Bucket List Worthy
One of the wonderful things about travel, is that it often gives us a chance to appreciate things that we might not take the time to notice when we’re at home. Take for example the night sky, which is over our heads every evening, and we often don’t stop to look at it. But staring up into the vastness of space can be both awe inspiring, and incredibly humbling at the same time. Seeing those countless numbers of stars overhead has a way of making you feel very small, and yet still inexplicably connected to the universe that surrounds us. With that in mind, here are 5 of the very best places in the world to go stargazing.
Atacama Desert, Chile
Located in northern Chile, the Atacama Desert is legendary for its crystal clear night skies, and breathtaking views of the Milky Way. As one of the driest places on the planet, there is seldom any kind of cloud cover, and since it is located at high altitude, far from any large cities, there is no light pollution either. These conditions help to create one of the most spectacular night skis any traveler could ever hope to see. The views are so good in fact, that there are a number of observatories in the Atacama, including one located at 5058 meters (16,597 ft), that is the highest in the world.
Aoraki Mackenize International Dark Sky Reserve, New Zealand
With its pristine skies, small population centers, and amazing wilderness settings, New Zealand is a stargazer’s paradise. But the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve is something special in its on right. Located on the country’s South Island, the reserve is 4200 sq. km in size, and features virtually no light pollution whatsoever. Instead, the area is actually lit up by the stars overhead, proving just how much light the night sky can provide in the proper setting.
Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania
The Ngorongoro Crater marks the remnants of a massive volcano that collapsed millions of years ago, creating a self contained ecosystem where visitors can spot an incredible array of African wildlife. This has made it one of the most popular destinations for anyone going on safari in Tanzania, as it is easy to spot the coveted Big 5 while there. Camping on the rim of the crater brings ample chances to go stargazing too, as the skies overhead are generally clear and open. In fact, the large crater – which is 260 sq. km in size – tends to change cloud patterns, so that storms actually move around the outside of the extinct volcano. When I was there, storms raged in a 360° circle around the crater, while a million brilliant stars twinkled above. Simply magical.
Mauna Kea, Hawaii
Nearly every place in the Hawaiian Islands affords visitors a great view of the night sky, but Mauna Kea is by far the best. In fact, it is home to 13 different telescopes, all built there to take advantage of the clear view into the heavens. The 4205 meter (13,796 ft) volcanic summit actually sits above the clouds layers, making it well worth the trek to the top. Those who make the journey are able to catch a glimpse of the stars, planets, galaxies, and nebula that are spinning overhead. If the South Pacific location isn’t already beautiful enough for you, the night sky will complete the experience.
Death Valley National Park, USA
Another dry, arid location that provides visitors with a spectacular view overhead on almost every night of the year. Death Valley is very expansive, and its found far from civilization, which means there is little light pollution to be seen in any direction. The skis above the national park are dark, yet crystal clear, letting the luminescence of the stars shine through in dramatic fashion Death Valley also holds the distinction of being the hottest place on the planet, so the cool evenings also offer a much needed respite from the elements.
It’s true, that the other destinations on this list are all exotic locations, with almost the perfect settings for stargazing. But actually going out in our own backyards, and looking up at the night sky can be eye opening as well. There are some spectacular views of the stars in more places than we ever imagine, if we just take the time to look.