9 Best Stargazing Destinations in the World

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9 Best Stargazing Destinations in the World
The closest most city dwellers get to stargazing is scoping the latest celebrity gossip in the grocery store check-out line, thanks to city lights and air pollution. But there’s nothing quite like looking up into a dark, expansive sky dotted with stars, planets, and constellations. Why not work a stargazing excursion into your next vacation? In addition to the visual appeal, these spectacular stretches of unspoiled natural beauty offer visitors opportunities to learn more about the universe, support night sky conservation efforts, and reconnect with the incredible planet we all call home. From Utah to Namibia, these are the nine best places to see stars (actual stars) in the world.
Photo by Wendy/Flickr
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    Bryce Canyon National Park (Utah)
    One of many National Parks located in the Southwestern United States, Bryce Canyon is particularly noteworthy both for its surreal-looking hoodoo rock formations and specialty astronomy-focused programming. Far removed from pollution and city lights, the more than 35,000-acre park is less-visited and more remote than Zion National Park and the Grand Canyon—and, thus, better for stargazing. On Astronomy Night excursions led by the park’s highly trained Astronomy Rangers—or at the annual Astronomy Festival—visitors can check out up to 7,500 stars, see a horizon-to-horizon view of the Milky Way, and catch glimpses of both Venus and Jupiter.

    Plan Your Trip: Utah
    Photo by Wendy/Flickr
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    Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve (New Zealand)
    One of just 11 dark sky reserves in the world—and one of only two in the Southern Hemisphere—the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve was established in 2012 to recognize the Mackenzie region’s incredible stargazing opportunities. Since then, tourists and locals alike have flocked toward the reserve’s planetarium, telescope areas, and observatories. Telescopes and guided tours and viewings are offered at both the Lake Tekapo Earth & Sky and Aoraki Mt. Cook centers. Those looking for a more immersive—and luxurious—stargazing experience can book an overnight at the Ashley Mackenzie Villa and Private Spa, a two-bedroom home overlooking Lake Pukaki and Aoraki/Mount Cook; guests staying on property can view the stars through the home’s oversized windows or from the front yard.

    Plan Your Trip: New Zealand
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    La Palma and Tenerife (Canary Islands)
    Although the Canary Islands have long been recognized as one of the best destinations in the world for stargazing, this accolade was formally confirmed with the designation of three Starlight Reserves in 2007. The open night sky can be viewed well from all Canary Islands, but professional and amateur astronomers—or those visiting as part of a booming astro-tourism industry—are directed to La Palma and Tenerife. These two islands are home to three observatory areas set up by the IAC, the Tenerife-based Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias. Some of the best places to stargaze on these islands include the Garajonay Summit and San Bartolo Mountain (La Palma) and El Palmar viewpoint and Guajara Mountain (Tenerife).

    Plan Your Trip: Canary Islands
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    Sagarmatha National Park (Nepal)
    You may know this UNESCO World Heritage Site for a reason other than its stargazing; the Sagarmatha National Park is also home to the world’s highest peak, Mount Everest. But visitors don’t need to be ready to trek the slopes of this not-so-gentle giant to get a memorable experience—the park also includes a series of more accessible trails and mountain peaks as well as a lower-altitude forested zone, where slightly less adventurous travelers can view Everest from a different angle: surrounded by a broad night sky and smattering of bright stars.

    Plan Your Trip: Nepal
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    Mauna Kea (Hawaii)
    Located on the island of Hawaii, dormant volcano Mauna Kea offers both the highest peak in Hawaii as well as the best stargazing opportunities in the region. Astronomical efforts, research, and programs are concentrated at the Onizuka Center for International Astronomy Visitor Information Station, about halfway up Mauna Kea, which offers a nightly stargazing program, telescopes, and specialty tours. Although all visitors should stop at this point to ensure that they slowly acclimate to the rapid and dramatic change in elevation, some will choose to continue to the summit either with their own four-wheel drive vehicle or with a guided excursion.

    Plan Your Trip: Hawaii
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    Denali National Park Reserve (Alaska)
    Removed from both light and noise pollution, this six-million-acre preserve of land is one of the most spectacular places in the world for experiencing natural beauty—including trails, native wildlife, and the Denali mountain peak, the highest summit in North America. But Denali National Park Reserve’s unparalleled spread of unspoiled Alaskan landscape isn’t just reserved for sightseeing on the ground—visitors are also encouraged to turn their heads toward the sky, where they can view stars, planets, and even the Aurora Borealis. Those looking for optimum stargazing opportunities should visit the park during fall, winter, or spring, when the area experiences longer periods of darkness for extended hours of viewing.

    Plan Your Trip: Alaska
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    NamibRand Nature Reserve (Namibia)
    An almost 500,000-acre private reserve in southwest Namibia, the NamibRand Nature Reserve lies in what the International Dark-Sky Association calls “one of the naturally darkest (yet accessible) places on Earth”—at least partially due to the fact that the closest communities are located at least 60 miles from the reserve. The area is additionally protected by the Namib Desert Environmental Education Trust (NaDEET) Centre, which hosts sustainable communities, group trips, and community programming. Guests looking for the full NamibRand Nature Reserve experience should check out both the NaDEET Centre as well as the Wolwedans camps and lodges, where travelers can book an overnight stay in the desert.

    Plan Your Trip: Namibia
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    Kerry International Dark Sky Reserve (Ireland)
    The Kerry International Dark Sky Reserve—one of just three Gold-tier reserves in the world—occupies the southwest area of Ireland on the Iveragh Peninsula and along the Wild Atlantic Way. This land between the Kerry Mountains and Atlantic Ocean—which includes nine towns—offers a breathtaking dark sky, undisturbed by the inhabited villages within its parameters. Visiting this area to stargaze? Be sure to take the moon cycle into account and stay at one of the properties (or campgrounds!) within the Kerry IDSR. Guests looking for a more full-service experience can enlist an experienced astronomer as a Stargazing Guide.

    Plan Your Trip: Ireland
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    Atacama Desert (Chile)
    In many ways, the desert surrounding the Chilean town of San Pedro di Atacama’s low rainfall, high altitude, little light pollution, and clear skies make it the “North Star” of astro-tourism—the best of the best, at least here on Earth. Appropriately, this region is home to the to the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA), single telescope that combines data from 66 radio antennas set up in this desert area; ALMA is the largest astronomical project in operation, and offers an unprecedented level of discovery about our skies, solar system, and the universe around us. Stargazers should stay at the Atacama Lodge and book a star tour with Alain Maury, a legendary French astronomer who now conducts research and provides guided experiences in the area.

    Plan your trip: Chile
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