Written by The Leap on 22 / 09 / 2015
Gap Year Advice
It’s something we all enjoy…
Who doesn’t love staring up at the night sky and seeing a seemingly infinite collection of stars twinkling away? Sadly, as our population increases, so does light pollution - which clouds the atmosphere and all that lies beyond it.
Today, as few as 500 stars are visible from many urban areas.
Fortunately there are still vast swathes of wilderness that retain the natural lightscape, and these can be great places to visit as part of a gap year travel itinerary.
So if you are planning a trip to foreign shores, consider these ten stargazing locations that offer stellar views of the heavens above.
It may be more famous for its ancient bridges, but the Natural Bridges National Monument is also the first Dark Sky Park, meaning it has some of the darkest skies in the USA and is a prime spot for gazing at the wonders of the night sky.
As it’s so far from any cities, it receives no light pollution and attracts avid stargazers from all over the world.
La Fortuna is one of the few places on the planet where it’s possible to see the Magellanic Clouds, two galaxies that were identified back in the 1520s, which are best viewed during dry season in Costa Rica (December to April).
When the nearby Arenal Volcano erupted in 1968 and buried the other small villages in the area, people began flocking to La Fortuna in search of fiery night skies and colourful lava eruptions, and have been doing so ever since.
The remote town of Kiruna sits just 120 miles north of the Arctic Circle, making it a fantastic place not only to stargaze, but to see the famous Northern Lights. During the months of December and January, the town is plunged into darkness and visitors can see the mesmerizing spectacle of Aurora Borealis.
These wavy bands of light occur when particles driven from the sun by solar wind become trapped and magnetically charged in Earth’s upper atmosphere.
Galloway Forest Park is one of the darkest places in the Western World, therefore it’s a remarkable place to see the stars. Located roughly an hour away from Carlisle, the park allows guests the opportunity to sit back and soak up the breathtaking views of the start-strewn night skies.
If you come here, head to Loch Trool, the park’s most popular spot for stargazing.
Kruger is the largest game reserve in South Africa and, as well as having the chance to spot the Big 5, you’ll also be able to see the Southern Cross, Scorpio and rings of Saturn from here.
Northern Chile’s stark Atacama Desert boasts ideal stargazing conditions – high altitude, unpolluted skies and dry air – which give stargazers crystal clear views of the Tarantula Nebula and the Fornax cluster of galaxies.
The Paranal Observatory, home to the world’s largest telescope, is located here and can be explored as part of a free guided tour.
In the state of New Mexico, you’ll find Clayton Lake State Park, one of the most remote Dark Sky Parks on the planet. During the day, it looks like your typical park with its blue lakes and hiking trails, but at night, the sky comes alive, enabling you to see Venus and Mercury, as well as a number of famous constellations.
For the ultimate stargazing experience, you can rent high-powered binoculars and other visual telescopes at New Mexico Skies.
NamibRand Nature Reserve is situated in the heart of the arid Namib Desert in southern Africa, sixty miles from the nearest village, and the skies above it are closer to natural darkness than anywhere else in the world.
Visitors can camp out and observe the stars from anywhere in the park, but Sossusvlei Desert Lodge specifically caters to stargazers, who come to visit the lodge’s observatory and ask questions to its resident astronomer.
Another Dark Sky Park, the biggest in the world in fact, Aoraki Mackenzie sits beneath the almost light-pollution-free skies of the Mackenzie Basin. Big Sky Stargazing runs stargazing tours operate every night, beginning with a show at the Digital Dome Planetarium.
This is followed by a short drive to the outdoor stargazing site where you can explore different elements of the spectacular southern sky.
The skies are far from any pollution and incredibly clear in the Atlas Mountains, where the milky way lights up the landscape and enables you to see Saturn and the double star Albeiro.
I recommend staying at Kasbah Africa, which has a private roof terrace offering spectacular panoramic views – ideal for stargazing.
Have you been stargazing in any of these places? If not, which one looks best to you? I’d love to hear about your experiences! Feel free to share them in the comments box below.
And remember to download our comprehensive gap year advice guide – The Gap Adventure Blueprint – which contains several chapters on gap year destination ideas like these to help you plan your trip. Best of luck!
on 22 / 09 / 2015