With the luxury of wide-open spaces in spectacularly remote locations, the rural hideaways of Latin America’s varied geography lie under some of the clearest skies on planet earth. From the arid deserts of northern Chile to the tropical wetlands of western Brazil, travellers seeking the bliss of isolation in the countryside are also treated to wonderful views of the stars due to the lack of urban light pollution. Perhaps something that city-dwellers are not so used to being able to enjoy, stargazing in Latin America can be a magical experience during your bespoke luxury trip. Here are our favourite places for stargazing in the region…
The Atacama Desert, Northern Chile
Renowned for some of the clearest skies in the world, Chile’s arid Atacama Desert is also the driest on the planet. With very few major settlements, the dramatic landscapes of this surreal lunar-like region are totally unspoiled by urbanisation and the associated light pollution that obscures the stars in more developed areas. Enjoy exhilarating days of touring the area’s mountain lagoons, copper-coloured valleys and thermal springs before settling down in the evening with a glass of sumptuous Chilean wine to turn your gaze toward the crystal-clear skies.
How to do it
The Atacama Desert is home to some of Chile’s finest luxury hotels. Fly into Calama (CJC) from Santiago de Chile and transfer a short distance to these stunning isolated hideaways. Our favourite options are Tierra Atacama (pictured), Awasi and Alto Atacama. All three hotels offer comprehensive programmes that include three gourmet meals a day and a range of local activities, including stargazing. Indulge in a luxurious treatment at the Tierra Spa, explore the scenery with your private guide and driver at Awasi, or relax in the carefully manicured gardens of Alto Atacama. Whichever you choose – a special experience in the desert awaits.
The Pantanal Wetlands, Western Brazil
Principally a wildlife destination famous for offering visitors the best chance of seeing the majestic jaguar in the wild, the Brazilian Pantanal is also a region of spectacular scenic beauty. Many of the wildlife lodges are tucked away deep in the picturesque countryside composed of rivers, lakes, forests and open tropical plains. With such a lack of modern urban development, the landscapes remain relatively untouched and guests can enjoy clear nights perfect for camping out under the stars with a traditional cocktail in hand. Travel during the dry season (June-October) for the most cloudless skies and the best wildlife sightings.
How to do it
Upon arrival in Brazil at an international hub, connect onwards on a short internal flight to Cuiabá (CGB) or Campo Grande (CGR), gateways to the northern and southern Pantanal respectively. From the main towns, transfer into a remote eco-lodge for a few nights of rural tranquillity, magical wildlife experiences and clear skies. We recommend Caiman Ecological Refuge (pictured) in the south (renowned for its magnificent jaguar conservation project) and Pousada Rio Mutum in the north.
The Tatacoa Desert, Southern Colombia
The Tatacoa Desert covers 330 square kilometres of land in Colombia’s Huila Department. Nicknamed the Valley of Sorrows in 1538 by the Spanish conquistador Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada, this rocky landscape is comparable to the reddish panoramas of the Atacama in Chile yet is much less frequently visited. The greyish and orange deserts of the region are sparsely populated and thus light pollution is minimal. Explore the desert with a private guide and hike the canyons and gullies for sweeping views of the scenery before visiting the local observatories for an in-depth stargazing experience by night.
How to do it
Fly one hour from Colombia’s booming Andean capital city, Bogotá, south to Neiva (NVA). The Tatacoa Desert is located a one and a half hour’s drive away to the north. Avoid the desert on weekends if you can, it sometime gets busy with local partygoers as a popular Colombian weekend getaway. Whilst certainly not actually a ‘luxury’ property, we recommend a short stay at the remote Bethel Bio-Luxury Hotel where the luxury of experience and location is the main draw. The cosy but rustic rooms offer basic comforts and the hotel is situated mere minutes from the Tatacoa Observatory.
Patagonia, Antarctica & South Georgia
Perhaps offering some of the most striking scenery luxury travellers will ever experience, the far south of Latin America offers a multitude of remote escapes under transparent night skies. By day, enjoy the magnificent trekking trails in Argentina’s Tierra del Fuego’s National Park and by night, cosy up by an outdoor fire pit and observe the starry skies in the tranquillity of the frozen air. The further south you travel, the greater your chances of catching sight of the rare astronomical phenomenon of the southern lights, the aurora australis – a lesser known sibling to the northern aurora borealis. Cruising the icy waters of Antarctica with the jewel-toned southern lights overhead is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
How to do it
For Antarctica or South Georgia, head down to Ushuaia in Argentina and board a luxury expedition cruise that covers the Antarctica peninsula and the surrounding southern islands. Whilst the best time to catch sight of the ethereal hues of the aurora australis is during the near-unnavigable Antarctic winter, frequent sightings are often noted towards the end of the cruise season in March, which is also a good time for whale watching in the region. Patagonia is slightly easier – explore the far south of Argentina or Chile during the winter months of May-July to catch a glimpse of the phenomenon. Arakur hotel (pictured) in Ushuaia would be a wonderful choice of accommodation here.
The Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia
Recently used as the real-life set for a blockbuster Star Wars film, the celestial white expanse of the Uyuni Salt Flats is easily one of the planet’s most striking natural wonders. This desolate crystalline landscape is equally as wonderful in the dry and wet seasons for stargazing. The Salar’s extreme remoteness makes for perfectly clear skies all year round: during the dry season the sparkle of the exposed salt crystals almost radiate a light of their own as they reflect the moonlight, whereas in the wet season, the pattern of the night sky is reflected perfectly on the glossy mirror of the Salar’s wet surface.
How to do it
Uyuni is accessible via short local flights from La Paz and overland from the nearby Atacama Desert in Chile. We recommend dedicating between 3 and 5 nights to a comprehensive tour of the breath-taking scenery in the region across the south of Bolivia and the north of Chile in order to tick off all the highlights of the area’s impressive geography. Newly opened Kachi Lodge (pictured) in Uyuni offers a fully personalised full-board luxury experience of the Salt Flats with indulgent cuisine provided in partnership with Gustu, La Paz’s most in-demand eatery.
Simon Williams is Director of Humboldt Travel. Humboldt Travel is a luxury travel company specialising in tailor made holidays to Latin America.