If you were lucky enough to be in the narrow path of totality last August when a total solar eclipse passed over the United States, you know that seeing a total solar eclipse requires a lot of planning. It also takes luck.
This phenomenon occurs just about once every 18 months — but the South American countries of Chile and Argentina will hit the jackpot in 2019 and 2020 when the moon's shadow zips across both twice in quick succession. Though you can witness totality from Argentina's Pampas grasslands on the eastern slopes of the Andes on July 02, 2019 and again on December 14, 2020, there are some compelling reasons to see this stunning spectacle from Chilean soil.
The Next Total Solar Eclipse on July 2, 2019
The next total solar eclipse is on Tuesday, July 2, 2019, and it’s being hailed as The Great South American Eclipse. It will be best viewed from Chile and Argentina. Though the eclipse will cross thin, narrow Chile in just over three minutes, there are two good reasons to choose Chile as your destination to see the 2019 solar eclipse.
For one, the eclipse will be higher in the sky in Chile than in Argentina (where the eclipse takes place closer to the horizon, increasing the chance of cloud).
And in Chile, the 2019 solar eclipse path of totality happens to cross the Elqui Valley, 465 miles north of the capital city, Santiago. Home to local Chilean pisco, quaint villages, and several of the world's finest telescopes, this mountainous region is a center of astro-tourism.
The Elqui Valley is a small region accessed only by one major road — Highway 41 from the coastal town of La Serena — so to avoid traffic, plan to be at a your chosen viewing site the day before.
Total Solar Eclipse Duration
At Vicuña, midway up the mountain road, totality will occur at 4:38 p.m. on Tuesday, July 2, 2019, and last for 2 minutes, 25 seconds. The partial eclipse will cease at 5:46 p.m., with sunset about ten minutes later. So while the sun will set partially eclipsed, the actual spectacle of totality will take place about 13 degrees above the western horizon. In Argentina, it's much lower, making Chile the ideal place to go.
Astro-tourism in the Elqui Valley
The Elqui Valley is a stargazer's dream destination. Although it is home to the giant astronomical telescopes of the U.S.-operated Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory (CTIO) and the European Southern Observatory (ESO) at La Silla, only the latter is open to visitors on eclipse day. Sadly, tickets are already sold-out.
There are, however, scores of small boutique observatories awaiting eclipse-chasers in the Elqui Valley, including the Observatório Cancana, Observatorio Cerro, Observatorio Astronomico Collowara, Observatorio del Pangue, and the largest and most famous of all, the Observatorio Mamalluca in Vicuña. (The latter also houses the IntiRuna Observatory, the largest public solar observatory in the world.) Most of these places hold public stargazing events as well as observing sessions through telescopes, and will undoubtedly have big plans for the eclipse.
So is an eclipse a good time for stargazing? Moonlight can ruin an otherwise well-planned trip to dark sky destinations, but you don't ever have to worry about that when scouting for locations to watch any kind of solar eclipse. An eclipse can only happen during a new moon, when only the far side of the moon is illuminated, making it the best time possible for stargazing. With little moonlight the week before, and a thin crescent moon for a few days after, you can always be assured of dark skies when traveling to see any solar eclipse.
Visiting Chile for the Total Solar Eclipse on December 14, 2020
For the total solar eclipse on Monday, December 14, 2020 it's less about the time of day or altitude of the eclipse, and more about the fact that totality will occur over the beautiful Chilean Lake District.
A volcanic area of hot springs and hiking paths some 470 miles south of Santiago, this lovely leisure area is dominated by lakes and is popular for hiking, mountain biking, boating, and rafting. There's something for everyone here (at the nearby resort town of Pucón, for example, there are even casinos).
Totality will occur over Pucón at 1:03 p.m. on December 14, 2020 and last for 2 minutes, 9 seconds. Since it's the middle of the day, the eclipse will take place directly overhead (71 degrees), similar to how most of the U.S. experienced totality in 2017.
Unique Vantage Points
For hikers after a unique vantage point for the eclipse, consider the 9,380 ft. Volcán Villarrica. After a guided trek from Pucón, observers should be able to see the moon's shadow sweep across the landscape below. Don’t plan too far ahead, however, because it's one of the most active volcanoes in South America. It last erupted in 2015.
If it's behaving, expect guided eclipse-viewing hikes to the crater from Pucón. Here, totality will last 2 minutes, 6 seconds.
Total Solar Eclipse Weather Forecast
Although Chile is the best place to head for both the 2019 as well as the 2020 total solar eclipses, there is no guarantee of clear skies.
The 2019 eclipse occurs in July, when it's winter in the southern hemisphere, so there is always the possibility of persistent low clouds. Eclipse-chasers will have to take their chances. The December 2020 eclipse is in the middle of summer, so the chances of clear skies are a little higher.
The 2020 eclipse does come with one other unexpected bonus. The night before the eclipse also happens be the peak of the Geminid Meteor Shower, the year's best, where observers could see a stunning 120 meteors per hour in the northwestern sky. Yet another reason, if you needed one, to go see at least one Great South American Eclipse.