Star gazing

Five top observatories to try astronomy tourism in Chile

As well as being home to some of the world's best scientific observatories, Chile has some high-tech viewing facilities that are open to travelers and the general public.

Monday, August 01, 2011 Category: Tourism
Collowara Tourism Observatory, between Vicuña and Coquimbo. (Photo: Tomoyin/Flickr) Collowara Tourism Observatory, between Vicuña and Coquimbo. (Photo: Tomoyin/Flickr)

The clear skies in the desert regions of Chile's north offer some of the best viewing conditions on earth for astronomers. The country's many scientific observatories are at the forefront of astronomical research and some, such as the Very Large Telescope (VLT) at the worldclass Paranal Observatory, have been involved in many important discoveries about our solar system and beyond.

But for normal folk, there are also a number of tourism-oriented observatories that give everybody the chance to gaze into the night sky using telescopes beyond the reach of most amateur astronomers. Here, This is Chile shares five of the best locations in Chile for staring into space.

Mamalluca Tourism Observatory
Perched on an isolated hilltop just a few miles from Vicuña, the Mamalluca Observatory is one of the Elqui Valley's biggest tourist attractions. It boasts an impressive collection of outdoor telescopes and a high-powered 16-inch Meade unit housed in its own dome. Visitors can opt for a basic astronomy tour or an Andean Worldview Tour which takes in the astronomical beliefs of the region's ancient civilizations. Tours begin daily from 6:30 pm in winter and 8:30 pm in summer, and the observatory can be accessed via private vehicles and minibuses departing from Gabriela Mistral Avenue in Vicuña. Reservations can be made by calling +56 51-411352.

Pangue Observatory
Not far from Mamalluca, the Pangue Observatory has a wide range of programs catering to the general public, the most popular being the two-hour AstroTour in Spanish, French or English. Space buffs also have the opportunity to book a more personalized tour that gives them access to the observatory's telescopes for a whole night. For reservations, call +56 51-543810.

Collowara Tourism Observatory
At over 4,200 feet above sea level, the Collowara Tourism Observatory between Vicuña and Coquimbo, near the town of Andacollo, provides premium views of the skies. It has a collection of powerful 14 inch Schmidt Cassegrain telescopes spread over three cross-shaped viewing desks and a large conference room. Tours here run for two hours and can be booked by calling +56 51-432964 or by emailing contacto@collowara.cl.

Mayu Observatory
The brainchild of an entrepreneurial priest who wanted to strengthen the ties between science and religion, the Mayu Observatory is only 18 miles from the regional center of La Serena. Along with its 14-inch telescope, this observatory also has a chapel. It receives visitors from Monday to Saturday between 8.30pm and 10.30pm. To make a reservation, call +56 51-224508 or send an email to  informaciones@cerromayu.cl.

Southern Cross (Cruz del Sur) Observatory
Situated near the city of Coquimbo, the Southern Cross Observatory is one of the biggest astronomical attractions in all of South America. Developed with input from the Universidad de Chile, it has a number of domes containing powerful 16-inch telescopes and well-equipped exhibition rooms. Reservations can be made by calling +56 53-741033.