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Before everything prepare your dates according to the moon, then avoid the January February months where the probability of good weather is smaller. Not that it is fully cloudy, sometimes it is in fact quite good (in January 2011 we lost only 3 nights during the month), but some other years, it can be cloudy half of the time. Same thing we don't guarantee perfect skies when you are here, but on average, it is cloudy like a few nights per month. Then decide what you want to see most. The Milky way up in the sky, or on the contrary the south galactic pole, the Magellanic clouds. Check with your favorite planetarium program in order to find out. A last thing, in winter (starting basically in mid May to end of August), the temperatures at night here drops way below freezing temperatures. Be prepared. For photographic observations, this is not so much of a problem since you can launch a series of exposures, and go back inside and get warm. For visual observations, staying a full night with freezing temperatures at astronomical twilight, and ending the night at -15° is not very nice, so be prepared :)
Once you have decided upon a date, write us to know the availability. A year in advance is safer than a month in advance, particularly if you intend to come with a larger group. According to me, it is nicer to come as a couple. Contrarily to most other astronomical places, there are many things to visit around here, and your spouse can enjoy the place, provided you are available during the afternoon for example. Another good combination is to come with four persons, in order to share a lodge and share a truck rental.
Travelling to San Pedro...
Then when the size of your group is determined, when you know when you want to come, and that you can come :
- Take an airplane ticket to Santiago de Chile. Another solution is to come through Lima (Peru), since there are now flights from Lima to Calama (see with LATAM). In fact some flights from New York for example stop in Lima, then till now, it was necessary to go to Santiago, then from Santiago up to Calama.
- If you came through Santiago, take an airplane ticket from Santiago to Calama. If from Lima, to Calama. If you take Latam, be aware that their prices are substantially higher when you purchase from abroad than from Chile. They don't give you access to the lowest, non changeable rates. With Sky Airlines, you log on the english page and can pay with paypal at the same rate as in Chile. The only reason for which you would not want to fly to Calama directly is if you want to visit Chile, and stop for example close to La Serena in order to pay a visit to Cerro Pachon, Cerro Tololo, Las Campanas or La Silla observatories. In this case, you would have to take a transfer to "estacion central" and take a bus to La Serena, and rent a car in La Serena to go around. You have of course to set the visits to these places way before you arrive in Chile. The other solution is to rent a car directly in Santiago airport, and this is very likely preferable, since there are many thieves in estacion central and you have to be quite careful when there with your suitcases etc... Same thing, and that's general in Chile, never leave your rental car, with suitcases in it unnattended. If you have anything of value in the car, somebody stays in the car. It's a useful precaution. These observatories can be visited upon request, most of them only during the week end (which makes the choices quite hard). You have information on how to visit on this page. Paranal observatory can be visited only on saturdays. While one can make the trip leaving very early from San Pedro and coming back late at night, most people prefer spending at least a night in Antofagasta. The control center of ALMA is opened for visits every saturday and sunday morning, but you have to reserve the visit also well in advance. We do not recommend you rent a car to make the trip from Santiago to here (about 1600 km) but take a night bus, which will not be too costly (still, take a confortable "salon cama" instead of a rough "ejecutivo"). Safer, no hassle. And about the same price as the airplane except you are 24 hours in a bus... If you decide to travel in bus, you need to know how to communicate a bit in spanish. If you fly from Santiago to Calama, you just have to go out of the international terminal, take an elevator two stairs above to the national terminal, check you luggages again, and fly to Calama. Easy enough, even for non spanish speaking persons.
- Depending of your aspirations while here, you can either decide to come here through a transfer from Calama airport to San Pedro de Atacama (costs 12000 pesos per person). The transfer companies bring you to your hotel, provided your hotel is close to the center of San Pedro, and not to a far away place like ours. Then you have to ask to be brought close to the "feria artesanal" where you can take a taxi to come here. Some people want to concentrate only on observing and it is less expensive to take a taxi to San Pedro than to rent a truck, mainly if you observe from dawn to dusk and don't care about visiting the region. You can rent a small car from Calama airport (most car rental agencies, like Hertz, Avis, etc... are there). We do not recommend Alamo rent a car, since their office is in the center of Calama, and you have to take a taxi to their agencies, and you loose a good hour doing all this. A small car is sufficient to go from Calama to San Pedro, from San Pedro to the lodges, but then kind of useless to go in the Andes, visit the lagoons, the geysers, etc.. If you intend to go around, a 2x4 pickup truck is really preferred (if only to get thick tires which will not be destroyed on off road trails). I believe in 2012 the price for such a truck starts at 50000 pesos per day (you can use a site like www.xe.com to convert from chilean pesos to your preferred currency). Europcar is the only car rental agency in San Pedro, but beware that the agency is closed on sundays and mondays. One of the idea of coming to the lodges is to avoid mass tourism, and therefore trips to the geysers in a bus with 25 persons at 4 o clock in the morning while you could go on your own at 7, and arrive when all the tourists have left... The geysers are not so visible when it's hot, but then, at 9 o clock in the morning (when all the tours leave the site), they are still well visible, and in much better conditions than with 200 persons around. You can also rent a 2x4 truck from individual people, we have friends who do that, contact us for availability (since they live in San Pedro, no need to loose a day going to Calama).
- Atacama lodge is a lodge, meaning not a hotel. We can not serve any food. The lodges have a fully equipped kitchen, and even a terrace with a barbecue. You can get food at the largest supermarket in Calama, or you can get food in small places in San Pedro. Then you can also decide to go to San Pedro (6km from here) where there are several good quality restaurants. Then you will still need to purchase some food if you want to take a snack in the middle of the night.
- As far as the lodges, we currently have four types of lodges.
We have two "small lodges" which have kitchen, bathroom and a single bedroom with a queen sized bed. Therefore adapted to a couple. These lodges also have a small hut (meaning a round construction of adobe, with a straw roof, comfortable, with 2 individual beds in it). These huts are more adapted to children staying with their parents in the summer (no heating). There is only one bathroom in the main lodge, the tub is equipped with hydromassage. The lodges have heaters for the winter. These lodges currently rent for 90000 pesos per night, 100000 if the huts are used or rented for a single night.
The "large ones" have a single bedroom with a queen sized bed, and another room with three individual beds. One bathroom (hydromassage as well), kitchen, etc.. there are pictures of the lodges in the gallery section of the lodge section. These lodges currently rent for 140000 pesos per night.
The club lodge is a lodge with a large bedroom with 5 individual beds. It has a large kitchen area, a simpler bathroom (just a shower) and rents for 100000 pesos per night.
We rent astronomical instruments to the clients of the lodge, but you need to know how to use them. Renting a telescope if you don't have any idea of how to use it, what to observe is like renting a car without knowing how and where to drive. Frustrating. We don't rent equipment for other people anymore, too complicated to come here at night without disturbing other observers, etc...
- You can decide to observe all nights, or just a few nights, or stay here just the nights you want and then stay in another, more central, hotel in San Pedro during a second part of your trip, reserved for visits. You can also take a trip to nearby Bolivia to see Uyuni's salar (a very impressive trip, except the conditions are a little bit hard), lasts 4 days from to to San Pedro. Then you can make a more complex trip, staying a few nights here for astronomy, then exploring other places in the continent (Easter Island going from Santiago), or Machu Picchu in Peru, or lake Titicaca in Bolivia/Peru.
- Visual observations: You are welcome to bring your scope if you have a transportable scope and want to use it here. We can rent visual telescopes but only at our site. We have a 50cm diameter azimutal telescope (20inch diameter) which we can rent. We can also rent the telescopes used during the tours, but only after the tours. The 50cm is 60000 pesos per night. The tour telescopes can be a 17.5", 24" or 28" and they are rented at 30000, 40000 and 50000 for the half night respectively. The telescopes used for the tours are about 200 meters away from the lodges. The rental telescopes are normally used with 3 Explore Scientific 100° field eyepieces (20,14 and 9mm), Paracorr 2 coma corrector and a nebular filter. the 50cm as a set of encoders with Nexus readout. It has the wifi interface, so that you can bring your tablet or telephone and use a software like Sky Safari in order to have a map of the sky and see where the telescope points. The other telescopes are fully manual (50mm finder and telrad).
- Photographic observations: Same thing, for the persons staying at the lodge, you can bring your own mount, we can provide electricity, a table and a chair. Don't rent a photographic mount if you don't have a clue of how to use it, what to photograph, how to align it, etc... We can rent other equipment. The simplest (and least expensive) would be a Star Tracker on a sturdy photographic tripod. You need to know how to polar align it though. This provides very nice wide angle pictures. I have also achieved some pretty good images using a 135mm telephoto lens. If you don't know about star trackers, see here. We also have an IOptron star tracker, similar in performances with the Polarie and a Star adventurer (sky adventurer) allowing to use small telephoto lens. The small star tracker are 5000 pesos per night, the Star adventurer is 10000 pesos per night. We can also rent an EQG mount and a sturdy ball head which will allow you to use up to 200mm telephoto lenses. It rents for 20000 pesos per night. Ask us for availability and prices explaining your previous experience in astrophotography (equipment software, etc...). Several persons have already come here to photograph the skies, ask us for links.
Hope these informations will be useful for the planning of your trip. More questions, ask us by email.
November 2019 version.