Learn about and experience the world’s most amazing view of the night sky in the Atacama desert.
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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).
The Atacama Desert Stargazing Tour is divided into three parts:
Both English and Spanish guides are available.
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:
The Moon Tour, instead of the Stargazing Tour, runs on the following dates:
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.