6 of the world’s best stargazing spots

By Shona Owen

The bright lights of the big cities may draw in the crowds, but it’s the remote wilderness locations and clear skies that make these stargazing spots utterly sublime. As our population grows, so too does the light pollution but these places, in both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres, are in prime-celestial locations to showcase some of the clearest viewpoints on Earth.

La Silla Poses for an Ultra HD Shoot

Atacama night sky (Photo: ESO/B.Tafreshi)

1. Atacama Desert, Chile

In northern Chile, the Atacama Desert has a unique set of factors – very little rain, high altitude and almost no light pollution – that makes it an unparalleled star-gazing spot. In of the driest deserts in the world you can gaze at the spectacular Southern skies, observing moon craters, the rings of Saturn, and the Fornax Cluster of galaxies before having a warming cup of cocoa or a glass of New World wine. With a booming astro-tourism scene, the focus is on appreciation of the clearest skies on Earth, so don’t be surprised if you leave wanting to become an astronomer yourself.

Wahiba Sands, Oman

Night excursions in the dunes, Oman (Photo: Desert Nights Camp)

2. Wahiba Sands, Oman

With grand dunes that rise up to 200 metres high before crashing down in a mixture of red and gold, the Wahiba Sands not only provides never-ending photographic opportunities and excellent excursions, such as quad biking, and sandboarding, but also offers an incredible star-gazing holiday. As the sun sets and the skies darken, the Milky Way can be seen stretching far across the firmament, with Cassiopeia in the east and Sagittarius in the west. About four hours’ drive from Muscat, you can stay in luxury tented camps located between two dunes and have dinner under the stars as you listen to local musicians.

Namibrand, Namibia

Deadvlei at dusk, Namib Desert (Photo: Felix Lipov / Shutterstock)

3. Namibrand Nature Reserve, Namibia

You’ll find Namibia a hauntingly beautiful country, whether travelling up the windswept Skeleton Coast, across the endless Etosha Pan, or through the shifting sands and swirling mists of Namibia’s ghost towns. Nestled in the Namib Desert, the Namibrand Nature Reserve is one of the darkest places on the planet and has been proclaimed Africa’s first International Dark Sky Reserve. You’ll find modern observatories and a team of astronomers, so don’t hesitate to ask for sightings of the Southern Cross, Orion’s Belt and galaxies 100,000 light years in diameter.

Nova Scotia, Canada

Northern Lights at night (Photo: SurangaSL/ Shutterstock)

4. Nova Scotia, Canada

This south-eastern province in Canada is a magnificent swathe of undeveloped wilderness, rich in the legends of the indigenous Mi’kmaq people. Kejimkujik National Park, a Dark Sky Preserve, is perfect for visitors, not only for gazing at the stars, but also for catching a glimpse of the iridescent Northern Lights along the horizon. Best explored by kayak at night, wind your way through the beaver-filled park waterways to one of the lake’s islands (mind the snapping turtles and porcupines) to wait for the fabled bear, hunters and robin constellations, known as the Ursa Major or Big Dipper, to shine out of the darkness.

Coonabarabran, Australia

The Milky Way (Photo: Kiyoshi Hijiki/ Shutterstock)

5. Coonabarabran, Australia

Home to the largest optical telescope in the country, Coonabarabran is the astronomy capital of Australia, boasting a trifecta of ideal stargazing conditions: pristine air, high altitude and low humidity. The new Milroy Observatory offers the largest public-access telescope in the southern hemisphere and its 40-inch device and astronomer-in-charge will help you take some beautiful photographs. If you go in October, join the StarFest, which celebrates the region’s love of all things astronomical with talks given by world famous astronomers, tours of the telescopes, family activities, and many other starry events.

Mauna Kea, Hawaii

Mauna Kea Observatory, Big Island (Photo: Karin Wassmer/ Shutterstock)

6. Mauna Kea, Hawaii

The two-hour trip to the summit of this 13,776 ft volcano is for serious sky lovers. If you don’t succumb to altitude sickness, the journey is well worth the effort when you see the breath-taking views as the sun sets. With some truly incredible Northern Hemisphere favourites on show, including the bands of Jupiter, Mauna Kea will top any list of places to go star-gazing. Spend some time in the visitor’s centre where you will have a chance to peer through the 14-inch and 16-inch telescopes, whilst being treated to free lectures by the Mauna Kea rangers.

Exsus Travel can arrange a tailor-made holiday to any of these destinations.

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