There are few things more spectacular to witness than a truly dark night sky. Living in a light-polluted city you might be lucky to spot a sprinkling of stars, perhaps if you live rurally you might see a few more, but have you ever experienced nighttime in a dark sky reserve - the whole of the milky way spread out before your eyes? We’ve gathered together our top six stargazing destinations, from the remote deserts of South America to the isolated national parks of Nepal, to add to your travel bucket list in 2019.
A little over 2,000 sq km in size, the NamibRand became the first African Dark Sky Reserve in 2012 when it was recognised by the International Dark-Sky Association. It’s the perfect destination for those who want to mix safari and stargazing, as the area also doubles up as a nature reserve - housing species such as zebras, giraffes, springbok, baboons and leopards. Take in the arid landscape and magnificent wildlife on an afternoon game drive, before returning to your lodge to watch the thousands of twinkling stars at night.
The Atacama Desert regularly tops lists of the world’s best stargazing destinations. Situated in northern Chile, it’s well-known for its remote location and other-wordly topography, including dusty red plateaus and towering snow-less peaks. In fact, the landscape is so unlike anywhere else on earth that NASA has been known to test some of its Mars equipment here, adding to the extraterrestrial atmosphere. At night the uninterrupted skies are awash with the spectacular colours of the milky way, from dark blues to soft pinks, greens and purples in places.
The Karoo, South Africa
The Karoo region in South Africa is home to the MeerKAT. Not the small, furry creature one initially thinks of, but instead the largest and most sensitive telescope in the entire Southern Hemisphere. This remote, desert region boasts cloud-free skies for roughly 80% of the year and due to the lack of electricity there is virtually no light pollution, making it the ideal destination for stargazers. The MeerKAT sits within the boundaries of the Tankwa Karoo National Park which is located only four hours outside of Cape Town, and is easily reached by car.
If you’re planning a trip to Argentina, be sure to pay a visit to El Leoncito National Park. Only a three hour drive north of Mendoza, the centre of Argentina’s wine production and a popular stop-over point, El Leoncito is renowned for its dark sky opportunities and is home to not one, but two superb observatories. Night visits to the Leoncito Astronomical Complex or the Félix Aguilar Observatory can be arranged, but be sure to enquire well in advance of your visit.
Sometimes referred to as the ‘Valley of the Moon’, the Wadi Rum Desert in Jordan is a vast expanse of ochre coloured sand, dotted with red rocky outcrops. Whilst you’re there immerse yourself in the local culture and spend a couple of nights in a Bedouin camp. The Bedouin people have lived around Wadi Rum for centuries, pursuing a nomadic lifestyle and crossing the desert on camels or, more recently, jeeps. Once the sun sets, gather around the campfire and watch the stars come out as you listen to the tales of the local people and drink delicious mint tea.
Sagarmatha is the home to the imposing Mount Everest - its famous snow-capped peak visible from almost all areas of the national park. Whilst tens of thousands of travellers flock here every year for the incredible trekking, the stargazing opportunities are equally impressive and often overlooked. The park was included in National Geographic’s round-up of the world’s best stargazing sites, demonstrating that Sagarmatha - which literally translates as “forehead in the sky” - is so much more than just a hiking destination.
Make it happen
If starry skies are calling you then follow the links dotted throughout this article to redirect you to one of our many sample itineraries. They can provide you with a bit of inspiration before you contact one of our many local operators, who can plan you a bespoke stargazing itinerary of a lifetime. If you would like to speak to someone in the TravelLocal office please call +44 (0)117 325 7898.