Elqui Valley, Chile by Erika Valkovicova

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In 2015, the entire Elqui Valley in Chile was declared the world’s first International Dark Sky Sanctuary, and it is a real paradise for stargazers! This high-altitude valley in the Andean foothills enjoys over 300 days of sunshine a year and minimal light pollution.
While planning my visit to Chile in July this year, my primary goal was to witness the Total Solar Eclipse. Elqui Valley happened to lie within the path of totality, so I knew this could be a perfect place to capture the famous Chilean sky filled with stars.

I spent a few days camping high above the town of Vicuña, and although it was freezing at night, I could not resist to step out of the comfortable tent and overcome my fear of the dark to capture the Southern Milky Way! I took this shot the night after the Total Solar Eclipse, still filled with overwhelming emotions and a bit tired of Pisco Sour sampling.

The silhouette of the lone tree with the branches reaching out to the stars created a great foreground. The final image is a stitched panorama of 2 horizontal shots taken on a prime 20mm lens with an Astro-modified camera. Staying in the mountains helped to block some of the light pollution coming from the nearby town.

Elqui Valley is one of the world’s top stargazing destinations, and many observatories in the area offer guided viewings of the night sky. Many places close during the winter (June to August), if you are planning to visit the valley during those months, it is better to get in touch well in advance of your travel.

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