The next total solar eclipse takes place on July 2, 2019, and droves of astro-enthusiasts are already preparing to head to Chile and Argentina to don their eclipse glasses and gaze skyward. Chile’s Elqui Valley (one of AFAR’s Where to Go 2019 destinations), in particular, will be a popular place to witness the phenomenon: Not only does the area lie in this eclipse’s path of totality, making it one of the few locations where onlookers will be able to see the moon completely block the sun, but it’s also one of the best places on the planet to stargaze. The high-altitude valley in the Andean foothills enjoys 300 sunny days a year and minimal light pollution, and perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s home to a dozen observatories and some of the world’s most powerful telescopes.
After the 2017 Great American Eclipse sliced through the sky over the United States, interest in astrotourism has, well, skyrocketed, according to National Geographic. This year, the Elqui Valley is expecting 500,000 visitors, and many tours and hotels have already sold out. But never fear, last-minute eclipse chasers! You can still snag a spot on one of these phenomenal experiences.
Intrepid’s Chilean Eclipse & Observatories Tour with Dr. John Mason
Trust Intrepid to create not one, but two tours around this astronomical event and to include a well-known and respected astronomer, too. An applied physicist and principal lecturer in astronomy at the South Downs Planetarium in the United Kingdom, Dr. John Mason MBE is known for his engaging and inspirational presentations. And he’s no stranger to these sorts of trips either—he’s been leading overseas expeditions to observe eclipses, meteor showers, and aurora for over 30 years.
True astro nerds will want to book the longer Chilean Eclipse & Observatories Tour, which includes a five-day excursion from Santiago to visit the sites and observatories of the Atacama Desert in northern Chile. Guests will wander the moon-like rock formations of the Valle de la Luna and take in spectacular views of the Andes in the Valle de Muerte, tour the facilities at the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) to learn about the observatory’s radio telescopes, and enter the dome of one of the unit telescopes of the Very Large Telescope (VLT) array at the Paranal Observatory.
The shorter Chilean Eclipse Tour starts on June 28 and meets up with the longer trip in Santiago; together the groups will travel to La Serena, near the Elqui Valley. There, the two trips will alternate experiences, swapping winetasting at a local vineyard and a visit to a pisco distillery with Dr. Mason–led stargazing at the El Pangue Observatory. On July 1, everyone will enjoy a pre-eclipse lecture and then, on eclipse day, head to the Elqui Valley, set up telescopes, and sit back, relax, and enjoy the show.
Book Now: From $7,190 per person, based on double occupancy, for 11 days (starting on June 23, 2019) or $3,545 for six days (starting June 28, 2019), intrepidtravel.com
For most eclipse chasers, watching the event in the Elqui Valley will require finding a base in the towns of Vicuña or La Serena, which are about one and two hours away, respectively. But why suffer the drive in on eclipse day? (Remember what happened in 2017?) With the Outpost Elqui pop-up, arranged by the Santiago-based travel company Upscape, you can sleep in a fully outfitted camp under the path of totality.
As with its other Outpost camps, Upscape’s Elqui Valley pop-up will immerse travelers in a less-visited part of Chile; this spot was scouted over two years ago in anticipation of the eclipse. After a day in Santiago—complete with a city tour—guests will head north to their camp in the desert, stopping to taste wine in the Valle del Encanto and tour the Enchanted Valley National Monument, known for its petroglyphs. This camping is far from roughing it. Tents are furnished with beds and lighting, and the camp even features bathrooms with hot showers and toilets.
The skies above the camp are some of the darkest in the world, making for incredible stargazing, but Upscape ups the ante with a night visit to a nearby observatory the evening before the eclipse. On eclipse day, attendees will spend a leisurely morning enjoying the desert landscape before taking a quick drive to a viewing location for the main event.
Book Now: From $4,995 per person for five days, based on double occupancy, upscapetravel.com
Wild Frontiers’s Chile & Argentina Solar Eclipse Tour
True to form, Wild Frontiers will bring eclipse watchers off the beaten path: While everyone else is heading to the Elqui Valley, this trip ventures away from the crowds to Argentina’s Ischigualasto Provincial Park—aka the “Valley of the Moon.” Inland from the Elqui Valley, this UNESCO-designated desert spot is also in the path of totality but far less talked about than the Chilean destinations.
The trip starts in San Pedro de Atacama, where guests will experience some of the area’s popular astrotourism spots, including ALMA and the Valle de la Muerte. After a guided stargazing experience, and visits to the Taito Geysers and Puritama hot springs, the group will cross the border into Argentina. From there, the natural wonder–filled trip will wind down the eastern side of the Andes, stopping to explore the Salinas Grandes salt flats; the Canyon of the Shells, with its vibrant red sandstone formations; the vineyard-rich Cafayate region; and the paleontological sites of Talampaya National Park. Eclipse day finds Wild Frontiers travelers in Ischigualasto Provincial Park to view the phenomenon.
But the trip doesn’t stop there—guests spend two more days in the city of Mendoza, enjoying local olive oil and wine and reflecting on the spectacular experiences of the past two weeks.
Book Now: From $6,820 per person for 15 days, based on double occupancy, wildfrontierstravel.com