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Santiago and Starlight in the Atacama Desert

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Thanks to the dry desert air, more than 300 cloud-free days each year, and the absence of light pollution, the Atacama is one of the few places on earth where you can observe the Andromeda Galaxy with the naked eye. Watch a spectacular sunset in the Valley of the Moon, then enjoy a private stargazing session with a local astronomer. Walk across the otherworldly desert terrain where scientists tested the first prototypes of the Mars rover. Observe more than 80 active geysers erupting against a backdrop of volcanic peaks in the Tatio geyser field. And view wildlife at the National Flamingo Reserve.

Highlights:

  • Visit the largest public collection of telescopes in South America during the new moon, when the stars are at their brightest and most colorful. Identify nebulae, constellations and planets with the naked eye, a star map, and powerful telescopes.
  • Explore the lagoons, hot springs, mountains and salt flats of the Atacama Desert. Watch a brilliant sunrise over the crystal-clear waters of the Tebinquinche Lagoon.
  • Traverse the moonlike landscape of dunes, rugged mountains and distinctive rock formations of the Valley of the Moon, testing grounds for the first prototype of the Mars rover – and catch a glimpse of the cosmos on earth.
  • Immerse yourself in the colors of the Atacama, from the multihued mineral deposits in the Rainbow Valley to a flock of pink flamingos taking flight.
  • Tour Santiago and visit a winery in Chile’s Casablanca Valley.

Tour Pricing

  • Departure

  • Single Occupancy

  • Double Occupancy

  • Deposit

  • November 19-26, 2022

  • $10,385

  • $9,390

  • $500

Atacama Day 1

Day 1

Welcome to Chile

Arrive in Santiago on an overnight flight from the United States. Meet your NPR-selected expert and fellow travelers, and gather for a welcome talk followed by a reception and dinner at the award-winning hotel restaurant, featuring Chilean cuisine with panoramic views of the Santiago skyline and the mountains beyond.

Meals

Reception & dinner

Accommodations

Pullman Vitacura

Day 2

Atacama Approach and Desert Moonscape

Fly early this morning to the Atacama, a desert plateau nearly 8,000 feet above sea level. The Atacama is among the driest places on earth, offering unrivaled opportunities for stargazing. Have lunch as a group in your desert oasis before departing for the Valley of the Moon, a spectacular geological formation that served as the test site for the prototype of the first Mars rover. Layers of color in rocks carved by years of wind and water change with the movement of the sun in this national reserve. Enjoy an aperitif as the sunset casts an eerie shadow across the landscape before returning to the hotel restaurant for dinner. Later, turn your sights to the sky with a local astronomer in the region’s only open-air observatory where you can observe the Milky Way and countless stars with the naked eye and the assistance of a powerful telescope.

Meals

Breakfast, lunch, & dinner

Atacama Day 3

Day 3

Rock Art, Rainbows and Flamingos

Start your day with a visit to Yerbas Buenas, perfectly preserved petroglyphs thought to be created by the Atacameno people as much as 10,000 years ago. Explore the petroglyphs, of alpacas, stick figures and other representations, and their surrounding caves and rockfaces on foot along a network of well-maintained trails. Then continue to the aptly named Rainbow Valley to be amazed by the array of colors in the hills, reflecting different concentrations of minerals. After lunch at the hotel, visit the Toconao Village, known for its stone masonry, colonial architecture and abundant produce. Continue to the National Flamingo Reserve for sunset and an opportunity to witness flocks of flamingos taking flight. Note that although flamingos stay here year-round, populations will be higher in November. Those seeking a more strenuous adventure in the morning can join other travelers from the hotel for a tour to Los Colorados, a hike following the ancient thoroughfares used by local shepherds thousands of years ago, passing through the daunting tunnel formerly used to connect San Pedro with Calama, continuing along the cliffs of the Cordillera de la Sal, and concluding down the middle of the high dunes. All travelers will visit the Toconao Village together.

Meals

Breakfast, lunch, & dinner

Day 4

Tatio Geysers

Travel to the easternmost edge of Chile, on the Bolivian border, to explore the otherworldly geothermal field of the Tatio Geysers, called “Grandpa Crying” by the locals. The Tatio is the largest geyser field in the Southern Hemisphere: The area is replete with large pools of boiling water and mud, fumaroles and natural hot springs. Learn about the life forms, called extremophiles, that thrive in these inhospitable conditions, which give insight to early life on Earth and possible past life on Mars. Take a swim in the nearby hot springs. For an additional cost, ride horses through sand dunes in the Salt Mountain Range. Return to Alto Atacama for some time to unwind before gathering for an evening discussion with your expert and dinner.

Meals

Breakfast, lunch, & dinner

Atacama Day 5

Day 5

Star Tours

Subject to confirmation, the group will visit the control room of the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), the world’s most powerful ground-based observatory. The $1.4-billion collection of 66 radio telescopes produces images that are 10 times more detailed than the images from the Hubble space telescope. Tonight is the new moon, when the darkened night sky affords the best canvas for viewing the stars. Meet with local astronomers at San Pedro de Atacama Celestial Explorations (“SPACE”) for a tour of the nighttime sky. Learn about the “naked eye sky” and how to read a sky map, and discover how to identify prominent stars that reveal the constellations. Seen through the largest park of public telescopes in South America, the images become even clearer. You should be able to view vivid colors among the nebulae, large clouds of dust, gas and plasma, which form “stellar nurseries” where stars are born

Meals

Breakfast, lunch, & dinner

Day 6

Sunrise on the Atacama

Wake very early this morning to witness the intense colors of the high Andean sunrise over the crystal-clear salt waters of the Tebinquinche Lagoon, surrounded by the imposing Cordillera mountains. Have a picnic breakfast as the desert awakens and light moves across the plains. After lunch at the hotel, transfer to the airport for a flight to Santiago, Chile’s capital city. The Andes on the east and the Chilean Coastal Range on the west form a stunning backdrop for the modern city. Explore the city in the evening and make plans for Thanksgiving dinner if you choose to celebrate.

Meals

Breakfast & lunch

Accommodations

Pullman Vitacura
Atacama Day 7

Day 7

Valparaíso Vineyards and Homeward Bound

Depart from the hotel for a half-day tour of the historic port of Valparaíso along Chile’s central coast. The breathtaking coastline offers spectacular views of crashing waves, jagged landscapes and smooth, white sand beaches. This area is a popular weekend and summer getaway for Santiaguinos. Along the route from Santiago, thriving vineyards spread across the rolling hills in one of Chile’s most internationally acclaimed wine valleys. As you drive toward the coast, pass through the lush agricultural valley of Curacaví and the renowned Casablanca Valley, where Chile’s best white wines and cool-climate reds are produced. It’s famous for its attention to the soil, environment and climate. En route, stop for a wine tasting, tour and a private lunch at one of the region’s bespoke vineyards. Arrive in the seaport city of Valparaíso, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Known for its steep funiculars and colorful, clifftop homes, “Valpo” was once home to the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda. Century-old hillside ascensores, or elevators, transport you up into the city’s steep hills, where a labyrinthine maze of streets reveals brightly colored buildings, bohemian cafes, elegant restaurants and spectacular views of the harbor below. Then transfer to the airport for your individual flights home this evening.

Meals

Breakfast & lunch

Day 8

Departure

Depart for the airport on private transfers at any time today.

Meals

Breakfast

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Meet Your Trip Expert

Nicholas St. Fleur is a freelance science reporter who has written about archaeology, paleontology and space. He was a lead reporter for the New York Times covering the 2017 Great American Eclipse and watched the solar extravaganza alongside 14,000 sky-gazers from a college football stadium in Carbondale, Illinois. He has interviewed eclipse chasers who have pursued totality through the jungles of Gabon and the frigid wilderness of Svalbard, and scientists who have tracked the moon’s shadow aboard jets flying 45,000 feet high. In 2018, St. Fleur received the Gene S. Stuart Award from the Society for American Archaeology for his coverage of mummies, pyramids and shipwrecks. He is also the author of the book: “Did You Know? Dinosaur” (2020) published by DK Children and the Smithsonian. St. Fleur has served as an assistant editor at The Atlantic covering science, health and technology and has worked for Science Magazine, NPR and Scientific American. St. Fleur completed the Science Communication Program at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and received his undergraduate degree from Cornell University, where he studied biology and was the science editor of The Cornell Daily Sun. Follow Nicholas on Twitter @scifleur.

Note: Nicholas St. Fleur is not an NPR employee or NPR expert