Chile Reinforces Its Position as an Astrotourism Haven: A Universe of Starry Marvels
Chile, the South American country renowned for its celestial wonders, has been honing its international status as an astrotourism paradise since 2015. But what exactly secures Chile’s reputation as an ideal destination for astronomy enthusiasts? In search of answers, Sputnik consulted experts in the field to illuminate the allure of Chile’s starry nights.
The Global Capital of Astronomy
Chile is globally recognized as an astronomy hub, with the northern parts of the country offering optimal conditions for stargazing. Home to some of the world’s most potent radiotelescopes, including the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) situated in the Atacama Desert, the nation is at the forefront of astronomical observation.
Stretching from the Antofagasta region in the north to Bío Bío in the south are 21 scientific observatories and an additional 24 dedicated to tourism. One significant example is the Mamalluca Observatory in Vicuña, Coquimbo region—the birthplace of the acclaimed poet Gabriela Mistral. Pioneering the integration of tourism, Mamalluca’s model has inspired other astronomical centers to consider the potential profitability of such ventures.
With an average of 290 clear nights per year, Chile is considered an astrotourist’s dream. The emerging field of astrotourism not only caters to the observation of the night sky but also focuses on disseminating knowledge and organizing astronomy-related leisure activities. The nation’s endeavor in this domain launched through a collaborative effort with public, private, tourist, and scientific entities, shaping a well-defined strategy to attain global prominence in astrotourism since 2015.
Investment in Mega Observatories
The Chilean government has invested a staggering $5 billion in the construction of three mega observatories, evidence of their commitment to fostering this sector. Moreover, in October, Chilean President Gabriel Boric visited Coquimbo and unveiled a commemorative plaque at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory. This event marked the enactment of a decree designating 29 communities across Antofagasta, Atacama, and Coquimbo as areas of scientific research brilliance for astronomical observation.
The president addressed the importance of this decree at the Mamalluca Observatory, highlighting the need to “protect our skies and maintain the exceptional conditions that are not guaranteed amidst the development of our cities and humanity’s advancements.” Cristian López, the director of the Mamalluca Observatory, echoed the sentiment, underscoring the critical focus on reducing light pollution, the central pillar for astrotourism in the Coquimbo region.
A Roadmap for the Future
In September, Vicuña hosted the inaugural World Summit of Astrotourism, where representatives penned the “Call to Action Vicuña” declaration. This document gathered five potential points for the global expansion of astrotourism. The set roadmap also called for the establishment of the Ibero-American Network of Astrotourism Destinations—a move endorsed by Cristián Saez, Director of the Tourism Corporation of Vicuña. The certification of skies through methodologies issued by Starlight and Sky, two international accreditation bodies, was also agreed upon.
Saez further explained that fostering an environment conducive to innovative tourism experiences is vital. By linking public policies, regional, and local governments, the Ibero-American Network aims to stimulate a dialogue of international standards and practices for the burgeoning astrotourism industry.
The Challenges and Prospects of Astrotourism
Astronomical observation holds a tripartite value for Chile, bolstering internationally recognized scientific knowledge, advancing technologies through continuous investment by observatories, and generating employment through tourism. Saez accentuated that despite the industry being relatively young, with less than two decades in operation and facing fluctuations due to economic downturns and the pandemic, it presents significant opportunities for entrepreneurs seeking to dive into a less complex market.
Chile’s association with leading astrotourism locales like Las Palmas and Andalusia in Spain hints at a significant ambition. According to López, it underscores the importance of unified efforts from both the private and governmental sectors in preserving the skies—a foundation for astrotourism. With about 50,000 visitors to the Mamalluca Observatory in a year and projections of higher tourist influxes during the summer season, the stars quite literally seem to align for Chile’s astrotourism industry.
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