Why Chile? The short answer: Because professional observatories are built—and being built—there. Compare notes with other amateurs, and you’ll soon agree that your best observing sessions are more often than not in the shadows of professional sites. The pros have done their homework: these sites have been chosen for their exceptional “seeing,” transparency, altitude, high percentage of clear and dark skies. . . An observing trip to Chile pretty much guarantees excellent observing conditions. An added bonus: Visits to these professional observatories—to these modern “temples of the sky.”
This page is meant to encourage you to visit Chile too! (If you get bored with the pics, don't forget to check the links at the bottom of the page.)
A longer explanation:
So that’s it in a nutshell. Our party was six:
--David and Gloria Butler
--Mark Wagner and Monica Popejoy
Equipment included: Two ten-inch Dobsonians (Mark and Tom), my 13” Dob, and a five-inch Mak on a Celestron ‘goto’ mount (David). All three Dobs were collapsible, airline portable, designed and manufactured by their owners. David arranged to rent a nine-passenger van (a diesel Kia) to haul us and our equipment around (everything fit!).
We arranged our own flights to and from Chile; specifically, to our initial meeting point at a travelers hotel (El Punto, see links below) in La Serena, a small, historic, coastal city about 400 kilometers (250 miles) north of Santiago; our ‘jumping-off’ point for visiting the major observatories and doing our own observing.
Our itinerary included:
Chile, it turns out, is populated with the friendliest people on this planet! Beautiful smiles; beautiful spirits. Yes, the government is stable. Chile's economy is the healthiest in South America. Despite the language barrier, any Westerner should feel comfortable with the infrastructure--this is a Western country, after all. Driving on the well-kept roads was no problem. David bought a cell phone ($50) to help us--I mean Gloria--call ahead. Internet cafés are not difficult to find; nor are ATM machines. As mentioned earlier, the bus system is comfortable, excellent and cheap! (My seven hour trip from La Serena to Santiago cost me the equivalent of six dollars, and that included lunch and DVD movie entertainment!)
Once out of Santiago, the country seems under-populated--but then I come from the Bay Area! Where we were, it was very dry: Cities, villages, towns, farming communities, only sprout up near streams fed by the magnificent Andes. Weather was extremely pleasant--I always wore shorts in the daytime, and often wore them while observing, too.
Food was good (especially the gourmet meals we were served at La Frontera Resort), but you won't find any spicy items on the menus in this place called Chile! . . .Bring your own Tabasco sauce, if this is what you crave. . . Coffee, or rather "real" coffee (French press, usually) is hard to find, too. Chilenos drink tea: you get Nescafé instant.
Local brew is fine, but local wine is fabulous! Especially Pisco, an 80-proof brandy produced (locally) in the Elqui Valley. In fact, the national drink is Pisco Sour, a margarita-tasting concoction made of lime juice, egg white, crushed ice, and Pisco.
You can do your own shopping for food: the markets are well-stocked. In La Serena, we went to a modern supermarket with 58 check-out counters! Avocados and tomatoes were the best I've ever tasted. Next door, there was an equally huge Home Depot-like store. . . Not only was there reserved parking for the physically challenged, but there were spaces reserved for pregnant women too! That is how civilized this country is.
Should you haul your own telescope down here? I did, and would again. Airport security was no problem (carrying photos of the disassembled--and assembled--scope helps). Land transport was no problem, either: You get off the plane, use a cart to the sidewalk, take a taxi to the bus station, take a bus to La Serena, take a taxi to the hotel. . . In other words, your scope is being wheeled around for you, there is very little lifting/lugging. But, I suppose you don't have to lug a scope to Chile: There are at least three different well-equipped local "eco-tourist" observatories that you could tour/use while using La Serena or Vicuña as your base. Bring a Southern Hemisphere Planisphere (or a Sky and Telescope chart), binos, red light, green laser (this impresses the staff!), and you're set!
Well, pictures say more than . . .
--Hostel El Punto, La Serena Chile. (Owned by a German couple--they speak English--highly recommended!).
--La Frontera Resort. An Astronomy-friendly place, to say the least! (Site is in Spanish.)
--Astrophotographer Loke Tan's site. (Many images taken from La Frontera.)
--Mamalluca Observatory. (Eco-tourism).
--Collowara Observatory (Eco-tourism).
--Cochiguaz Observatory (Eco-tourism--Not yet open April, 2005: do a "search.").