The past few years have seen a huge rise in astro-tourism with travellers seeking out destinations where the clearest, darkest skies in the world act as a canvas for marvelling at incredible galaxies and constellations.
So, if you're longing to gaze at star strewn skies, be prepared to be completely star-struck with this choice of ten destinations in Austraila, Chile, Morocco, Sedona, New Zealand, Jordan and Spain…
1. San Pedro de Atacama, Chile
It's very fitting that one of the best places on Earth to view the stars also happens to bear an odd resemblance to the Red Planet. You can almost always count on clear skies here as some parts of the Atacama haven't seen rain in 400 years. Popular among travellers who endorsed San Pedro de Atacama for stargazing is the boutique Hotel Pascual Andino which features cosy but elegant rooms. Enjoy a soak under the clear sky in the Jacuzzi or alternatively, if you want some privacy you can admire the starry night from your own private terrace.
2. Merzouga, Morocco
The Saharan dunes of Merzouga reach some 350 metres in height and a camel ride here with the welcoming Berber population is a real once-in-a-lifetime experience. But it’s dusk when the show really begins – the stunning desert sunset is only a prelude to a night sky spectacle that will leave you star-struck at the beauty of the universe.
Kasbah Azalay Merzouga is beautiful for a stay, a short journey from the centre of Merzouga and only a quick walk away from the golden Erg Chebbi Sand Dunes. The concierge can organise camel riding and sand duning to make the most of your desert escape and when you’re not exploring the desert you can soak up the Moroccan sun relaxing by the poolside.
3. Sedona, USA
Though it can get pretty chilly out in the Arizona desert, it’s worth it to get away from all that light pollution and see the beautiful night sky revealed. In Sedona, you can discover cosmic wonders like the Andromeda galaxy but it’s best to grab a tour with a telescope so you can marvel at the sight of binary stars, the Orion nebula and a whole lot more.
Located along Oak Creek and offering beautiful views of the Red Rocks is the Amara Resort and Spa. The spa here is award winning and the hotel offers stylish and modern rooms with balconies where you can enjoy stunning desert views. Take advantage of the free morning yoga classes and enjoy sun salutations under the Arizona sun. Afterwards, you can cool off in the stunning infinity pool or enjoy a cocktail out on the sun terrace.
4. Lake Tekapo, New Zealand
Mt John Observatory ticks all the boxes – it's located in the world’s largest dark sky reserve, its home to New Zealand's largest telescope and it also has gorgeous views of the surrounding mountains. Tekapo Holiday Homes are scattered around the stunning Lake Tekapo Village and are only a short drive to Lake Pukaki. The holiday homes have great features including balconies overlooking the stunning mountains and offer cosy fireplaces where you can warm up after an evening under the stars.
5. Wadi Rum, Jordan
It might also be known as The Valley of the Moon but it’s the stars that really steal the show when night falls on the deserts of Wadi Rum. The spectacular sandstone formations are amazing but for a truly transcendent experience head out with a Bedouin guide and spend the night under a breathtaking canopy of stars.
The Kempinski Hotel Aqaba is only a short walk from Aqaba city and is perfect for those seeking tranquillity. The rooms are bright and airy and offer views overlooking the gorgeous red sea. The pool is spectacular and borders white sandy beaches where you can relax away from the world under bamboo trees. If you can tear yourself away from your comfy sunbed try out the water sports such as jet-skiing, banana boat riding, parasailing, and scuba diving.
6. Vilaflor, Spain
One of the best places in the northern hemisphere to stargaze is the Observatorio del Teide in Vilaflor, Spain. Scientists from all over the world come here to study and as a visitor you can have a free tour and add your name to the list of those who’ve seen through the mammoth telescopes scattered here.
Far from the town centre amongst pretty gardens, you will find Hotel Rural San Miguel. The hotel is made up of two 17th-century country houses and the rooms still have old century décor but with all the comforts of modern living. This is a great stay for those after rejuvenation as in this peaceful hotel you will find a sauna, hot tub and even a hot spring bath – you’ll unwind in no time.
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Australia – NSW
Australia now has its first Dark Sky Park at Warrumbungle National Park because of the exceptional quality of the park’s starry nights and the nocturnal environment.
Destination NSW Chief Executive Officer Sandra Chipchase said she was delighted the park had been recognised as it joins an elite list of only 36 others in the world.
“From the capital of astronomy at Coonabarabran to Outback star-gazing at Broken Hill, the breadth of astronomy experiences continues to grow in NSW amid a fascination and curiosity from visitors and locals alike.
7. The Bathurst Observatory Research Facility offers a sensational way to get a live view of some of the wonders of the planets and the solar system, along with special solar telescope tours to view the sun. Public tours operate most Friday and Saturday nights at 7.30pm and every night during school holiday periods
8. Star-gaze above the vines at the Mudgee Observatory. Situated a 15-minute drive west of town, the observatory has several telescopes as well as a theatre and flat-screen planetarium that runs features on the night sky and space missions
9. Located on Camp Road just behind Taronga Western Plains Zoo, Dubbo Observatory has up to five powerful telescopes to view the night sky, including a 14-inch Meade LX200gps, as well as a theatre. Solar viewing shows are available during the day, with star-gazing sessions at 7pm daily during winter and 6.15pm and 8pm during school holidays.
10. The visitors’ centre at the Parkes Observatory is open seven days a week, giving visitors the opportunity to view the iconic “Dish” firsthand and to visit a dedicated astronomy and space science exhibition. It’s been more than 45 years since Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first to set foot on the surface of the Moon
For more information on astro-related attractions and experiences in NSW click here. www.visitnsw.com