Chile’s Astro-Tourism Wonder
The following is an article “Chile’s Astro-Tourism Wonder” by Marc Pulisci.
Behind the barren deserts of the Atacama in Chile lies a celestial tourism spot that continues to earn the interest of stargazers around the world. By the stretch of the wine region of Elqui Valley over in the South, visitors are treated to table grapes, a mix of fruits, and pico brandy which is what puts the 400km locale on the map. Northward, the city of La Serena, capital of Coquimbo, boasts long beaches like El Faro, churches, and archaeological museums. But what cranks up tourism numbers for this grape-abundant valley is Elqui’s space-age facilities for Astro-tourists who look skyward and wait for shooting stars.
With ongoing infrastructure projects in the area, Elqui Valley is set to be one of the world’s main locations for astronomical tourism and development by 2020. The location is ideal for its high altitudes and virtually zero cloud visibility.
In 2015, the International Dark-Sky Association, a non-profit organization based in the United States that works to alleviate light pollution and protect the night skies, declared the valley as one of the most perfect sanctuaries in the world for stargazing. But the sky is not the only place where Elqui possesses its true beauty. Visiting La Serena will give you a feel of colonial Spanish times with its pastel-colored surroundings and ruins at the top of its hills.
Puclaro reservoir serves as a dam for the Elqui river, further drawing out the Inca aesthetics and out-of-this-world atmosphere, especially when you chance upon the relics on the top of the ranges. Other worthy places to stopover are the onsite Gemini South and Cerro Tololo Inter-American observatories where you can view the night sky with high-powered telescopes that offer greater panoramas.
Aside from an abundance of vineyards in the valley, geodesic domes for stargazers are also available for tourists at Elqui Domos Hotel. Equipped with a zip-away top panel, the dome will give you a brilliant view of the night sky during the evenings. Those who know their constellations can easily spot Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky; Tres Marias of Orion’s belt, Taurus, and of course the glorious mix of light and darkness from the Milky Way.
At Mamalluca Observatory, one of over a dozen observatories in the valley, tour guides can also help you find unfamiliar constellations in the clear night sky including those that are considered “dark” by the Incas.
During the day, tourists can visit Vicuña, the biggest commune within the valley located in the east of La Serena. This Astro-tourism hub also houses old Spanish churches, pisco distilleries, and offers great views of the sunset. One fun fact about this municipality is how it enjoys more than 300 clear days and nights a year. While waiting for the night sky, you can go and wander off to the city’s many pisqueras in Ruta Norte, Tres Erres, Mistral, Capel, and Artesanos de Cochiguaz, or the picture-perfect towns of El Moelle, El Tambo, Chapilca, and Monte Grande, among others.
Chile’s Lequi Valley continues to grow in tourism numbers every year for its ideal views of clear night skies. Astronomy enthusiasts can often spot globular clusters, planets, and stars you even haven’t seen due to the light pollution in most world cities. For novices, simply enjoying the southern sky with its thick cover of celestial bodies shimmering from the vast darkness is enough to give off an experience unlike any other. From the valley below, you can see a faint glow that slowly erases the brightest stars upward on the horizon. While the threat of light pollution exists in the valley due to ongoing developments in La Serena and Coquimbo, Astro-tourists continue to flock to this earth wonder just for a glimpse of the magnificent night heavens above.
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