Visiting the Giant Magellan Telescope site in Chile
A visit to the Las Campanas Observatory at the foot of the great Atacama Desert in Chile can be an unforgettable experience. Nighttime is so dark and so clear, it seems there is nothing between the land and the sky. This is the future site of the Giant Magellan Telescope. Join us for a unique experience while visiting the place where this great observatory is being built. During the day you will tour the current state of the art telescopes, at night you can witness the southern hemisphere night sky in all its glory.
The giant mirrors for the GMT are being polished at the Richard F. Caris Mirror Lab at the University of Arizona in Tucson. The summit at Las Campanas Peak is being prepared for the GMT and you may visit the construction site. In the coming years the buildings will grow on the summit, the telescope will be installed, and the mirrors will arrive on the top of the mountain – all coming together for first light in late 2022 or early 2023.
Las Campanas is a remote site, but it offers most of the comforts of home. Your hosts will guide you in your travel through Chile. You will dine on the mountain while enjoying spectacular views of the Andes mountains and local flora and fauna.
We look forward to welcoming you to Las Campanas.
Arriving in Santiago
You can find useful information about Chile here.
You will arrive at Santiago Airport International Terminal. After going through immigration, pick up your luggage and go to the Customs lines. You will have filled out a joint customs and agricultural form in which forbidden items are listed. Non-produce items are generally okay (tea, preserves, canned goods), but organic products (cheese, meat products, fruit, nuts and vegetables) are not. If in doubt, declare, as omissions are considered an offense and can lead to serious fines. After passing through Customs, exit to your right.
If you have a taxi from the airport to the hotel in Santiago arranged by GMTO, please look for a cab driver with a GMTO logo sign with your name on it in the exit area.
You can change US dollars to Chilean pesos in the airport. The easiest approach is to use the ATM machine outside the domestic departures area on the third floor of the airport. At the time of writing, the exchange rate fluctuates between 650 and 680, but make sure to check before departure at, for instance, http://www.valor-dolar.cl/.
Chile is an extremely wired country and most cell phones work in most places (provided one has an international plan with their carrier). Coverage is a little spotty up on the mountain, but that is usually solved with a little walking around.
GMTO also has a reliable wireless Internet connection on site that guests can access in most buildings.
Electricity in Chile is 220V, 50 Hz, and most wall outlets use an inline, 3-prong L-type plug
The Observatory conforms to U.S. voltage and uses standard US A- and B-type plugs, however, a Universal Plug Converter/Adapter is recommended.
The weather in Santiago and La Serena is comparable to that of central and southern California.
December – February
December to February is summer in Chile, a time of year characterized by warm and dry weather with temperatures ranging from 15 degrees C (59 degrees F) to a high of 34 degrees C (93 degrees F) during the day. Santiago can be hot during the day (80s) and pleasantly cool in the evening. Expect temperatures at the Observatory to be in the mid-60s during the day and in the lower 50s in the evening.
June – August
June to August is winter time, and temperature can drop to below 0 C (32 degrees F) with a high of 15 degrees C (59 degrees F) during the day (with noticeable cooling down at night). Santiago can be warm during the day (70s) and cool in the evening. Expect temperatures at the Observatory to be in the mid-50s during the day and in the lower 30s in the evening.
Dress and miscellanea
Trips to GMTO have the feel of an expedition and dress is casual. Everyone should have a pair of comfortable walking shoes. A jacket and a warm hat for nights on the mountain are recommended.
Sun block is strongly recommended for even the shortest leisurely stroll, regardless of the season, particularly on the mountain where the solar UV is stronger due to the elevation. Please ask staff for supplies if you do not have your own. Bring a hat and sunglasses.
Accommodations at GMTO are very nice and comfortable. However, it is not a hospitality operation, so please be sure to bring your usual toiletries. Towels will be provided.
Binoculars are very useful, day and night. A small flashlight is always handy.
Safety at Las Campanas
The Las Campanas Observatory website has safety information for visitors available on this website: http://www.lco.cl/observer-information/basic-safety-at-las-campanas. Please review this information prior to travel.
- Santiago – Google Maps
- La Serena – Google Maps
- Las Campanas – Google Maps
- Santiago – Wikipedia
- La Serena – Wikipedia
Travel Journals from the Smithsonian Secretary: Chile
- Day 1: A Stop in Santiago
- Day 2: Stargazing in the Andes Mountains
- Day 3: The Excitement of Astronomy
- Day 4: Peak Conditions for a New Telescope
GMTO Chile Contact Information
Outreach Coordinator, Chile (Primary Contact)
Office phone:+56 2 2887 3812
Mobile phone:+56 9 9864 7172
GMTO Representative, Chile
Office phone:+56 2 2887 3800
Mobile phone:+56 9 9817 0166
International flight from the USA to Santiago, Chile.
Arrive in Santiago. Taxi from Santiago airport to to a hotel near the GMTO Offices in Las Condes district.
Note that Santiago has many other hotels, medium to International 5*.
07:00 – 08:00 Breakfast and check-out
08:10 Taxi from hotel.
09:00 Arrival to Santiago airport.
10:20 Flight to La Serena (time can change over the year).
11:30 Arrival to La Serena airport. Transportation with GMTO logo at the parking area.
12:00 Lunch in the center of town.
13:30 Departure from La Serena.
15:30 Arrival at GMTO site and check-in.
16:00 – 17:30 Tour for the GMTO construction site and Las Campanas Observatory.
19:00 Opening of the Magellan Telescopes (inside the domes).
19:30 – 20:30 Sunset view from a lookout.
21:00 Arrival at the GMTO dorms.
(Optional) Star gazing from one of the best night skies in the world.
08:30 Breakfast and check-out.
09:30 Departure from GMTO site.
13:00 Lunch in La Serena.
15:00 Arrival to La Serena airport.
16:15 Flight to Santiago (time can change over the year).
17:15 Arrival to Santiago airport. Taxi to hotel.
Free dinner and overnight stay in Santiago.
Breakfast at the hotel and check-out followed by a transfer to the airport.
Departure to the USA.
# END OF VISIT #
International flight (x1): $1,700 USD
Domestic flight – return (x1): from $60 to $150 USD.
Taxis in Chile (x4): $160 USD
Santiago Hotel (2 nights, single room): $280 USD
Accommodation and meals at GMTO/LCO (2 days, 1 night): $100 USD
Total estimated cost per person: from $2,300 to $2,390 + car to observatory (*).
(*) Car cost per person can be only estimated with the final number of participants. As reference, the cost of a sedan car is $50 USD per day.
Taxis in the USA not included.
Meals in Santiago not included.