New partnerships to transform travel astronomy in Chile

Coquimbo in northern Chile boasts some of the world’s clearest night skies. . . and you can now view them on horseback.

According to eminent Chilean astronomer Professor María Teresa Ruíz, Chile is the “world’s window to the universe,” and a visit to the country’s northern regions supports this claim in breathtaking fashion.
Despite a variety of activities to choose from, many tourists come away from Chile saying that the highlight of their visit was viewing the phenomenal Tarantula Nebula from observatories in the Atacama Desert, or simply taking in stunning starscapes with the naked eye on camping trips to Elqui Valley.
Inspired by the sheer volume of tourist traffic to astronomy hotspot Coquimbo (its famous Mamalluca Observatory alone attracts 70,000 visitors a year), members of the region’s tourist board are exploring partnerships with local experts and the organisation Turismo Chile in a bid to develop new ways of discovering the night sky.
“We started offering tours to Mamalluca and quickly realised how much demand there was,” Bárbara Tamblay said of her work for Elqui Valley tour operator the Migrant Agency. “Now we take small groups on specially designed astronomy night treks and we have even started astronomy horseback rides which are doing very well.”
Chile is a world leader in astronomical research, and scientists from all over the world visit to use the country’s 37 observatory centers. Nineteen of these centers are available to the public for amateur observation, and that number is set to almost double as President Sebastián Piñera has pledged to build a public observatory in every region of the country.
“Chile has the clearest skies of the southern hemisphere,” Andrea Wolleter, General Manager of Turismo Chile, said. “This is an advantage that should boost such partnerships between private and public bodies.”
The partnership between Coquimbo’s tourist board and Turismo Chile is part of a government led initiative to increase growth in tourism throughout the country. Such initiatives, coupled with the innovative thinking of local business people like Tamblay, will ensure that Chile’s already world-class astronomy tourism industry will continue to thrive.