Can you remember when was the last time the night sky took your breath away? If, like me, you live in a city with bright lights and tall buildings, then it’s probably pretty hard to see the starry skies. But the millions of stars are still there, waiting for us to be in the right place so they can dazzle us. These stargazing adventures will take you out into the wilderness where you can see a sky full of stars.
The International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) has certified more than 160 places around the world that preserve the planet’s darkest places and most star-filled skies. UNESCO also recognizes a number of certified Starlight Reserves on its list of Astronomical Heritage sites. From the Death Valley in California to Ishigaki Island in Okinawa, here are the best places to embark on stargazing adventures.
1. Death Valley National Park, California
Its name might sound ominous but Death Valley is a true treasure trove for those seeking star-filled skies. The area has near-perfect stargazing conditions, and is rated ‘Gold Tier’ by the IDA, a title earned only by the darkest and most remote locations. With rarely a cloud in the night sky, stargazing adventures here will be quite possibly the best you’ll ever experience.
2. Kerry International Dark Sky Reserve, Ireland
On the southwest area of Ireland, along the Wild Atlantic Way is the Kerry International Dark Sky Reserve. At night, this land offers a breathtaking starry night sky that is undisturbed by the villages within its parameters. Guests to this remote part of Ireland can camp or stay at a number of locally owned properties within the reserve. You can even enlist an experienced astronomer as a stargazing guide.
3. Atacama Desert, Chile
Want to see stars that not just twinkle but glow in the night sky? The high altitude and scant light pollution in the Atacama-Elqui region makes it one of the best places on earth to undertake stargazing adventures. In fact, Elqui Valley became the first-ever International Dark Sky Sanctuary in 2015! So clear is the night sky that most of the world’s most advanced telescopes are perched on the mountains here.
4. NamibRand Nature Reserve, Namibia
According to the IDA, NamibRand Nature Reserve is one of the naturally darkest yet accessible places on Earth. In the core of the reserve is the Namib Desert Environmental Education Trust (NaDEET) Centre, which runs environmental education programs for local schoolchildren. Visitors seeking a stargazing experience should check out the Wolwedans, where travelers can book a sustainable, overnight stay in the desert.
5. Mauna Kea, Hawaii
Most people may know Hawaii for its stunning beaches and less as an astronomy destination. The islands’ dormant volcano Mauna Kea is not just the highest peak in Hawaii, it also offers the best stargazing opportunities in the region. Around 85 percent of all the stars visible from Earth can be seen from here, including the Milky Way, the bands of Jupiter, the constellations of Ursa Major and Orion as well as many Southern Hemisphere stars!
6. Iriomote-Ishigaki National Park, Japan
The national park in Okinawa Prefecture is the first place in Japan to receive International Dark Sky Places accreditation. It’s location on the Yaeyama Islands is close to the Tropic of Cancer, and from it you can see 84 out of the 88 constellations recognized by the International Astronomical Union. However, viewing conditions depend on the season and weather conditions.
7. Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve, New Zealand
As one the 16 Dark Sky Reserves in the world, the sky is so clear here that millions of stars seem to appear right before your eyes. On clear nights it’s often possible to see the Aurora Australis, the Southern Cross, and the Southern Star. Check out how you can take a stargazing tour in the region!
8. Zselic National Landscape Protection Area, Hungary
The Zselic Starry Sky Park has stunning night skies, offering views of the elusive Triangulum Galaxy on clear nights. The park also has an astronomy program for visitors which includes full-dome movies at the planetarium, a meteorite collection, telescopic observation, and guided tours every night.