This trip combines the best of Chile's sights along with visits to several observatories and excellent star gazing opportunities. This is a perfect blend of astronomy with the best of Chile.
ASTRONOMY HOLIDAYS – UNDER THE STARS IN CHILE
What to Expect
Tour dates : 14 October 2013 – 14 days
For European and North American stargazers, a trip to the Southern Hemisphere can be truly disorienting. Orion appears on his head or side, Polaris can't be seen at all, and even the sun seems lost, following a course through the northern sky. Few visitors will forget their first glimpse of the Southern Cross, or Cruz del Sur; less well known are the Clouds of Magellan, two irregular satellite galaxies of our Milky Way visible to the unaided eye at a distance of 180,000,000 light years.
The skies above the Andean foothills between La Serena and Copiapó are recognized as being the clearest in the southern hemisphere, a fact which has led the world's great astronomical laboratories to construct giant observatories here. Astronomers in the 21st century are turning to the high plateau of Chile to locate their largest and most sensitive telescopes.
This tour will take you to a number of the most advanced observatories and allow you to view the magnificent southern skies with a selection of smaller sized scopes.
Day 1: Fly to Santiago
Fly to Santiago
Day 2: Arrive Santiago
Your guide will welcome you at the airport and take you to your hotel.
Afterwards, you will explore Santiago de Chile during a city tour. In the historic centre, you will visit the presidential palace, once the national mint and hence named La Moneda. Additional sights are around the historic main square, the Plaza de Armas, with its cathedral and the beautiful old post office; the Palaciode la Real Audiencia, now home to the National History Museum; and the Casa Colonial, which was once the governor’s residence during the colonial era. The best views of Santiago and the Andes can be enjoyed from the summit of Cerro San Cristóbal, where a large statue of the Virgin Mary overlooks the capital. The hill is part of the Parque Metropolitano – the city’s largest municipal park – where many Santiaguinos spend the weekends practicing sports or enjoying a BBQ.
After visiting the Cerro San Cristóbal, the tour continues through Providencia, one of the capital’s exclusive districts, with attractive shops, good restaurants and modern high-rise buildings.
Hotel Los Nogales - 1 night
Day 3: Santiago - La Serena
Transfer to the airport in Santiago and flight to La Serena. On arrival, transfer to the hotel and continue to explore the city.
Beginning with the city centre, and the Plaza de Armas with its beautiful cathedral, the first visit is to the Archaeological Museum, where you gain useful insight into the pre-Columbian cultures that once existed in Chile.
Afterwards, the tour continues to the attractive craft market at La Recova and then on to the university hill, where there is an impressive view over La Serena and the Bay of Coquimbo. Your tour also leads to the city’s emblem: the lighthouse by the sea, located on a beach promenade that is very popular during summer.
In addition, you visit neighbouring Coquimbo, with its traditional fish and seafood market and attractive beaches. La Serena is one of Chile’s most appealing cities, because the ‘Plan La Serena’ has largely ensured that growth and modernisation has been developed within a framework that has maintained the city’s rich architectural heritage, allowing La Serena to keep its own unique character.
Hotel Francisco de Aguirre - 1 night (B)
Day 4: Excursion to Gemini South Observatory
Today this full day tour will take you to the southwestern part of La Serena will give you a deeper insight into the astronomy in Chile. You will visit the Gemini Observatory, which consists of twin 8.1-meter diameter optical/infrared telescopes located on two of the best observing sites on the planet. From their locations on mountains in Hawai‘i and Chile, Gemini Observatory’s telescopes can collectively access the entire sky. The Gemini South telescope is located at about 2,750 meters (8,900 feet) elevation on a mountain in the Chilean Andes called Cerro Pachón. Cerro Pachón shares resources with the adjacent SOAR telescope and the nearby telescopes of the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory.
Both of the Gemini telescopes have been designed to take advantage of the latest technology and thermal controls to excel in a wide variety of optical and infrared capabilities. One example of this is the unique Gemini coating chamber that uses "sputtering" technology to apply protected silver coatings on the Gemini mirrors to provide unprecedented infrared performance. Gemini's instrument program keeps the observatory at the cutting edge of astronomical research. By incorporating technologies such as laser guide stars, Multi-Conjugate Adaptive Optics and multi-object spectroscopy, astronomers in the Gemini partnership have access to the latest toolsfor exploring the universe. Gemini was built and is operated by a partnership of 7 countries including the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Chile, Australia, Brazil and Argentina.
Any astronomer in each partner country can apply for time on Gemini with is allocated in accordance with the amount of financial support provided by each country. The Gemini telescopes have been integrated with modern networking technologies to allow remote operations from control rooms at the base facilities in Hilo and La Serena Chile. With the flexibility of "Queue Scheduling" and remote participation, researchers anywhere in the Gemini partnership will be assured the best possible match between observation, instrument and observing conditions.In the evening you will visit the the El Pangue Observatory to observe the night sky with range of instruments from 12" to 25" (30cm-63cm) reflecting telescopes.
Hosteria Vicuña - 1 night (BL)
Day 5: Excursion Valle del Elqui & La Silla Observatory
This full day excursion will introduce you to Elqui Valley, framed by the ochre, cactus-covered hillsides of its semi-desert surroundings, the green floor of this river-watered valley thrives with papaya, figs, chirimoya (custard fruit), apricots, peaches, and especially grapes. From these lastis created the ‘Pisco’ – Chile’s famous grape brandy for which the valley is particularly famous, and during a leisurely stopover at a distillery you’ll learn about the production process and enjoy a taste or two.
After a short stop for coffee at one of the view points along the way, you’ll arrive at La Silla Observatory; with 14 optical telescopes will furnish an unforgettable view of the stars. Cerro La Silla is distinguished by presenting totally clear skies, at least 300 days a year! Late in the evening, you will make the drive back down the valley to your hotel in La Serena.
Hotel Francisco de Aguirre - 1 night (B)
Day 6: La Serena - San Pedro
Transfer to the airport and flight to Antofagasta. On arrival you will transfer to San Pedro de Atacama (approx 5 hours). The rest of the day will be at leisure.
Hotel Casa Don Tomas - 1 night (B)
Day 7: Valle De La Luna
In the morning you will have the option to takle a half day tour following in the footsteps of the ancient Atacameños and Incas, and your tour guide will show you two archaeological sites: Aldea de Tulor and Pukará de Quitor.The Aldea de Tulor is a ruined village dating from around 800 BC, where once up to 200 inhabitants lived.
Next to the ruins, two domestic buildings have been reconstructed according to authentic designs and turned into a museum. The fortress of Pukará de Quitor is just 3km/2mi north of San Pedro. It was erected by the Atacameños in the 12th century BC, and later extended by the Incas. The Spanish took the fort in 1540. There is a beautiful view towards San Pedro and the Andean mountain chain from the fortress, including of volcanoes in the background. The final destination of the day is the Padre le Paige Museum, where an impressive archaeological collection is on display. The exhibition illustrates the history of the Atacama people, their subjugation by the Incas, and later conquest by the Spanish.
In the afternoon you will visit to the Valle de la Luna to enjoy the sunset. Probably the best-known destination around San Pedro is the Valle de la Luna (Moon Valley) thatlies in the salt mountains, to the west of town. This tour into the rugged beauty of the Atacama Desert begins at dusk. With the Licancabur volcano providing the backdrop, strange salt and rock formations in the middle of the valley’s barren sandy landscape really do look like a moonscape. After a tour past the bizarre natural rock and salt shapes, the excursion ends with a hike up a giant sand dune.
From its highest point, a breath-taking view onto the valley and the Licancabur Volcano can be enjoyed. The setting sun bathes the valley in a light that changes with every minute, providing a mesmerising play of colours. The return drive to San Pedro is after sunset.
Hotel Casa Don Toma - 3 nights (B)
Day 8: El Tatio Geyser
Today you will explore one of the highlights of San Pedro. Those who wish to experience the El Tatio Geysers have to get up early, to ensure a timely arrival at the geyser field at sunrise. The fountains that shoot up to 10m/33ft high occur when the morning sun melts the nightly ice caps over the hot springs, located over 4300m/14,108ft.
After the spectacular show there, you have the choice of recovering from the morning chill and warming up in natural pools created by hotsprings. The return drive to San Pedro takes place around midday.(B)
Day 9: Atacama Salt Flat & ALMA Construction Facility
Leave San Pedro with you tour guide and approach the Salar de Atacama, a salt lake of huge proportions (3000 sq km/1,158 sq mi!). Its surface is covered by a thick layer of snow-white salt crystals, as far as the eye can see, caused by the evaporation of the lake’s water. The world’s largest lithium deposits are found here, but the salt pan is also home to several flamingo species, including the Andean, Chilean and James flamingo, who feed on the micro organisms found in the saline lagoons. These beautiful birds and other species can be observed in their natural habit at at the Salar de Atacama’s Chaxa Lagoon, which is part of the Reserva Nacional de los Flamencos.
During the afternoon, you will visit the ALMA Observatory (Site Erection Facility at 2,900 m), the largest astronomical project in existence. ALMA will be a single telescope of revolutionary design, composed initially of 66 high precision antennas located on the Chajnantor plateau at 5000m altitude in Northern Chile. (BL)
Day 10: San Pedro - Antofagasta
Transfer to Antofagasta, optional visit on route to Chuquicamata Copper Mine.
Hotel Diego de Almagro - 3 nights (B)
Day 11: City tour Antofagasta
The first stop on the tour is at “La Portada”, a natural rock formation in the ocean, in the shape of an arc or doorway. From there the tour continues along the coast, and returns to the city, making a second stop at the Fisch Terminal, where visitors can see a bustling market selling a large variety of fish and shell fish. From the market, visitors walk to the “Barrio Histórico”, which is the old original port area of the city, which contains interesting buildings from the Antofagasta Bolivia Railway Company with museum and old equipment from the salt peter era, these buildings have been declared National Monuments.
Nearby is the Regional Museum, where visitors can learn about the natural and cultural history of the region, with exhibits on geology, paleontology, ecology, archeology, pre-Hispanic and post-Hispanic growth, the Pacific War, and a very interesting and detailed section on the salt peter Industry and it’s effect on the city. From the museum, we continue our tour on foot to the Cathedral of San José, and the Plaza Colón, the social centre and meeting place of Antofagasta. Visitors then return to the vehicle, to drive through the city, towards the South, passing through the residential area of Avenida Brasil, with its park, before arriving at the Huanchaca Ruins, the remains of a gigantic Silver Smelter, which was built by Bolivian /Chilean /English Industrialists to treat silver ore brought over the mountains from the famous silver deposits of Pulacayo and Oruroin Bolivia.
Our next stop is at Caleta Coloso, where a small fishing community lives along side the new Port built for the export of copper concentrate from the giant Escondida Mine. This is one of the most modern mines in the world, and is an important part of Antofagasta’s economy.(B)
Day 12: Excursion to Paranal Observatory
Today you will visit the Paranal Observatory , the most important astronomical investigation center in the country, located at an altitude of 2600m above sea level and approximately 130 km south of Antofagasta, in one of the driest areas in the world. Paranal is site of the Very Large Telescope (VLT) and is the flagship facility of European astronomy and scientific research. (BL)
Day 13: Antofagasta-Santiago
Transfer to airport and flight to Santiago. On arrival, transfer to the hotel.
Hotel Los Nogales - 1 night (B)
Day 14: Flight home
Transfer to the airport for your flight back to UK (B)
Costs From : £2999.00 per person excluding international flights
This tour offers the chance to combine several major astronomical observatories with some of the great sights of Northern Chile. Clients will also have time at a remote public observatory where they’ll be able to see stars and planets under a truly dark sky.
The tour is guided by our expert astronomer Dr John Mason.
On this trip: Passengers stay in locally run hotels and use local guides. We would endeavour to involve and educate the local guides in astronomy which will in turn help them to introduce other tourists and potentially become guides in this special interest field.