Looking up at the night sky can be a humbling experience. The world is so much more than us and it can put things into perspective. Broaden your mind with this list of the best stargazing locations in the world.
Wiruna in New South Wales, Australia is owned by The Astronomical Society of New South Wales (ASNSW) and uses the land for accommodation and observation facilities for astronomers. Founded in 1954 as the Sydney Amateur Astronomers, it became the ASNSW in 1965 and has been bringing people together for their related interests in astronomy and related sciences ever since. Since 1993, astronomers of all abilities from all corners of the world gather together to celebrate the South Pacific Star Party each May.
The Canary Islands take the quality of their skies very seriously, so much so that they are recognised on an international level for the exceptional conditions to observe stars. The Law for Astronomical Quality, from the IAC Observatories, has protected the skies above the Canary Islands.
Considered to be one of Europe’s top destinations for year-round sun, the islands host three Starlight Reserves thanks to their exceptionally low levels of light pollution. All three of the IAC international astronomy observatories can be found on La Palma and Tenerife, where you can take a guided tour and observe the beautifully clear stars and constellations.
With staggering landscapes, rich architecture and vibrant culture, Chile holds its own. San Pedro de Atacama Celestial Explorations (or SPACE for short) in the Atacama Desert opened in September 2003. Since then, they have welcomed over 100,000 participants on their star tours. We chatted to Alain Murray from SPACE, they told us, “First things first, the southern sky is much better than the northern one. Period. Second thing, there are places where the sky is mostly clear. On average, we get about 300 clear nights in the Atacama Desert per year, sometimes more.”
With an average rainfall of just 1mm per year, there are some places in the Atacama Desert that have never experienced rain. “Chile is making a special effort to develop astrotourism,” Alain explained. “In San Pedro de Atacama, we started our agency in 2003 (I came to Chile, working at the European Southern Observatory for 3 years, then got married and stayed here). Not long after, another observatory opened and another and another and now there are several agencies offering such services each with slightly different emphasis in San Pedro de Atacama. In the region of Coquimbo/La Serena, there are now also several public observatories, as well as close to Santiago and more to the south.”
The driest desert and possibly the driest place on earth, this stretch of northern Chile makes for a perfect stargazing location with its high altitude, the driest (non-polar) air on earth and mostly unpolluted skies. Here, you can see the Magellanic Clouds and the Southern Cross, helping to make it a perfect location for astronomers. “I often compare it to surfing,” Alain told us, “and like for surfing, there are spots on earth where stargazing is at its best. For stargazing, the Atacama Desert is the top place in the world.”
Hawaii has long been the setting for luxury holidays and honeymoons. Interestingly, it is also one of the finest stargazing locations in the world. While looking above, you’ll be able to see the Milky Way, the constellations of Ursa Major and Orion and even the bands of Jupiter. Among experts, these are known as ‘celestial northern hemisphere favourites,’ along with countless numbers of glistening stars.
Whether you’re a seasoned astronomer, someone who has a keen interest in astronomy or you are just looking for something different to do on your Hawaiian cruise, there is plenty on offer. “Take a guided tour to access the summit or hire a vehicle for your own adventure,” Emma from Hawaii Tourism recommends. “Mauna Kea boasts 13 telescopes which represent 11 countries for exploring the sparkling canvas above us.”
Elsewhere, you can marvel at Hawaii’s National Parks, like Haleakala National Park. Polly Angelakis, Chief of Interpretation and Education at Haleakala National Park explained, “The volcano’s height, air quality and remote location provide excellent, clear skies for stargazing. From ancient times through today, people have used the summit of Haleakala to study and view the night sky. When visiting the park, please remember that this volcano is sacred to Native Hawaiians. Please stay on trails, leave natural and cultural resources alone. And, if you see people practising cultural traditions, please respect their space and practices.”
Widely considered one of the finest Astro-destinations on earth, the Great Lake Alqueva Dark Sky Reserve in Portugal became the first site to be given the Starlight Tourism Destination certification in the world.
Regardless of the time of year, you’re likely to bear witness to some spectacular sights as the Dark Sky Reserve offers an average of 286 clear nights of good atmospheric conditions - ideal for stargazing - annually. Located in the south of Portugal, the Dark Sky Reserve is found close to Alentejo, an area that hosts one of the most developed astrotourism industries in the northern hemisphere.