Planning a DIY Astro Tour of Chile

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by Mario Pedraza

In October 2016, I started planning an astro tour to the southern hemisphere. Why Chile? Because Chile is much closer than Australia, plus I am Latino and fluent in Spanish. Of the two main Chile astro destinations, I decided on the Elqui Valley over San Pedro de Atacama for three main reasons. First, the Elqui Valley is easier to reach, one 45 minute flight from Santiago and then a 57km drive to Vicuna. Second, health reasons. San Pedro is situated at 2407 meters (7900 ft); Elqui Valley is lower at 709 meters (2326 ft). Third, the Elqui Valley has 320 clear nights per year (versus 250 for San Pedro).

I booked a round trip American Airlines flight from Portland to Santiago.  I spent a night at the airport Hilton Hotel in Santiago. The next day I boarded a LATAM flight to La Serena and the Elqui Valley. I spent four days on the beach at La Serena. I then rented a Peugeot 208 at the airport and drove to the town of Vicuna in the Elqui Valley where I stayed for seven days.  During that time I visited Pangue Observatory (about a 20 km, 45 min. drive up the mountains from Vicuna) and Cerro Tololo Observatory (47 km, about one hour).  After an eleven-day stay, I flew back to Santiago, rented a car and drove 200 km south to the town of Santa Cruz.  There, I spent three days exploring a greener part of Chile. I enjoyed the wonderful Colchagua Museum, great Chilean cuisine and a visit to the world-class Miguel Torres Vineyard.

I wrote extensive reports on my trip and posted them on the Forum as I was traveling.  They can be found at Have Passport Will Travel.  Besides descriptions of the telescopes and my day-to-day adventures, I also included a list of Southern Sky objects I was able to see, and a list of traveling tips for the southern hemisphere. If you wish to talk to me about this trip or have southern hemisphere travel questions, please feel free to contact me.