The brilliant, clear, dark night skies of Northern Chile have long been praised by visitors who stare out at the breathtaking Milky Way Galaxy and its endless layers of shining stars. Now, that stunning night sky will be protected as Chile welcomes its first starlight reserve.
Parque Nacional Fray Jorge in Ovalle, within Chile’s northern Coquimbo region, was recently certified a reserve by the Starlight Foundation which is supported by UNESCO and other international conventions. Chile’s National Tourism Service (SERNATUR) started the process of certification over 16 months ago with the goal of establishing the park as a protected and valued area and an attractive destination for stargazing tourism.
“The certification is a tremendous opportunity to recognize the Parque Nacional Fray Jorge as a place of excellent quality for viewing the stars and moreover, to become a protected area, free of light contamination, making it ready to welcome stargazing tourism initiatives as part of its appeal,” said Eduardo Rodríguez, Regional Director of Chile’s National Forestry Service (CONAF) when Chile first applied for the official Starlight designation.
Today Parque Nacional Fray Jorge joins Lake Tekapo in New Zealand, Monfrague National Park and the Fuerteventura Northern Coast in Spain as the fourth starlight reserve in the world and the first in the Americas.
“This is excellent news, not just for our region, but also for our country,” said Adriana Peñafiel, the SERNATUR director for Chile’s Coquimbo Region. “There are thousands of interested people who are looking for these special places to come with their own [stargazing] equipment. Now we have dark spaces that we can offer and there these people can observe both for scientific endeavors and as tourists with a special interest.”
The park, which was established in 1941 to preserve its unique ecosystem, has been an UNESCO Bioreserve since 1977. It will now see more care and attention as CONAF and SERNATUR prepare to welcome even more visitors from near and far to take in its star-filled skies.
Tourists and amateaur astonomers will not be only ones looking up at the stars from Coquimbo, however, as the area is also home to La Silla Observatory, one of the many major astronomical sites set up in Northern Chile to take advantage of the amazing clear and dark night skies.