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timothydhalleine contributor

Why Chile is the Best Country on Earth for Stargazers

Clear skies and epic landscapes : welcome to Chile!

The milky way as seen from Patagonia

Chile is an astronomers’ paradise. This thin country is acclaimed worldwide for its incredible sky at night, and this is for a good reason. In this beautiful South American country, you will find the best conditions to observe the stars!

Chile has an area of 756.950 square kilometers (292.260 square miles) for you to explore. Distances are long, but every trip is worth the distance traveled! And with only 19 million inhabitants, its low density of population makes it the perfect fit for adventurers.

Now, you may want to know why Chile meets the perfect conditions that make it Heaven for stargazers. Here is the answer.

1. Because Chilean skies are incredibly clear

If I had to choose one country on Earth that deserved Stellar status, that’s Chile. Chile is 4,345 kilometers long (2,700 miles) with only 350 kilometers (217 miles at its widest point). It is tucked between the Pacific ocean to the West and the Andes mountain range to the East. Its climate is diverse, and so are its landscapes with the great Atacama desert in the north and the remote Patagonia in the south.

Most of the population in the country lives around big cities, especially around Santiago de Chile. You get it: most areas are sparsely populated, so you won’t find any light pollution. Also, a huge part of the country is known for its lack of precipitation. Some weather stations in the Atacama desert have never reported any rain! This makes it an ideal context to watch the stars, as you must be very unlucky to encounter any cloud.

2. Because the world’s most renowned astronomical observatories are in Chile

More than 40% of all the astronomical observation centers in the world can be found in Chile. And it is expected to increase up to 60% within the next few years! And while the first observatories (built in the 60’s) were essentially for scientific purposes, nowadays observatories are both for tourism and science and a must-do on a trip to northern Chile.

These observatories built in the middle of nowhere are the best way to discover the mysteries of the universe, with the most modern telescopes on Earth. But be careful! Most professional observatories are open for tourists only one day a week (typically on Saturdays) so you’d better plan your stargazing trip in advance.

In Chile’s Atacama desert, you can go to the ALMA observatory, known for having the world’s largest radio telescope. ALMA is located at 5000 m.a.s.l. (16.000ft), so you’d better prepare for altitude! Another pioneer observatory in the Atacama is the Paranal observatory. Further south in Chile’s Coquimbo region, you will find some of the country’s best observatories, namely Cerro Tololo, la Silla, Gemini and the popular Mamalluca.

3. Because Chile has some epic wild spots for stargazing

Camping in the Atacama desert is a must-do if you ever travel to Chile Camping in the Atacama desert is a must-do if you ever travel to Chile

Chile is famous for its epic landscapes and that’s for a good reason! Few countries on Earth have such a diversity of beautiful scenery, with the rugged granite peaks of Torres del Paine National Park in the South and the giant volcanoes on the Altiplano in the North. All of these places are great for stargazing!

The Atacama desert is often considered as the best region in the country to watch the sky at night. And not only for its optimal weather conditions (about 300 clear days a year on average)! If you head to San Pedro de Atacama in Chile’s Antofagasta region, you’ll find plenty of hidden gems around this picturesque village. My recommendation is to find a camping spot near the Tatio geysers or Miscanti lagoon so you can connect with the sky at night, and watch the sunrise in these epic landscapes in the early morning (your coffee will taste even better!).

The Tatio geysers at sunrise in the Atacama The Tatio geysers at sunrise in the Atacama

But the Atacama desert is not the only region where you can capture amazing images of the galaxy. Further south, you can head to the Elqui valley (Coquimbo region), an area that is famous worldwide for its scenic wineries and peaceful places to practice Yoga. Some say this is actually the best place in Chile for stargazing. And it is true these beautiful mountain villages surrounded by the majesty of the Andes mountains offer the perfect spot for a stargazing adventure!

If you head to the world’s southernmost region - Patagonia - you will find hundreds of incredible places to spend the night and watch the sky. There are dozens of reserves and national parks to explore around the Carretera Austral, the most epic road trip in South America (a 1200km / 750mi drive). If you spend the night in Torres del Paine National Park, you may even take a shot of the milky way above some of the world’s most beautiful mountains. However, good weather conditions are not always guaranteed in Patagonia and you will need to inform yourself on the best time of the year to visit. When it comes to stargazing, Patagonia always gets better in Autumn and Winter, with few hours of daylight and long, dark nights (but also more clouds!).

Bonus : Because Chile is a safe country for stargazing

According to the Global Peace Index, Chile is amongst the safest countries in Latin America (together with Uruguay). This is good to consider as most stargazers like to bring some expensive gear to capture the stars! Chile is also well-developed, with great infrastructure for adventure travel and plenty of amazing hotels, refuges and campsites in the country’s most remote regions. And when it comes to COVID-19, roughly 90% of the local population is fully vaccinated, which makes it an awesome destination to consider for the next months/years.

Torres del Paine National Park by night Torres del Paine National Park by night

Chileans are incredibly friendly and will help you find your secret spot for stargazing!

#stars, #stargazing