stars to stand out more against the darkness. One can see right into the heart of the Milky Way, as the desert doesn’t receive much rain, and therefore clouds rarely loom in the sky.

What You’ll See

The Atacama desert will provide a clearer and closer look at some of the constellations and planets you may be able to regularly see from your home, as well as many more! You will be within the Southern Hemisphere, so you’ll have access to impressive stars and formations not visible in other locations. Here are some of the most remarkable ones your guide will point out to you:

  • The Southern Cross – This famous constellations is so extraordinary that the flags of both New Zealand and Australia feature it. However, many from the Northern Hemisphere never even have the chance to see it!
  • Vela – This constellation is home to the bright supergiant Velorum, a star you won’t be able to miss. “Vela” means “ship’s sails” in Latin, and its form bears the shape of its name.
  • The Jewel Box Cluster – Within the Southern Cross, you will see red and blue supergiants in a bright cluster. It’s quite a treat if you are used to just seeing white stars!
  • Omega Centauri – Right next to the Jewel Box Cluster, this cluster is the brightest in the sky and the largest orbiting the center of the Milky Way. You will have the best view of the spectacle through a telescope.
  • Eta Carinae Nebula – Keep an eye out for this unstable star, which may be the next to die in a stellar supernova explosion!

History of the Atacama Desert

Humans have inhabited the Atacama desert for over 10,000 years, but the first organized tribes began to roam the region as hunter-gatherers about 7,000 years ago. The Loa River, the main water source of the desert, sustained agricultural and llama-herding villages dispersed along it and around San Pedro de Atacama from around 900 BC. Around Lake Titicaca, the Tiwanaku culture rose to prominence, and its influence is reflected today in local textile iconography. As this group collapsed, the Atacamenos dominated the desert beginning in 1000 BC through developing a system to transport goods from the coast to the Andean highland. Then, the Inca Empire absorbed this group in the 15th century.

The origin of the desert’s title, “Atacama,” remains a topic of debate. Some attribute the name to the Tacama duck, which is indigenous to northern Chile and the Peruvian coast and flaunts a black and white coat. Others trace its etymology to the indigenous Kunza language, which has a word, “Atchamar,” meaning “head of the country.” It is how the Atacamenos referred to their land.

Tales of gold somewhere south of the Incan Empire drew the first Europeans to the Atacama desert. Spanish conquistador Diego de Almagro first set food in the region, and the invasion of the Spanish led to the downfall of the Incas and Atacamenos, who resisted the European rule. The Atacamenos were massacred in large numbers before signing an agreement to remain subjects of the Spanish later in the 15th century.

Chile claimed the Atacama desert as part of its territory as a result of the War of the Pacific (1879-1883), and it labeled the indigenous groups in the area as Chilean nationals. Tribes were torn apart as the national borders between Chile, Peru and Bolivia broke ties. Many of the Atacamenos engaged in silver nitrate and copper mining in the 19th century, but the silver nitrate industry collapsed in the early 20th century and it resulted in an economic crisis. In 1933, the Chilean government finally recognized the Atacamenos as one of the nine indigenous groups in Chile. However, the state never fairly redistributed the tribe’s ancestral land, which they view as sacred.

Recently, tourism has created a new economic opportunity for the indigenous groups and other peoples in Atacama. Cultural tourism provides a viable source of income for locals in small villages that practice llama herding or mining, and some find they no longer need to migrate to larger cities like Calama to support themselves and their families.

Tips for Adjusting to Altitude

San Pedro rests at 2,407 meters, which is just over the threshold for altitude sickness. At high altitudes, the air pressure drops, and with each breath you take, there is less oxygen than at sea level entering your blood. The effect of this reduced blood oxygen level varies depending on the person, but people commonly report symptoms of dizziness, nausea, shortness of breath, headaches, tiredness and loss of appetite. Fittingly, altitude sickness has been described as being like a very bad hangover. Some people also nd they have trouble sleeping at altitude, due to “periodic breathing” (your body alternating between deep and shallow breaths). Your breathing might even pause completely, making you wake up with a gasp. This is called an “apnoea,” and is nothing too serious to worry about.

Your body will naturally adapt to the lower oxygen level by making more blood cells to carry oxygen around, and by taking deeper, more frequent breaths. Acclimatization typically takes three to ve days, after which time you should stop feeling the effects of altitude.

The best defense against altitude sickness is a gradual ascent. If you start feeling altitude sickness the best thing to do is to descend. But if your itinerary doesn’t allow for that, stay where you are. In other words, if you start feeling any symptoms of altitude sickness, don’t climb any higher. Drinking water before and during your travel can also help. Dehydration is one of the main causes of altitude sickness. You will naturally breathe more frequently at a high altitude to get more oxygen into your blood, but because the air is also dry you will lose more water from exhaling than you’re gaining from breathing in. Aim for 2-3 liters of water a day before you travel to pre- hydrate your body. Keep this going once you’re at the high altitude. You can also ask your doctor about altitude sickness remedies. Some doctors will prescribe Diamox / Acetazolamide, which you should start taking a couple of days before arriving at altitude and continue for 48 hours after arrival. One alternative to Diamox is Exedrin Migraine, which just treats the headache side of altitude sickness. When you arrive in Atacama, eat a high-carb, low protein diet, avoid alcohol and coffee, and drink coca tea, for which you can buy the leaves in many San Pedro convenience stores. However, most people only feel the effects of altitude very mildly, so you shouldn’t let concerns about altitude ruin your upcoming trip.

What to Wear in the Atacama Desert

The Atacama desert is a region of extremes, and you should make sure to pack for the intense weather fluctuations. It’s best to bring a variety of layers. At midday, it is very hot, especially if you are trekking in the desert, so wear light-colored clothing, plenty of sunscreen, and a hat. A good pair of hiking shoes will help you navigate in the sand and rocky terrain, and a pair of long socks and a bandanna will prove useful if you choose to sandboard. For your stargazing tour, make sure to wear several layers and a heavy coat. Your guide will provide you with blankets and hot chocolate to warm you up! Several pairs of socks will also keep your toes toasty. If you want to go to the Tatio Geysers, you will need a thick coat and plenty of layers, as temperatures in the morning when the geysers are most active are below freezing. Make sure to bring a bathing suit and a towel to take a dip in the hot springs.

Weather

San Pedro de Atacama is generally sunny, and the area experiences very little rainfall. It’s warmest month is January, when temperatures reach an average high of 77 F (25 C) and a low of 46 F (8 C). It’s coldest month is July, when temperatures usually remain around 70 F (11 C) during midday and drop below freezing at night. The region is the driest on Earth, with very low humidity.

  1. 5 out of 5

    :

    A wonderful way to spend a late night gazing at the beauty of our universe. A powerful telescope brings the moon and planets much closer while a laser pointer makes it easy to pick out key stars among the thousands of points of light in the sky above. Dress warm, very warm, and bring a flask of your favorite adult beverage to keep your insides warm too.

  2. 5 out of 5

    :

    Amazing tour. The guide was very knowledgable, and he was able to answer all my questions. The view of the stars is the best I have ever seen! Highly recommend.

  3. 5 out of 5

    :

    On any night in San Pedro you can find a place to lay out and stargaze, watching shooting stars race across the sky. And usually that’s more than enough for me. But it was definitely nice to have the constellations pointed out while learning crazy facts about the universe. Our guide clearly knew his information well, and had an incredible enthusiasm with which he shared it

  4. 5 out of 5

    :

    This was my favorite tour! The stars were beautiful. Our guide was very knowledge and they took a picture of us with the stars in the end. Overall great experience!!

  5. 4 out of 5

    :

    There really is not a bad place in Atacama to stargaze, but It was cool to go stargazing and have the constellations pointed out. Having the telescope also made for a fun addition. The guide knew interesting facts about the universe and then took a very cool picture of our group with the stars in the background.

  6. 5 out of 5

    (verified owner):

    During my time spent in the Atacama, this was by far my favorite tour. Our guide was very knowledgeable, spoke fluent English, could answer all of our questions and was overall very friendly. He was able to point out many different constellations and everyone got equal chances to view different planets and landmarks in the sky using the telescope. Due to the temperature, we were provided with blankets, and even hot chocolate or tea depending on preference. We also were provided a free picture that was high quality and captured the beauty of this experience. I highly recommend this tour, definitely something you do not want to miss!

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What Happens After I Book?

After you book your experience, you will receive a confirmation email from us confirming that your payment went through. You will then be connected directly to the tour operator, in case you have any further questions. We are also happy to answer any questions about the tour, or travel in general in your country of destination.

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