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Observatory of Cerro Mamalluca in Vicuña, Chile

Observatory of Cerro Mamalluca in Vicuna

A Guided Tour to Observe the Sky by Telescope in the Coquimbo Region

Within the Southern hemisphere, Chile offers the best of excellent opportunities to study the universe, especially north Chile has the advantage of a clear atmosphere. This, combined with a stable climate and few cities [thus no interference of light], makes Region II, III and IV a paradise for astronomers. The majority of the observatories is for scientific purposes only, where visitors can’t look through telescopes, but they cán do this at the observatory of Cerro Mamalluca in the Elquí Valley of Norte Chico [Region IV].

A Guided Tour to the Observatory of Cerro Mamalluca

The two-hour guided tours are given in small groups in either English or Spanish. The guide will point out galaxies, explain legends and myths around the constellations, and show the visitor how to find the south by following the Southern Cross. Discover why in South America the term “Tres Marías” is used, and not “Orion’s belt” – as is how this part of the Orion constellation is better known internationally, and observe the star that is due to die within that same constellation. Are you looking for an original present and do you want to buy a star? The guide can tell you what procedure to follow.

The guided tour at the observatory of Cerro Mamalluco consists of two elements: one takes place outside, where portable telescopes are used, and the second part is inside a dome, where a 12 inch [36 centimetres] telescope magnifies the stars, planets and moon – including the “Sea of Tranquillity”, where the Americans planted their flag. Depending on the season and time of day, planets like Venus and Jupiter are visible. Late in the evening the Southern Cross will show itself – the point of reference in the Southern hemisphere to find the south.

Reservations for and Location of the Observatory of Cerro Mamalluca

  • Cerro Mamalluca is situated nine kilometres from Vicuña, in the Elquí Valley.
  • Reservations for a guided tour are mandatory and need to be made at the Oficina Observatorio Turístico Mamalluca [Av. Gabriela Mistral 260, Vicuña, tel: (56) (51) 411352] or online:
  • Tours start from this office daily at 8.30pm, 10.30pm and 12.30pm. Either one takes the mini-van provided by the organization [Clp1500] or one follows the convoy by private vehicle to the observatory.
  • The entrance fee is Clp 3500 [US$ 5].

Other Astronomical Observatories in Chile

Norte Chico has three scientific observatories, used by professional astronomers. Guided tours are only during the day and provide an explanation of how the observatory works. It is not possible to look through the telescopes.

  • Nearby Vicuña stands Cerro Tololo Interamerican Observatory [CTIO]: reservations need to be made at least a month in advance [only open on weekends, tel: 205-200].
  • North of La Serena are two more observatories: La Campanas [Carnegie Institution’s Observatorio] and La Silla [European Southern Observatory – ESO]. In both cases reservations are mandatory.
  • A renowned scientific observatory in Norte Grande is Cerro Paranal [120 kilometres south of Antofagasta, Region II]. It has the Southern hemisphere’s largest telescope: a cluster of four 8.2 trapezoidal Very Large Telescopes [VLTs].

Places of Interest in the Elquí Valley

  • On the coast lies the town of La Serena; a perfect spot to taste some of Chile’s excellent fish dishes and snacks.
  • Elquí Valley is the cradle of Chile’s national beverage ‘pisco sour’. Learn about its production process and taste a sample at Planta Capel in Vicuña.
  • South of La Serena lies Andacollo, considered Chile’s most religious town. In October and December festivals are held to honor the Virgin de Andacollo.