Stargazing in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

Atacama Desert

We left Bolivia and drove through the desert to the Chilean border which involved lots of waiting around in the sun as the border here is stricter. Once we got into San Pedro de Atacama, our first point of call in Chile, we were tired, hungry and thirsty. We were also hot. San Pedro is still at altitude, but it’s also in the Atacama desert. Turns out the Atacama Desert also looks a bit like Mars.

San Pedro is a tiny town and feels like it exists purely to serve tourists. The centre is full of trip booking companies, restaurants and hostels. I’d planned for us to do a couple of lagoon tours while we were here, but after seeing so many on the Salar tour, it didn’t seem like the best use of money and that idea went out of the window, so we probably were here for a day more than we needed to be and we spent most of our time trying and failing to find a car to rent.

The number one thing on my list while we were here was to go stargazing. The Atacama desert is extremely dry and the combination of it’s lack of rainfall and it’s altitude make it a great place to see the stars. Now I didn’t plan our trip to coincide with phases of the moon (silly me), but thankfully we weren’t here at a full moon, otherwise the sky would have been too bright for stargazing and I would have been gutted. I love space!

sanpedrodeatacama-stargazing-1

The ‘tour’ itself was great. We were taken out into the middle of the Atacama desert at midnight to the home of a husband and wife astronomer team. It started with us being talked through the constellations in the sky visible to the eye with the help of a strong laser pointer. Being in the southern hemisphere we could see a few constellations we hadn’t before, such as the Southern Cross, but what blew my mind the most was when we were told that the moon is ‘upside down’ for us Northern Hemisphere folk, so the half of the moon we were seeing then was flipped to how we would see it usually at home.

San Pedro de Atacama Moon Stargazing
San Pedro de Atacama Moon

It’s funny the things that I just accept without really noticing the detail of. I see the moon so often but I guess it wouldn’t have occurred to me I was seeing it a little bit different in Chile. Once the moon had set, we looked through the telescopes at various distant galaxies and the magellanic clouds. I am a born and bred Londoner, the night sky to me is always orange and I can see Orion’s belt if I’m lucky. My Great Aunt’s street lamp free village in Dorset gave me a wonderful starry night sky, but nothing compared to this! You could see the milky way with the naked eye which just blew my mind.

San Pedro de Atacama Milky Way

I am not a nighttime photographer. I didn’t have a tripod or remote shutter release, so these few photos were me and my boyfriend finding things to balance my camera on and trying not to shake it too much when we releasing the shutter. Credit to my boyfriend for doing most of the hard work, as nearing the end of the evening it was absolutely freezing and I was not very helpful, ha. The moon was captured on iPhone through the eyepiece of a telescope!

Apologies if these aren’t the best night sky photos ever, but I love them because that was our sky! I saw it with my eyes – it was real! It’s so grand up there, it certainly made me feel small and in awe.

Atacama Desert Milky Way


Just an FYI, I’m no longer labelling the posts with ‘part’ numbers. I’ll still be working through my trip chronologically, but it gets a bit confusing to use that format from here. Please check the travel category if you’d like to see other posts on my time in South America.