CTIO  Observing at CTIO  >  Information for CTIO Visiting Investigators

Sunset at Tololo


The purpose of this document is to provide information on current travel procedures to Chile and a few details regarding your stay at CTIO.



If you have any questions that are not covered by the information in this document, please contact:

Ximena Herreros

For urgent telephone messages and importation of equipment, please contact:

Cliff Aldrich
Tucson Office - P.O. Box 26732
Tucson, Arizona 85726-6732
Phone: (520) 318-8180
Fax : (520) 318-8270

NOAO can permit its installations to be used only by those observers who are associated with the proposals granted telescope time. Even then, because of our limited facilities we can permit no more than two observers per telescope, unless this imposes clear limitation on the data-taking. Authorization to add an investigator to a proposal must be requested from the Director's Office (xherreros@ctio.noao.edu). Also, we can only grant travel support to thesis students from US institutions.

In planning your trip, you should be aware that the following holidays are observed in Chile. Please, see Official Chilean Calendars & Holiday Lists

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Graduate students observing at CTIO for their Ph.D. thesis research qualify for "full" travel support. Under this policy, CTIO will either pay for or reimburse the traveler for the minimum available airfare from the traveler's point of origin to La Serena and return, as well as:

The procedure requires that the thesis advisor send an e-mailed letter to noaoprop-letter@noao.edu at the same time as the proposal; this letter must certify that the program is directly related to the student's thesis work and the competence of the student to carry out the proposed observations. This policy applies only to graduate students affiliated with U.S. institutions, whose travel originates in the United States and are observing for TAC assigned programs. (Graduate students granted Discretionary time, or those added to a proposal after time has been assigned, will be charged the standard rates).

Principal Investigators are responsible for the behavior of graduate or undergraduate students who accompany them to CTIO.

Graduate students who qualify for travel support must contact Ximena Herreros (xherreros@ctio.noao.edu) at least six weeks prior to their trip, so that she can calculate the “approved rate” (round trip from point of origin to La Serena) you are subject to.

We strongly encourage graduate students to obtain their tickets through Valeria McNeill at Bon Voyage Travel Agency, (Tel: 1-800-395-9293 or (520) 795-8400, (520) 797-1110 and Valeria's Direct number: (520) 232-5592, ext 421); the cost of the trip will be direct billed to NOAO. If purchasing tickets through another agency, the student should be aware that reimbursement will be subject to the “approved rate” and the presentation of a Travel Expense Report Form. The Expense Report Form can be filled out with Ximena Herreros in La Serena.

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Visiting astronomers will be charged actual expenses in Chilean pesos. Thus costs for lodging, meals, transport and rental car will fluctuate when expressed in US dollars, depending on the exchange rate. You should budget around $100 per night. Note that we prefer to be paid using a credit card, the transaction can take place either on Tololo (Round Office Building) or in La Serena (Administration & Facilities,  Accounting Offices) at the end of your observing run.

The following fees will be charged to visiting astronomers who do not receive support

La Serena Facilities

(Chilean Pesos)

  • Motel Room
  • Special Transport Tololo/Pachon

Cerro Tololo Facilities

  • Motel Room
  • Meals (each)
  • Carry-all (one-way ride)
  • Car rental (daily)

Cerro Pachon Facilities

  • Motel Room
  • Meals (each)

Data Tapes

  • DAT 90M DDS (2 Gb)
  • EXABYTE 112M  (2.5 Gb)
  • DAT 125M DDS3 (12 Gb)
  • DAT 150M DDS4 (20 Gb)
  • DLT IV  (35 Gb)


NOAO Administration & Facilities is able to offer visitors the choice of paying their bills for services with Master, Visa, Diners, American Express, or Magna credit cards, in addition to the options for paying in cash (only in La Serena).

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Visiting observers (except graduate students) are responsible for obtaining their air tickets between the point of origin and La Serena (round trip). Observers should contact Ximena Herreros (xherreros@ctio.noao.edu) at least four weeks in advance of their departure date to request the reservations they need at the Observatory facilities. Observers should bear in mind that last-minute changes may be difficult to arrange and could cause delay in the itinerary.

NOTE: During the "Summer" period (December to March), note that there are very long queues at Santiago immigration at the time of arrival of the "usual" flights from the US making it sometimes difficult to catch the first flight to La Serena.  Those with "O.I. cedulas" can use the diplomat line to speed getting through, but that's not an option for visiting astronomers.

We recommend that observers continue making travel arrangements with Valeria McNeill, who is associated with Bon Voyage Travel (520)795-8400 or (800)395-9293). Valeria has served CTIO well in the past and gives special attention and rates to our passengers.

It is imperative that we receive the Travel Information Questionnaire at least four weeks prior to the start of your run.  This allows us to accommodate your travel plans and lodging needs.  This form is available at http://www.ctio.noao.edu/observing , and is submitted via the www.  Before buying your air tickets, please check the carryall schedule to/from the mountain.


Visiting observers with U.S. citizenship may enter Chile as tourists, and as such will require a valid passport. You will be given a "tourist" card by the airline bringing you to Chile. Please attach the card to your passport and safeguard it as it is required upon departure. A tourist visa can last for 90 days, however we ask that you please advise Ximena Herreros at the time that you initiate travel plans, if your stay in Chile will extend beyond 80 days. Visiting observers from other countries should consult with their travel agents, well in advance of their travel time, regarding current visa requirements for Chile.

All US citizens entering Chile must pay a "one-time per passport tax" of US$141 (cash or Credit Card) - this fee is subject to change - as a reciprocal policy (the US charges Chileans US$141 for each visa). The official in charge of receiving this stipend will affix a stamp on the back of the travelers passport; this stamp should be valid until the passport expires. This fee is paid at the moment of entry in Chile (Santiago).

        Brazilian Visas


U.S. dollar exchange rate fluctuates daily, so please check the rate before you depart for Chile (see official Exchange Rate Table). Pesos can be obtained at the Bank located to your left as you exit from Customs at the Merino Benítez International Airport in Santiago (also referred to by its former name "Pudahuel"). We recommend that sufficient funds be exchanged to cover incidental expenses such as taxis and meals that you will incur in Chile; costs of these services are comparable to those in major U.S. cities. At present, as the banks will not change pesos back to dollars for departing travelers, you should take this into account when buying pesos on arrival. You may also exchange dollars for pesos at the Administration & Facilities,  Accounting Office. If you find that you have an excessive amount of pesos as the time for your departure from Chile approaches, you would be well advised to convert them back to dollars at the La Serena Accounting Office;  Accounting will exchange, as a maximum for official visitors, only the amount of pesos which was exchanged via Accounting upon arrival at CTIO.  You should advise the accountants of your needs before 11:00am on the last work day prior to your departure (ext. 245).

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        United States export - Chile importation procedures

        Luggage Claims (i.e. missing pieces of luggage on arrival...)

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Upon arrival in Chile, you will land at the "Arturo Merino Benítez" International Airport. The international and domestic terminals are housed in the same building, the domestic section is in the eastern side of this facility. When exiting the Chilean Customs you find yourself on Level 1 of the Terminal's lobby. To proceed to the domestic terminal turn left, take the elevator to the third level, then walk to the connecting domestic airline counter. If your baggage is ticketed to La Serena, go to the "previously checked baggage" counter.

        By Air

        By Bus

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When arriving by plane at "La Florida" airport in La Serena (see La Serena Maps) (Guide of Restaurants in La Serena), you can take a taxi to the compound (directions in Spanish for the driver are given in the next paragraph); as in Santiago you will have to pay for the drive. The cost from La Serena airport to the AURA compound is ~US$ 12 (6.000 CLP). Again, obtain a voucher if you qualify for reimbursement.

Lléveme a las oficinas de AURA, o Cerro Tololo, están en Colina El Pino s/n, bajando por Avenida 18 de Septiembre, subiendo por rotonda Amunátegui y tomando Alberto Arenas”

If you arrive at the Terminal de Buses, (bus station) the taxi charge is ~US$ 6.00.

Our office hours are 8:30 am to 5:30 pm, when arriving within that time frame please come by Reception to get your envelope with motel key, lunch card, visitor account and any other material/information we need to hand you. Should you arrive after office hours, this envelope will be at the main guard station on Cisternas street.

Visiting observers can make use of the La Serena Computer Room and the compound Motel for overnight lodging in La Serena. The eight-room motel has a small kitchenette where it is possible to prepare light snacks. Basic supplies such as tea, coffee, milk, bread, sugar, etc., are available. A guide to restaurants in La Serena, or information on supermarkets is available at the Reception desk.

To call home, or wherever your card permits, from any extension on Tololo or the La Serena Compound you should dial "512=AT&T", "516=MCI", "517=US Sprint" and "518=Canada". These calls will be collect or charged to your credit card.

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Observers, particularly those unfamiliar with the instrumentation they are scheduled on, are encouraged to arrive on the mountain a day before their run begins so they can look over-the-shoulder of the previous observer, if the schedule so permits. Arriving a day early is also permitted to allow acclimatization. You can request this on the Travel Information Questionnaire. Those arriving early should take care to disturb the scheduled observers as little as possible. Assistance from Observer Support personnel will only be available on the days that a program is scheduled. Computer terminals are available in the Library and at the entrance to the 4-m telescope, note that scheduled observers and Telops have priority for use of the latter. Ethernet connections are available in the dormitory rooms.

The current Monday to Friday schedule for the carry-all is:

      On Saturday:

Special transport to and from the Observatory can be made available in exceptional cases and is at the discretion of the Observatory.  If you require Special Transport you will be charged CLP 65,100 before you depart from La Serena. This special transport should be requested via e-mail from Ximena Herreros well in advance.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Special Transport to/from Tololo is not available on Saturdays and also after 2:00 pm all days.

Upon arrival on Tololo investigators will be assigned a dormitory room. If you wish to drive a vehicle on the mountain you will need to bring a current driver's license. If you wish to rent a car while in Chile, you should bring along an international driver's license as well as your current home country driver's license.

Before departing from Tololo

If you are not stopping by the La Serena Office upon departure, please be prepared to settle your account with Marco Nuñez (mnunez@ctio.noao.edu) (x.440) at the Round Office Building before leaving Tololo. We request that visitors bring credit cards (Visa, Master, American) to cover expenses such as lodging and meals at the Observatory facilities, personal calls, transport, data tapes, etc. At this time payments in cash (Chilean pesos or U.S. dollars) can only be made in La Serena.

If you are stopping over in La Serena after your run, please settle your bill with Andrea Rodríguez (arodriguez@ctio.noao.edu) at the Treasury Office (x245) if you are paying cash.  If paying with Visa, Master or American Express credit cards, please settle your bill with Claudio Solís (csolis@ctio.noao.edu) (x385) at the Accounting Office. The Treasury  and Accounting Offices are next to the motel facilities, close to the children playground (please, see map).



Please confirm your travel plans 48 hours in advance with Ximena Herreros before leaving La Serena. Your flight to Santiago and international flights will be reconfirmed. If you need transport to the airport or bus depot, please make arrangements with Ximena Herreros or with Reception at least 2 hours before departure from the office. If you will need a taxi after 5:30 pm you should request it before 5:00 pm.

Any weekend taxi pick-ups should be booked during week days. Those eligible for reimbursement need to plan this well in advance with Ximena Herreros.

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Colina El Pino s/n
Casilla 603

Phone: 011-56-51 205200, Fax : 011-56-51 205212

Edificio Parque Araucano
Oficina 507

Avenida Presidente Riesco 5335
Las Condes

Phone/Fax (Office): 011-56-2-370 10 85   

P.O. BOX 26732
Tucson, AZ, 85726-6732

Phone: (520) 318-8277
Fax : (520) 318-8270

Phone Bon Voyage Travel Agency: 1-800-395-9293

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  CTIO  Observing at CTIO  >  Information for CTIO Visiting Investigators