When you hear “Chile”, what comes to your mind? Judging by responses to a quick survey on our Facebook page, you’ll most likely associate the country with wine, Salvador Allende, Pablo Neruda, Easter Island, spectacular, diverse landscapes, Valparaíso, Patagonia, Torres del Paine National Park and Augusto Pinochet.
Astrotourism wasn’t mentioned, but this might change soon.
Astrotourism is the magic word right now in Chile’s Coquimbo region (a one-hour flight northwards, from the Chilean capital Santiago). This might be a small, special interest niche, compared to most travelers’ motivations to visit Chile. But it is lucrative for the otherwise not yet very developed Coquimbo region, so far attracting mostly domestic visitors to its beaches.
During my South America tour in January 2019 I was invited to join a group of journalists on a four day journey through this region, organized by Imagen de Chile, the country brand agency. Together we met with decision makers, astronomers and tourism experience providers to gauge the destination’s readiness and potential as hotspot for astrotourism, especially in the light of the upcoming total solar eclipse this July, which can be seen especially well from here.
While my colleagues from National Geographic, O Globo and Efe were mainly focused on the actual experiences which visitors can enjoy, my own guiding question was: how might astrotourism be able to support the economic development of the region?
To find out, I spoke with:
Lucía Pinto, who as Intendente (comparable to governor) is the representative of the President of Chile in the Coquimbo region (government’s view)
Sophie Souyet of Amatista Travels in the Equi valley (entrepreneur’s view)
Luis Chavarría Garrido, Director of the Astronomy program within the National Commission of Scientific Investigation and Technology (scientist’s view)
Lucía Pinto is the Indendente of Coquimbo region and as such its highest authority. In this interview she tells us why Coquimbo is predestined as the place in the world to go to for a glimpse at the stars and the universe. She also outlines how the regional government is preparing for the July total solar eclipse, and the challenges of developing a destination brand.
Sophie Souyet, together with her husband Iván Olivares Rojas, runs Amatista travels, a boutique tour operator focused on holistic experiences and astrotourism. We had the chance to meet with both and to experience their place and hospitality. In this interview Sophie shares why astrotourism is a great opportunity for the region’s development.
Are more visitors good for a astrotourism in Chile? Which are the challenges in attracting talent – astronomers – to the region?
Those are some of the questions I asked Luis Chavarría Garrido, who joined us on the trip as astronomy expert. Read the interview here
With thanks to Fundación Imagen de Chile for the invitation to join this very special trip, which – apart from visits of the world-leading observatories (La Silla – European Southern Observatory, and Tololo) and special-interest tourism service providers, also included fabulous local cuisine and many interesting talks during the long hours of driving.
We also went on a hike through Fray Jorge National Park, a UNESCO Biosphere reserve and the first park in Latin America certified as “starlight” – free from light contamination.
The Place Brand Observer on tour: more stories from places around the world here