Visiting Astronomers Travel Guide

1. General Information
2. Support for thesis students from U.S. institutions
3. Charges for visiting astronomers
4. Travel arrangements and reimbursements
6. Currency
7. Custom Procedures
8. Important note
9. Traveling to La Serena
10. Arrival in La Serena
11. Getting to Tololo
12. Departing from La Serena
13. Addresses & telephone numbers



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:

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

NOIR Lab 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 ( Also, we can only grant travel support to thesis students from US institutions.

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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:

  • lodging and meals at Tololo during the run
  • lodging in the La Serena motel for 2 nights
  • reimburse taxi transfers between bus stations/airports and CTIO facilities

The procedure requires that the thesis advisor send an e-mailed letter to 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 ( at least six weeks prior to their trip, so that she can inform them about their trip to La Serena.

We strongly encourage graduate students to obtain their tickets through Teplis Travel Agency.  A Travel Agent will contact the graduate student and help him/her to book the air tickets; the cost of the trip will be direct billed to NOIR Lab. If purchasing tickets through another agency, the student should be aware that reimbursement will be subject to an “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 $135 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 (Treasury Office) at the end of your observing run.

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

(Chilean Pesos)
La Serena Facilities
Motel Room 43,099
Cerro Tololo Facilities
Motel Room 30,266
Meals (each) 14,172
Carry-all (one-way ride) 35,525
Car rental (daily) 6,000
Cerro Pachon Facilities
Motel Room 46,467
Meals (each) 14,172

Accounting Office 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 ( 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.


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, and is submitted via the www. Before buying your air tickets, please check the carryall schedule to/from the mountain.

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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.


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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 Treasury Office in La Serena.  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. 283).

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United States export - Chile importation procedures

Regulations concerning the exportation of equipment from the United States are very specific. Certain items including personal computers, electronic equipment, and other optical equipment are not allowed export unless approved by either the Department of Commerce or the State Department. If you intend to bring equipment to be used during your observing run or data reduction, you should contact the Tucson Office (Orion Wiest, and the Procurement Office Staff in Tucson, who will assist observers with expert guidance and support on legal matters and other requirements of the US export regulation.  Please contact the Tucson Office after being notified of your proposal's acceptance so that the exportation of the items can be determined (at least a month before your departure). A considerable length of time may be necessary to obtain the proper approval for certain licenses.

The Tucson Office will assist observers in obtaining the appropriate export licenses required by the US Federal Government and will offer guidance in observing the shipping precautions necessary to secure a swift and safe dispatch of the equipment. They may also obtain reasonable freight rates by using our present carriers.

In Chile, our Santiago Office provides similar specialized help to secure the prompt and safe passage of equipment through Customs, and sees to it that instruments are promply and securely forwarded to their designated final destination at the AURA facilities.  Chilean importation procedures require full documentation:

Common documentation for an export-Import are:

- Bill of Landing on Air Way Bill (depending on the mode of transportation used)
- Insurance policy, where insurance coverage may have been purchased
- Invoice Pro-Forma of Packing List (which you provide), listing the exact amount and description of the equipment and the commercial value for Customs declaration purpose in which case the Santiago Office must present documents to the appropriate Ministry at least ten days before your arrival. 

To prevent inconveniences for everyone, please be certain we are fully informed well in advance of your departure.

Please note that all equipment must be sent to Chile in the name of:

AURA, Inc.
Sr. Hernan Bustos
Santiago Operations
Av. Presidente Riesco 5335
Santiago, CHILE

Phone: 562 3701085/86

Upon arrival at the Chilean Customs you have the choice of taking either of two lines, the "Nothing to Declare" in green (if you are carrying goods not subject to customs duty or other related tax payments);  or the "Declare" in red queue (in case you are either carrying goods subject to customs duty).  Custom agents may ask you to place one or more bags through the X-ray machine or have you open one or more bags even if you do chose the "Nothing to Declare" line. Visiting observers who are bringing observational equipment, may be met upon request at the Santiago airport customs area by an AURA representative and assisted in-transit to La Serena.

As in many international terminals it is advisable that you keep an eye on your bags at all times.

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

To process a claim for missing luggage, the owner must fill in a form that is supplied by the airline, and leave it along with the keys (or combination number to open the suitcases) and passport number at the Director's Office in La Serena. We remind you that the luggage will probably be opened by custom agents for routine checks.

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  • If you want your laptop, ipad, iphone,etc to work on the Network, please fill in the Network request form before you arrive, remember there is a MAC address for the wireless port and another for the wired port.
  • For safety reasons it is strictly forbidden the consumption of alcoholic beverages while your are observing or working at the Observatory.
  • It may be advisable to slightly restrict your diet while in Chile, avoided uncooked shell fish, vegetables, and tap water.
  • The water in the La Serena Compound, on Cerro Pachon and Cerro Tololo is carefully treated, although we recommend you to drink bottled water, soft drinks, instead of tap water.
  • If you have any dietary restrictions please contact Ximena Herreros to inform her of your special requirements.

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By Air

LAN Chile and SKY Airlines offer daily flight service between Santiago and La Serena, departing from the Domestic Terminal; the flight time is approximately 50 minutes. For current flight schedules online please go to &   Visiting observers should also be aware that the free baggage limit on domestic airlines is 23 kgs. If your luggage is far over the limit, you may have the Santiago Office arrange to send the bags to La Serena on a bus line.

By Bus

Bus lines with sleeper seats serving Santiago/ La Serena/ Santiago are: Buses Libac, Pullman, Romani, Tur Bus. They all arrive and leave Santiago from the San Borja Terminal. One-way fare is approximately US$30 (23.000 pesos) depending upon the bus line, and the trip takes approximately seven hours. All buses have two drivers , a stewardess, and bathroom. For reference, there usually are departures from Santiago to La Serena or vice versa several times a day.

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When arriving by plane at "La Florida" airport in La Serena (see La Serena Maps) , you can take a taxi to the AURA compound (directions in Spanish for the driver are given in the next paragraph).  The cost from La Serena airport to the AURA compound is ~US$ 12 (7.000 pesos).

"Lléveme a las oficinas de AURA, o Cerro Tololo, están en Colina El Pino sin numero, esquina de calle Huanhualí con Cisternas"

If you arrive at the Terminal de Buses, (bus station) the taxi charge is ~US$ 6.00 (~4.500 pesos).

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, 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 NEW AURA Compound Motel for overnight lodging in La Serena.  With the start of the construction of the new office building and data center for LSST, the La Serena motel was moved from its current location and accommodation to House 9.  House 9 (or Casa 9) is located just east of the office buildings and the old motel building.  The house consists of four bedrooms each with an adjacent bathroom, a kitchen, living/dining area, and a visitor bathroom.  There is a large patio associated with the house, for which we will provide some furniture.  In the longer term, we might fit 4 or 5 extra rooms in the back of the garden, depending on the demand for the hotel.

Visiting astronomers in transit to/from the mountains may request day use of the lounge and visitor bathroom at Casa 9 if they have a long wait for their flights. See location map

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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.

Implementation of New Meal Registration System

This new system uses tablets on which you can register for a meal entering your last name.  The tablets are located at both casinos (Tololo and Pachon) near the self-service bar.  It is important that you register your meal before serving yourself.

Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner - The system will register the meal served at the time of registration when entering your visitor ID number or your last name.

Breakfast    08:00-08:30
Lunch          13:00-14:00
Dinner         17:00-18:30

Night-lunch - Night-lunch can be requested up to 14:00, and should be registered through the new registration service.  However, for the specifics of your night-lunch, you are kindly requested to use the paper forms.  If, at dinnertime, you take out a hot meal as night-lunch, you should register this is night-lunch too.



The carry-all takes 1.5 hours to go from Cerro Tololo to La Serena and viceversa.  Take this time into account when planning your flights, usually you will need to be at the airport 45 minutes before departure. 

We have two (2) Carry-all Services (morning & afternoon) from La Serena to Cerro Tololo (CTIO) and viceversa

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

Departing La Serena from Garage at 8:00am
Arriving Tololo at 9:35am
Departing Tololo from Round Office Building at 12:10pm
Arriving Reception La Serena at 1:45pm

Departing La Serena from Garage at 3:15pm
Arriving Tololo at 4:50pm
Departing Tololo from Round Office Building at 6:10pm
Arriving La Serena at 7:45pm

On Saturday

Departing La Serena from Garage at 8:30am
Arriving Tololo at 10:05am
Departing Tololo from Round Office Building at 11:40am
Arriving Reception La Serena at 01:15pm

Departing La Serena from Garage at 2:15pm
Arriving Tololo at 3:50pm
Departing Tololo from Round Office Building at 5:10pm
Arriving La Serena at 6:45pm

On Sunday (Only one shuttle service)

Departing La Serena from Garage at 10:00am
Arriving Tololo at 11:35am
Departing Tololo from Round Office Building at 12:55pm
Arriving Reception La Serena at 2:30pm

Special Transport is no longer available
and use of rental cars to go up to the mountain is not allowed

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.

In order to provide a better service and because of the limited cargo/luggage space in the carry-all, the following safety measures were implemented.  This applies in particular when the carry-all is being used at its full capacity of 11 passengers:

- Only 1 piece of luggage per passenger will be transported with the passenger; the rest of the luggage will be sent to the mountain on the next carry-all.  This rule will not apply for passengers that go directly from the airport to the telescopes site or back.

- Bags with personal goods and water bottles will be transported in the cargo/luggage area of the carry-all if there is space available.  If not, these items will be transported in the next carry-all.

If you plan to travel to/from the mountains with more than one piece of luggage, we suggest that you contact Patricia Valencia (, ext. 280) or CTIO Mountain Assistants (, ext. 440), so that you can plan the delivery of the rest of your luggage.


Before departing from Tololo

If you are not stopping by the La Serena Office upon departure, please be prepared to settle your account with Alex Jeraldo or Juan Jose Paleo ( (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, etc. At this time payments in cash (Chilean pesos or U.S. dollars) can only be made in La Serena.

IMPORTANT NOTETololo Hotel checkout is at 11:30 am.  CTIO visitors must settle their bills immediately after checkout at the Round Office Building.  The carry-all departs from this building at 12:10 pm SHARP (NO DELAYS).

If you are stopping over in La Serena after your run, please settle your bill with Evelyn Araya ( at the Treasury Office (x283).

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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- 220 5200,

Ximena Herreros

Home phone: 51 2 48 00 71

Cel phone    : 9 944313091

Edificio Parque Araucano
Oficina 507

Avenida Presidente Riesco 5335
Las Condes

Phone: 011-56-223 70 10 85

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

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


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