To begin stargazing, it’s simple: all you have to do is look up. Suddenly, the Milky Way and constellations sparkling in the night sky are at your fingertips. But the feeling that overcomes you is much more complex than the beauty surrounding you. Suddenly the world is at a halt and you’re at peace. All you fears, worries and stress have disappeared for the moment, and complete relaxation sets in. There’s only word that comes close to describing it: magical. So pack your bags, escape the city lights and experience this magic. From Tenerife to Tanzania, here are our picks for the top five best stargazing destinations.
While this bustling Spanish island is widely known for its spectacular beaches and busy nightlife, Tenerife is also considered one of the best places to go stargazing in Europe. In fact, the stargazing is so spectacular that the island just hosted the third Starmus Festival, a large annual conference for stargazing enthusiasts. This scientific conference is so world- renowned that NASA and the European Space Agency decided to place their biggest and best solar observatory at Mt. Teide National Park. You can even come visit it with an appointment through Quest Travel Adventures.
In the darkness of the Atlantic Ocean, Tenerife’s Mt. Teide, Spain’s highest peak, is also one of the few places you can see constellations and different galaxies because of its elevation. With no light pollution and cities vastly spread out, everything is completely lit up and you’ll be able to see not hundreds, but thousands of stars.
But if you really want an incredibly unique experience, go up late in the afternoon to Mt. Teide National Park and go to the Parador (a hotel/ restaurant inside the Caldera) to enjoy a memorable five-star dinner from Michelin-awarded chefs. When sipping on champagne, you’ll be able to see constellations of the zodiac thousands of light-years away, like Aries, Pisces, Gemini and Cancer. This breathtaking experience is completely different than any other stargazing you’ll see in North America.
When in Tenerife:
Outside of Mt. Teide National Park, Tenerife is bursting full of excitement and festivities. Enjoy the nightlife or Carnival, the biggest fiesta bash of the year in Tenerife during February and March.
Chile may be known for being one of the driest places on earth, but it is also a destination known for great wine, great beaches and great skies. Described by many as an astronomers’ paradise, Chile is an ideal stargazing destination due to its lack of precipitation, clear skies and low-to-zero light pollution. The near-perfect visibility gives stargazers crystal-clear views of Southern Hemisphere sky legends- including the Tarantula Nebula and the Fornax Cluster of galaxies. In fact, the northern part of the country experiences more than 200 cloudless nights each year!
When you’re there, don’t forget to visit renowned astronomical observation sites such as the Paranal Observatory- home to the Very Large Telescope (the largest in the world), and the Atacama Large Millimeter Array, the world’s most powerful radio telescope.
When in Chile: Visit some of the country’s best wineries and most beautiful places in Chile, the Rapel Valley.
Don’t forget to look up while in French Polynesia. Bora Bora, Moorea and Huahine are three of the best locations to view the southern hemisphere stars. With no light pollution and perfect clarity, you can see very unique star alignments. Being in the middle of the ocean and looking at the reflection of the moonlight over the water is a unique experience you don’t want to miss out on. It’s time to get out your astrology maps and explore the night sky.
When in French Polynesia: Explore the Vaipachi Gardens. Rich in cultural heritage and abundant in natural beauty, the gardens include archaeological relics and legendary traditions.
The dark skies and dry air of Nepal make it #4 on our top stargazing list. From the foothills of the Khumbu (Mt Everest), to the Solu Regions (the foothills around Mt. Everest), the volume and clarity of stars is unbelievable. Everywhere you look bright stars fill the night-sky, and if you’re lucky enough, you’ll see shooting stars. Meteor showers even resemble a rainbow, close enough to feel like you can almost touch it.
During your stargazing time in Nepal, the Sherpas, an extremely friendly ethic group from the mountainous region will act as your tour guides, singing and carrying your heavy bags up the mountain.
While in Nepal: After you’re done climbing around in the mountains, take a trip to Chitwan National park where you can see White Rhinos and Siberian Tigers.
Nothing compares to a night under the stars, especially on top of Africa’s highest mountain, Mount Kilimanjaro. While it may be cold, it doesn’t take away from the spectacular view at its 19,314-foot peak. With a lack of light pollution and a clear shot through the clouds, the eerily clear night skies are simply dazzling. You could sit there for hours just staring at the stars and soaking up the views around you.
While in Tanzania: Not ready for your adventure to be over? Go snorkeling or scuba diving on Pemba Island.
Sergio Barros represents Tenerife Tourism in the United States ( http://www.traveltotenerife.com ) He is based in Boston.