Travelling is all about enjoying new experiences, discovering unfamiliar sights and learning more about the world around you. In the western world, the vast majority of people live in or near urban centres and a look into the night sky isn’t all that revealing. However, sometimes the most amazing sight you might see on your travels is a sky so clear and studded with stars that it takes your breath away.
One of the best aspects of camping alone out in the wild, many miles from civilization, is silently gazing up at the stars, deep in thoughts of the universe and how small you are in the grand scheme of things. It’s a humbling, but important experience and one that can set you on a quest of astronomical proportions.
You can enjoy the amazing night sky anywhere that is relatively far away from the light polluted cities, towns and villages we’re familiar with. However, some of the world’s best stargazing destinations offer the perfect conditions to see full constellations, cosmic dust, solar flares and even other planets.
Galloway Forest Park, Scotland
You don’t necessarily have to travel to far flung reaches of the globe to see an amazing night sky. Scotland is largely unpopulated – with large expenses of uninhabited and unlit land – and offers some of the darkest skies in Europe. Indeed, Galloway Forest Park in the west of the country is the first recognized ‘Dark Sky Park’ in the UK, despite being a mere 2 hour’s drive away from Glasgow.
It consists of 777 km2 of glens, lochs, hills and rugged forest and is a great place to set up a wild camp – which is legal in Scotland. There are a number of official camps if you prefer the creature comforts they offer, as well as several ‘Dark Sky Discovery Sites’, including the Scottish Dark Sky Observatory. Gaze into the night sky, witnessing a darkness peppered with stars and meteors – you may even catch a glimpse of the epic Northern Lights.
NamibRand Nature Reserve, Namibia
Arguably, some of the best night skies are to be found in the middle of a desert. The dry, arid climate, paired with the sheer remoteness make for the ideal conditions. The remote NamibRand Nature Reserve in the Namib Desert, Namibia is located more than 60 miles away from the closest village and is a great choice for adventurers.
Africa’s first and largest ‘Dark Sky Reserve’ boasts zero light pollution and some of the darkest skies on Earth. Enjoy the sand dunes and mountains by day and camp out under a canopy of stars and swirling galaxies at night. A wealth of celestial wonders are visible, including the Magellanic Clouds.
Easter Island, Chile
Easter Island, off the coast of Chile, is synonymous with mystery and an ‘otherworldly’ atmosphere. This ancient, craggy island is home to the famous Moai – the 887 monumental statues that peer out of the ground. While there’s lots to see and do during the day, the magic of the island only truly emerges with nightfall.
As one of the most remote islands in the world, the sky comes alive with the light of a million stars. Admire the Milky Way in all its splendour from one of the many ancient observatory sites. You can even take a stargazing tour, where a local guide will point out the various constellations and clusters that were vital to the ancient Polynesian voyagers.
The Atacama Desert, Chile
Stretching for over 600 miles across northern Chile, the Atacama Desert is regarded as one of the best stargazing destinations in the world and boasts optimum conditions. With an entirely unpolluted sky, the driest non-polar air on Earth and a high altitude, it couldn’t be more perfect. The area is scattered with observatories, such as the renowned ALMA observatory – home to the most powerful, deep space radio telescope on Earth.
There are numerous lodges, hotels and campsites across the desert, many offering stargazing tours and experiences.
Cherry Springs State Park, Pennsylvania
This 82-acre park is easily accessible and offers pitch black skies streaked with the stars of the Milky Way. The starlight can be so bright that it casts shadows! Travellers who scale the 700 m high mountain are rewarded with stunning panoramas, free from light pollution, offering glimpses into the very nucleus of the Milky Way.
Visit in August to catch the stunning Perseids Meteor Shower. Travel later in the year and if you’re really lucky, you may even see the Northern Lights!
Aoraki Mackenzie, New Zealand
Ringed by mountains and lakes, the world’s largest Dark Sky Reserve can be found on a high plateau on New Zealand’s South Island. Beautiful by day, stunning by night, the skies offer unique opportunities to scour the surface of the moon, take in the Magellanic Clouds and be dazzled by the light of a million distant stars.
Many tour operators operate all-inclusive stargazing tours, complete with camping, hot springs and mountain trekking.
The Canary Islands, Spain
While Tenerife and La Palma are often associated with beach holidays and nightlife, there is a far more beautiful side to life on the Canary Islands. The night skies are actually protected by law, preventing aircraft from interfering with stargazing! Close to the Equator, with high altitude viewpoints and a dry climate, the conditions are perfect to see a variety of stars in both the northern and southern hemispheres.
The Teide National Park is one of the designated Dark Sky Destinations, with a cable car and its own observatory and restaurant. Other notable viewpoints include the Garajonay Summit and the Guajara Mountain.
Mauna Kea, Hawaii
Situated atop a 2,800-metre-high mountain, the Mauna Kea observatory is one of the best stargazing destinations in the world. The renowned optic telescope situated here has been responsible for several ground breaking astronomical discoveries, cementing Hawaii’s position as one of the top destinations for stargazers.
Be sure to acclimatize to the altitude before heading to the peak and enjoy the visitor centre lower down. Numerous tour operators offer guided tours of the facilities and there are many stunning places to stay. Enjoy a sky so bright and so close, it seems as if you could reach up and pluck the stars from the sky! Why not stay up all night and catch a spectacular sunrise as well?