Chile is rapidly evolving to become the world's center of observational astronomy. With some of the best international observatories already taking advantage of its exceptional clear (and dark) skies, and with future giant telescopes to be operational within the next decade, the South American country will muster 70% of the world's ground based observational infrastructure in the 2020s.
But it's not only professional astronomers that are discovering Chilean night skies. In the wake of the large scientific observatories, a new branch of tourism has emerged and is growing fast: astrotourism. Astronomical tours and public or private observatories open to tourists are already widespread, most of them targeting common tourists, some also "serious" amateur astronomers looking for their amateur version Paranal.
To assess supply and demand on their domestic astrotourism market, the government-funded project Astroturismo Chile was launched last year. One of its objectives is to survey what's already on the table for astronomy-interested tourists. The results have been geo-referenced and made publicly available as an interactive map featuring public, private and scientific observatories, planetariums, museums, astronomically active tour-operators and other sites of interest. It is supposed to be upgraded and extended as new offers and businesses emerge.
As expected, Chilean astrotourism is concentrated in the North of the country, above all in the La Serena/Coquimbo and Antofagasta/San Pedro de Atacama regions - just where the scientific observatories are located and skies are clear almost all the time. The metropolitan region around Santiago and the South may not keep up with the Atacama in terms of dark and/or clear skies, but nevertheless have also much to discover.
While the map shows clearly the abundance and diversity of astrotouristic offers in Chile, it also indicates potential for growth, mainly in the far North and South of the country. Southern Patagonia, where I had the pleasure to live the past 1,5 years, offers skies as clear and dark as does the Atacama, at least in summer.