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Chilean Observatories

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Chile | 14 days
Trip code: 
Trip Highlights: 
The Finest Observatories in the World
Southern Hemisphere Dark Sky Observing
Spectacular scenery San Pedro
Travel with expert Dr John Mason
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What's included: 

Astronomy - Accompanied by our expert Dr John Mason, 1 night star gazing and visit 3 major optical observatories

Transport - Private bus, internal flights

Accommodation - Hotels (12nts)

Meals - 12 breakfasts and 4 lunches included.

Trip Overview: 

Stretching from the tropics almost all the way to Antarctica, Chile is a country of tremendous diversity with a wealth of landscapes from snow covered volcanoes, crystal blue lakes, dense rain forests, glaciers and the driest desert in the world. Add in a fascinating culture, fantastic food and wine and many of the greatest astronomical telescopes on Earth.


Fly to Santiago

Fly to Santiago via Madrid

Arrive Santiago

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 Fundador - 1 night


Maipo Valley - La Serena

In the morning the group will be taken to the vineyards of the Maipo Valley south of Santiago, where you will visit a winery. Maipo Valley is considered to be one of the most traditional vine growing areas. Some 150 years ago, French-inspired vineyards initiated Chile’s second wine boom and are partially responsible for the valley’s famed Cabernet Sauvignon – still the region’s most prized grape.  

Returning to Santiago for lunch and the transfer to the airport for a flight to La Serena.

Hotel Francisco de Aguirre - 1 night (B)

Excursion to Gemini South Observatory

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 tools for 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.

Please note the visit to Gemini South is subject to confirmation by the observatory.  

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. Terral Hotel & Spa - 1 night (BL) 


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 is 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)

La Serena - San Pedro

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 - 4 night  (B)

Valle De La Luna

Valle De La Luna

This morning an optional, half-day tour follows in the footsteps of the ancient Atacameños and Incas, and your tour guide will show you the archaeological site Pukará de Quitor. 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. After visit the fortress we will return to San Pedro to visit the Museum and understand what we have seen in Quitor.

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) that lies 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. (B)


El Tatio Geyser

Today is a day at leisure with the option to explore one of the highlights of the San Pedro area. 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)


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 habitat 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)


San Pedro - Antofagasta

Transfer to Antofagasta. Hotel Diego de Almagro - 3 nights (B)


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 its 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 alongside 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)


Excursion to Paranal Observatory

Today you will visit the Paranal Observatory, the most important astronomical investigation centre 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) 



Transfer to airport and flight to Santiago. On arrival, transfer to the hotel. Hotel Fundador - 1 night (B)


Flight home

Transfer to the airport for your flight back to UK (B)


Arrive home

Giant Telescopes

Astronomers built some of the biggest and most advanced telescopes in Chile. The foothills of the Andes offer unrivalled skies with excellent visibility. Between Gemini South and the VLT there are 5 mirrors that exceed 8 meters in diameter

San Pedro de Atacama

Surrounded by Northern Chile’s most spectacular scenery San Pedro is a picturesque town with streets clustered around a plaza and a perfect white church. At an altitude of over 2440m the skies are deep blue.

Hands-on Astronomy at El Pangue

This public observatory situated on a hilltop near Vicuna is run by astronomers with several large reflecting telescopes and mirrors ranging from 12” to 25". Spend an evening enjoying dark skies, fantastic views of the Southern Constellations and Magellanic Clouds.

Dates for these tours are selected around new moon to limit the interference of a bright moon.