Traveling with a purpose is a pretty efficient means for making your trip memorable and fulfilling. And with the last two pandemic-fueled years causing a spike in outdoor adventure, it’s only natural that a holiday centered around something like stargazing has become increasingly more common. “The AAVSO has certainly seen an increase in interest surrounding stargazing,” Staff Astronomer Bert Pablo tells TZR. The American Association of Variable Stars Observers is an international non-profit with a mission to encourage scientific discovery through amateur astronomy (or what they refer to as variable star astronomy). “The 2020 shutdown made us all get creative and think about ways to stay entertained and pick up new and ‘COVID-safe’ activities such as stargazing.”
Naturally, a destination that lends itself to starry night skies will also be somewhere beautiful, making the decision to find these sorts of places all the more strong. A few things to consider: “If you can, the AAVSO recommends observing at national parks that are certified as dark skies parks. The National Park Service has a list of 27 national parks recognized by the International Dark Sky association for their dark night skies,” he says. If you're not in a dark sky area, all you need is a pair of binoculars or a small telescope. “The AAVSO recommends selecting a location where you can see the sky (dense trees will not help) and that’s far away from light pollution. Also, stargazing is more fun if the moon is not full, so it is recommended to pick days close to the new moon (the ‘invisible’ moon).”
Aside from the fact that a celestial-focused trip will result in a relaxing and awe-inducing experience, it also might even help out scientists (how often does that privilege come along?). “Astronomers rely on citizen scientists to gather variable star data because professional astronomers need data from different places on earth…to get the full picture of what's going on with these stars,” Pablo explains. “It's really difficult for an astronomer to be able to gather all the data they need for their work by themselves and information sharing is huge.”
Ahead, locations around the globe from the deserts of Africa to the islands of Hawaii that not only make for excellent travel destinations but also offer the opportunity to bask in the arresting night sky.
Visitors come to Iceland for the Northern Lights, yes, but an unspoiled night sky is an added benefit to making the journey to this ethereal part of the planet. At Hotel Rangá (where there are Northern Lights wake up calls!), astronomy lovers can visit the onsite state-of-the-art observatory where experts guide guests through constellations using high-spec telescopes that gaze through a roll-off roof.
Experience the twinkling night sky from a luxury train car with the Royal Scotsman, A Belmond Train. Scotland’s only luxury sleeper train offers bespoke excursions that escorts guests into the wilds of Scotland, including a stargazing journey in the Cairngorms of the Scottish Highlands — one of the darkest skies in Europe. Explore the area with Belmond’s certified astrologer Steve Owens and get acquainted with the constellations while nibbling on a late-night picnic.
Utah has long been a top U.S. destination for stargazing and Yonder Escalante, a 20-acre desert oasis in the southern part of the state, offers a uniquely immersive way to experience the night sky. 10 vintage renovated airstreams, 22 custom-designed cabins, and 67 RV sites comprise the lodging and amenities like an open-air lodge with a telescope, outdoor showers, and floor-to ceiling glass walls punctuate the vast views of the starry skies.
Due to its proximity to the equator, Costa Rica is one of the world’s leading destinations for stargazing. Take in views of both northern and southern constellations at Secrets Papagayo Costa Rica. The hotel property sits on a black volcanic sand beach and features 202 rooms and suites; the presidential suite lending unobstructed sky-views and a private plunge pool. If you’re seeking something more rustic, head to Selina La Fortuna, a glamping site located near the Arenal Volcano. Here, stargazers can spot the rare Magellanic Clouds, which are two dwarf galaxies first discovered by explorer Ferdinand Magellan.
Lounge on a private patio deck or in an outdoor soaking tub at one of the Sky View Cabins at Castle Hot Springs. The Arizona luxury oasis offers guests views of the surrounding Sonoran desert and each cabin comes equipped with a wood deck and telescope. At Miraval Arizona, guests can book Full and New Moon programming like celestial yoga as well as attend a Fireside Astrology Circle with the resort’s resident astrologist. Scottsdale is another city in Arizona that’s renowned for its clear skies and stargazing. ADERO Scottsdale is located in a dark sky community and leans into the theme with offerings like guided stargazing tours, stargazing suites, in-room telescopes and sky maps, as well as a stargazing lawn. Gurney’s Sanctuary Camelback Mountain is another Scottsdale favorite and curates stargazing sessions with local astronomer Aaron Boyd of Sky Safari. There’s also Arizona Biltmore, a Waldorf Astoria Resort in Phoenix that takes guests on a journey through the solar system using state-of-the-art astrophotography equipment to look at things like lunar mountains, highlands, deep canyons, and ancient craters. And lastly, don’t forget about Sedona, another dark sky community that is home to L’Auberge de Sedona. The luxury property is surrounded by picturesque red rocks and offers stargazing exclusively to guests.
Chile’s Atacama Desert has an arid atmosphere, making it ideal for clear-sky stargazing. At the open-air observation deck at Nayara Alto Atacama, hotel guests can search the night sky for constellations like the Yacana Llama that runs along the Great River (Milky Way) and the Chacana Cross (Inca Cross), which points to the south. The property has been recognized with the stamp “S” of Sustainable Tourism, which guarantees they follow global criteria for sustainable tourism as outlined by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) and the World Tourism Organization (OMT).
Napa & Sonoma
Head to California wine country where in both Napa Valley and Sonoma County you can discover deeply relaxing stargazing experiences. At Carneros Resort & Spa, guest rooms offer unobstructed views of the night sky that can be enjoyed with the resort’s telescope. Or, take a dip in the open-air floating meditation called Aqua Vibrations where you’ll sit in a mesh chair, partially submerged in the geothermal mineral pool (96 to 98 degrees), all whilst gazing at the stars and moon. Over at Montage Healdsburg, 258 acres of rolling vineyards offers pockets of unimpeded light and the property recently launched a luxury program titled Sky’s The Limit. The $95,000 package includes Private Jet Edge roundtrip flights from anywhere in the U.S., two nights in the resort’s three-bedroom guest house, private dinner on the terrace overlooking the Mayacamas mountain range, a private tour of the Robert Ferguson Observatory, and a two-hour photography session with astrophotographer Rachid Dahnoun to create a limited-edition night sky image to take home.
Through Hawaiian Star Stories at the Four Seasons Resort Maui, learn about the centuries-old way finding methods of navigator Kala Babayan Tanaka’s ancestors (pictured above). She has led expeditions as far as from Maui to Tahiti with just the stars, wind, and currents as her guides. The experience is complimentary to guests of the resort and will be available weekly from March 18 to April 15.
Built into the side of a cliff towering above the twin Pitons and Caribbean Sea, St. Lucia’s Jade Mountain resort is best described as otherworldly. Guest rooms (referred to onsite as ‘sanctuaries’) are accessible only by individual bridges and have celestial monikers like Star, Sun, Moon, and Galaxy. Catch glimpses of shooting stars and constellations while taking a dip in the Galaxy Sanctuary’s picturesque plunge pool.
Africa’s Namib Desert has existed for at least 55 million years and is considered the world’s oldest. Adventure to its heart for a stargazing trip of a lifetime. Wilderness Safaris Little Kulala is located in the Namib Desert along the dry Auab riverbed and is entirely solar-powered, including the 11 climate-controlled suites. After a day of activities like nature drives, hot-air balloon rides, and wildlife spotting, guests can enjoy supper under a blanket of stars on the suite’s rooftop and stargaze in one of the darkest places on earth. Also not to be missed: andBeyond Sossusvlei Desert Lodge in Namibia. Each suite is designed with a skylight above the bed for late night stargazing. Also, every evening guests can meet the resident astronomer in the on-site observatory — complete with a Meade LX200R 12-inch telescope — to view constellations and planets scattered across the inky black night sky. The lodge benefits from its location as it borders an International Dark Sky Reserve, lending the opportunity to observe the southern hemisphere stars from one of the darkest and most protected skies in the world.
If you have a proclivity for outdoor bathing, head for Asan Kotonami Resort in the Kagawa Prefecture of Japan. This mountain retreat allows stargazers to spot constellations like the Milky Way from the rooftop Stargazing Terrace. Afterward, head for the traditional ryokan’s private open-air bathrooms, which come with a terrace and onsen that encourage taking in the star-filled sky and lush surrounding forestry while relaxing with a warm soak.
Ride camels through the Sahara and stargaze with an expert astrologer on a 13-day Moroccan adventure with TRIPS by Culture Trip. Led by local celebrity astrologer Astro Hamid, adventurers will learn about the desert’s night sky and gaze at clear constellations (a normal occurrence in the region). You’ll also have the chance to discover Casablanca alongside a local architect, hike the rugged Rim Mountains, explore the historic centers of Fez and Marrakech, and dine Berber-style under the stars in a desert oasis — amongst several other itinerary highlights.
Positioned just minutes away from Grand Teton National Park and with views of Snow King and Jackson Valley Mountains, Hotel Jackson in Jackson Hole, Wyoming is a nature-lover’s paradise. It also happens to be the perfect destination for stargazers thanks to their partnership with Wyoming Stargazing. The property’s Stargazing Experience includes a private shuttle at sunset from Hotel Jackson to Grand Teton National Park, camp chairs, blankets, and personal stargazing equipment. Explore celestial sightings at the base of the breathtaking Teton Range before making your way back to the LEEDS built hotel.
Another destination that benefits from its proximity to the equator, Baros Maldives is located on its own private island and guests can book villas either on the beach or overwater. Once the sun sets, lay down on your private deck and observe the Milk Way, shooting stars, and bask in the magnificence of seeing both hemisphere’s stars.
Cape Lookout National Seashore was recently certified as an international dark sky park and is the first Atlantic coastal dark sky place in the National Park Service to receive this certification — reason enough to make your way to North Carolina’s gorgeous crystal coast. This 56-mile strand of silken beaches is the ideal backdrop for witnessing the beautiful night skies and the area offers several astronomy-based experiences for park visitors. If you head inland to North Carolina’s Jackson County, you’ll find more pollution-free skies in this remote destination. Overlooks, hikes, and camping spots all lend unique opportunities to take in the stars; and complete your trip with a night or two at newly-renovated Hotel Cashiers.
British Virgin Islands
Escape to the British Virgin Islands for your celestial excursion — more specifically, to Rosewood Little Dix Bay. This iconic resort is regarded for its untamed beauty and secluded environment, but it also happens to be an ideal location for stargazing. Book an evening spa astronomy experience that entails a couples massage under the stars on their outdoor terrace followed by a guided meditation and stargazing time with a map of the night sky and constellations.
Take a cue from nature lovers and astrologers alike and book a trip with AvantStay — a short-term rental brand with over 1,000 homes across the country that organize unique experiences for travelers with their concierge service. One such experience is in Joshua Tree, California (a favored destination for stargazing) where you can have a personalized backyard evening complete with all the complements for a magical night under the stars.