With all of the distractions going on in today’s modern world, from social media and technology to excessive crowds and noise, sometimes you just need to get away from it all. Stargazing is a fun and educational activity that costs next to nothing, can be engaged in year-round all over the world, and is a great way to get closer to nature while learning something new. From watching lava flow under the constellations in Costa Rica to a stargazing safari in South Africa, check out the 9 best places to stargaze around the world.
Best Places to Stargaze
Stargazing in the rolling hills of southern Tuscany dates all the way back to the 17th century, when astronomer Galileo Galilei first tested out his refracting telescope invention here. Centuries later, visitors can observe the same space phenomena - including the moon, sunspots, and the four moons of Jupiter – from the very same spot that Galileo did. The skies are especially starry in this part of the country due to the the low light pollution, which occurs as a result of lower population density and its distance from larger urban areas. For premium stargazing, pay a visit in October to the Arcetri Astrophysical Observatory on the outskirts of Tuscany’s capital, Florence; the astronomical observatory is located on the same hill where Galileo spent his last years in exile.
Home to surf, sun, sand - and let’s not forget stars – the Hawaiian Islands are home to high volcanic peaks and offer premier access to the Milky Way, constellations such as Orion and Ursa Major, as well as the band of Jupiter. From May to October, head over to Maui’s Haleakala National Park and join one of the ranger-led star-watching walks at Mount Haleakala, a dormant volcano that stands at an impressive 10,000 feet. Nearby islands offer other stargazing options: high above the town of Hilo on the Big Island, Mauna Kea Summit Adventures takes visitors on stargazing tours with portable telescopes, while Oahu’s Astro Tours Hawaii offers stargazing programs at a private observatory near Waikiki.
3. South Africa
In addition to being the largest game reserve in South Africa, Kruger National Park’s 7,300 square miles encompass expansive, flat savannas and rugged terrains that are kept away from sources of artificial light, which make for great binocular views of the Southern Cross, Scorpio, and the rings of Saturn. For the perfect stargazing-meets-safari experience, sign up for a guided open-air jeep tour at Singita Game Reserves, located in the far eastern section of the park. Guides trained in astronomy will teach visitors about the stars and the wild animals while they enjoy champagne and hors d’oeuvres. Tours are offered year-round, every day at dusk.
The perfect spot for lunar eclipses and meteor showers, Death Valley National Park encompasses 3.4 million acres and produces very little artificial light, making it a Gold-Certified International Dark Sky Park. The combination of clean air, an expansive horizon that stretches out seemingly forever, and a dry climate make this the perfect spot for stargazing. Temperatures tend to reach past 100 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer, so plan your trip between the months of November and April, when temperatures are in the mid 70s and the park offers night sky programs led by park rangers.
5. New Mexico
Blessed with soaring mountains and clear skies, New Mexico offers unobstructed views of constellations like Orion and Gemini, as well as the planets Venus and Mercury. There are two prime locations for stargazing in New Mexico: Chaco Culture National Historic Park and the Sacramento Mountains. Chaco is located in the San Juan Basin in the northwestern part of the state and is only accessible by dirt roads, offering solar viewing, astronomy programs and telescope tours from April to October. The Sacramento Mountains are located 130 miles northeast of El Paso in the south-central part of New Mexico, and features include an overnight guest observatory where visitors can rent high-powered binoculars and telescopes, as well as private observatory domes with state-of-the-art devices.
One of the most popular attractions in Alaska are the Northern Lights, also known as the Aurora Borealis. A beautiful combination of electric colors that move across the sky due to a giant burst of solar wind and magnetic fields that interact with elements in the earth’s atmosphere, the Northern Lights center on magnetic poles, making Alaska the best place to view this natural phenomenon. Denali National Park, located in Interior Alaska centered on North America’s highest mountain of Denali, is home to six million acres of expansive lightscape with one road. To really enjoy this sight, avoid planning your trip in the summer, when there is too much natural sunlight to see the stars. Plan your trip in the fall, winter, or early spring, and consult the Aurora forecast from the Geophysical Institute at the University of Alaska Fairbanks prior to booking your flight, as the Northern Lights occur at different times throughout the year.
Home to the world’s largest collection of optical telescopes, the Kitt Peak National Observatory is located near Tucson on top of a mountain in the Sonoran Desert. Enjoy some of the best night sky views through a 20-inch telescope, which can be accessed by registering for one of the Nightly Observing Programs for $49. For those looking to take their stargazing to the next level, they offer an overnight stargazing experience at the Observatory with a staff astronomer through their Advanced Observing Program. Due to high summer temperatures, the fall and spring months are the ideal times to visit.
No summer trip to the City of Angels is complete with a stop at the iconic Griffith Observatory, which underwent a $93 million renovation in 2006 and is located at the top of Mount Hollywood in Griffith Park. Enjoy close-up views of the Hollywood sign while scoping out the stars and planets. In addition to looking through telescopes, visitors can explore exhibits and catch an exciting live show in the state-of-the-art Samuel Oschin Planetarium. The shows are scheduled every 60 to 90 minutes, tickets range from $3 to $7, and are only available for purchase at the Observatory. Admission to the park is free.
9. Costa Rica
For an ultra-luxurious experience, take a dip while stargazing in the thermal hot springs located at the base of the Arenal Volcano’s western slope in northwestern Costa Rica. One of the world’s most active volcanos, the 5,436-foot Arenal last erupted in 1968, but lava flows in lighter amounts down the volcano on a regular basis. Costa Rica is one of the few locations above the equator where visitors can see the Magellanic Clouds – two galaxies identified by explorer Ferdinand Magellan. The best times to view them are from mid-December to mid-April during the dry season.
This article was written by Kamala Kirk.