Delve into the world of astronomy beneath the clear skies of northern Chile and enjoy exclusive access and behind-the-scenes tours of major observatories. This unique  journey also balances culture, food, and wine alongside stargazing—from Santiago to the Atacama Desert.  

Starting at: $9,990 * Price includes special offer Make a Reservation Ask Us A Question or Call 855-330-1542
 Atacama Desert
 Moon Valley, Atacama Desert
 Paranal Observatory. Credit: ESOG Hüdepoh
 The Very Large Telescope, Paranal Observatory. Credit: J.L. Dauvergne & G. Hüdepoh
 Paranal Observatory. Credit: ESOJosé Francisco Salgado.
 Panoramic view of Kingston Family Vineyards
 View of Palm Drive in autumn, Kingston Family Vineyards
 Spring vines at sunset, Kingston Family Vineyard
 Santiago
 Downtown Santiago, Chile
 Street in older neighborhood of Santiago
 La Serena, Santa Lucia Park

Chile Earth and Sky

A Stargazing Journey from Santiago to the Atacama Desert

13 days from $9,990

Delve into the world of astronomy beneath the clear skies of northern Chile and enjoy exclusive access and behind-the-scenes tours of major observatories. This unique  journey also balances culture, food, and wine alongside stargazing—from Santiago to the Atacama Desert.  

or Call 855-330-1542

Overview

Chile’s northern half is home to beautiful valleys brimming with vineyards, intriguing cities filled with bohemian spirit, and the surreal landscapes of the vast Atacama Desert. Here, above the driest desert on the planet, the air is impossibly clear and clouds are scarce, making northern Chile one of the best places in the Southern Hemisphere to observe the night sky. Traveling with Smithsonian Journeys, delve into the world of astronomy and enjoy exclusive access and behind-the-scenes tours of major observatories. Go stargazing with astronomers and examine some of the largest and most advanced telescopes in the world. Round out your journey with wine and pisco tastings in Casablanca and Elqui Valleys, visits to acclaimed museums in Santiago and Valparaiso, and an exhilarating exploration of the geological wonders of the Atacama Desert.  

Highlights Include

  • World-class Observatories: Visit three cutting-edge observatories and learn about the innovative optical instruments that promise to revolutionize our understanding of the universe. Gaze through telescopes at El Pangue Observatory in Elqui Valley—the world’s first International Dark Skies Sanctuary. Then enjoy exclusive access to the Las Campanas Observatory and its five optical reflecting telescopes and the Paranal Observatory, the largest optic-infrared observatory in the Southern Hemisphere. 
  • Casablanca Valley and Santiago: Sample local wines during a premium tour and tasting at the Kingston Family Vineyard, known for producing award-winning red wines in a valley known for its whites. Enjoy the colorful art museums, cafes and restaurants of your hotel’s Lastarria neighborhood and experience the city’s engaging landmarks such as the Museum of Pre-Columbian Art, Parque Forestal, and Plaza de Armas. 
  • La Serena and Elqui Valley: Stay in the heart of La Serena, an appealing beach town that dates back to the 16th century. Venture into the picturesque Elqui Valley, visiting tiny villages tucked among vineyards and stopping at a distillery to taste Chilean pisco made from the valley’s grapes. 
  • Atacama Desert: From your base in the beautiful Explora Lodge in the adobe village of San Pedro de Atacama, spend two full days discovering the otherworldly wonders of the Atacama Desert. Awaken early to watch the El Tatio geysers and fumaroles steam against the rising sun, observe flamingos on salt-encrusted lakes, visit sapphire lagoons set among simmering volcanoes, and sip an unforgettable sundowner overlooking the Valle De Luna. 

Itinerary

Days 1 — Depart for Santiago, Chile

Day 2 – Santiago

Arrive in Santiago and transfer to your stylish hotel, set among the lively shops and restaurants of the historic Barrio Lastarria. Meet your fellow travelers, your Tour Director, and your Smithsonian Journeys Expert for an orientation, followed by a festive welcome dinner at a nearby restaurant. (D)

Day 3 — Casablanca Valley

Journey west on a full-day excursion to the rolling vineyards of Casablanca Valley. Located near the Pacific coast, Casablanca Valley enjoys a cool climate ideal for producing acclaimed chardonnays and sauvignon blancs. Enjoy a private tour, tasting and lunch at the Kingston Family Vineyard, where the pioneering owners have coaxed award-winning red wines from a valley known for whites. Late in the day, arrive back at the hotel to enjoy dinner independently at one of Santiago’s many fine restaurants.

Day 4 – Santiago and La Serena

Discover the highlights and hidden corners of Chile’s capital city on morning walking tour where you will view the Palacio de la Moneda.  Stroll through the winding Parque Forestal and see the city’s massive cathedral. Then tour the Chilean Museum of Pre-Columbian Art to see an impressive collection of pottery, sculpture, and textiles from across the Caribbean and Latin America. This afternoon, a short flight brings you to La Serena, Chile’s second oldest city. Founded in 1544, La Serena is a city of long beaches, historic lighthouses, and lovely Spanish colonial architecture. Check in to your hotel before heading out to a festive dinner on the waterfront. (B,L,D) 

Day 5 — Elqui Valley and Vicuña

La Serena is poised at the entrance of Elqui Valley—the world’s first International Dark Skies Sanctuary—a narrow strip of lush vegetation that winds between steep, arid slopes. Venture into this striking landscape today, traveling through miles of vineyards dotted with picturesque villages. Learn about the wines produced here, as well as Chilean pisco, a brandy made from grapes. At Puclaro Dam, take in sweeping views of the valley, then continue to a distillery for a tour and pisco tasting. Stop to visit the quaint villages of Monte Grande and Pisco Elqui before arriving in Vicuña, the birthplace of another Nobel Prize-winning Chilean poet: Gabriela Mistral. After dinner together, enjoy free time explore the town. Then ride private vans up to El Pangue Observatory for our first evening of stargazing. (B,L,D) 

Day 6 – La Serena and Las Campanas Observatory

Today travel by motor coach north of La Serena to Las Campanas Observatory in the Chilean Andes. Take a day-long tour of the Magellan Project Site located here. Currently, there are two 6.5-meter Magellan optical telescopes housed on the ridge. These telescopes are operated by a consortium of institutions which include the Harvard-Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory. Las Campanas will also be home to the future Giant Magellan Telescope, one of the few super giant earth-based telescopes and it promises to revolutionize our view and understanding of the universe. Harvard-Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, along with other members of the GMT Project have commissioned the telescope which plans to be opened by 2029. Las Campanas Peak has an altitude of over 8,500 feet and is almost completely barren of vegetation due to lack of rainfall. The combination of clear nights, altitude, weather and vegetation make Las Campanas an ideal site for the Giant Magellan Telescope. Upon arrival at the observatory area, we’ll have a picnic lunch before venturing further up the mountain for an exclusive tour inside the installations. Return to the hotel late in the day, then enjoy a group dinner. (B,L,D) 

Day 7 – La Serena and Antofagasta

Take your final morning in La Serena to relax on the beach or meander through an inviting neighborhood. In the early afternoon, board a flight to Antofagasta, a port city in northern Chile and a center of copper and mineral mining. Get an overview of the city and its surroundings, including the enormous natural rock arch known as La Portada. Then check in to your oceanfront hotel and enjoy a free evening. (B,L) 

Day 8 — Antofagasta and Paranal Observatory

Enjoy a morning at leisure. Depart after lunch for the Paranal Observatory, located nearly 8,650 feet above sea level in the Atacama Deesert. Operated by the European Southern Observatory, Paranal is the home of the VLT (Very Large Telescope) and the largest optic-infrared observatory in the Southern Hemisphere. Worldwide, it is second only to the Mauna Kea Observatory on Hawaii’s Big Island. Take a private, behind-the-scenes tour of this state-of-the-art facility, and meet with resident astronomers to hear firsthand about their ongoing studies. Return to the hotel for an evening at leisure and dinner on your own. (B,L) 

Day 9 – San Pedro de Atacama

A spectacular drive brings you deeper into the surreal landscapes of the Atacama Desert, the driest place on Earth. Crimson canyons give way to turquoise thermal pools and shimmering salt lakes, and geysers steam among volcanic peaks. Stop for lunch at a local restaurant before continuing to San Pedro de Atacama, an oasis originally settled by the indigenous Atacameños. This stunning spot, ringed by volcanoes and otherworldly geology, is your home for the next three nights. (B,L,D) 

Day 10 – San Pedro de Atacama: Salar de Atacama

Spend a full day discovering the natural wonderland of this unique region of the High Andes. Take in views of the Salar de Atacama, Chile’s largest salt flat, set within a circle of mountains, including the active volcano Lascar. Visit Laguna Chaxa, where three species of flamingo as well as other waterbirds reside amid the salt-encrusted waters. In the village of Toconao, admire a picturesque church and belltower originally built in the 18th century. Ascend to 14,850 feet, where the vivid-blue waters of Miscanti and Miñiques lagoons are set off by surrounding volcanoes. After free time back at the hotel, gather for an evening of stargazing fron the hotel’s very own observatory featuring a Meade 16” f/10 LX200R Advanced scope with a main mirror that is 40 cm in diameter. (B,L,D)   

Day 11 – San Pedro de Atacama: El Tatio Geysers and Moon Valley

Travel to the El Tatio Geysers located 14,170 feet above sea level, El Tatio is the highest geyser site on Earth and the third largest—with more than 80 spurting geysers and 100 fumaroles, creating amazing vistas of columns of steam rising from the ground. Later, explore Valle de la Luna, or Moon Valley, aptly named for its lunar-like landscapes of sculpted stones, dry lakebeds, and caves. Sip a sundowner cocktail as the setting sun infuses the scenery with changing colors. Celebrate our stargazing sojourn together with a special farewell reception and dinner under the dark skies of the Atacama Desert. (B,L,D) 

Day 12-13 – Depart for Home

After a leisurely morning, transfer to the airport in Calama and fly to Santiago to connect with your overnight flight home. (B)

Included meals are denoted as follows: Breakfast (B), Lunch (L), Reception (R), Dinner (D)

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