What is this astro tourism? No, it’s not about reading the horoscope before travelling. Astro tourism refers to travelling with the purpose of admiring nature’s beautiful night sky (stargazing). I was very happy to discover that astro tourism is a thing and I want to share with you my short guide to astro tourism.
Many years ago, this would not be a reason to travel, as we could admire the night sky from everywhere. But unfortunately, with the high use of electricity and pollution levels, we do need to travel to be fascinated by the beauty of the dark sky. These are the two most important factors that keep us away from the stars, and when picking a destination it should be: as far from industrial areas as possible and with as little lights as possible.
If you like to travel to more remote areas, there is no need to plan it, it just happens. I was in a little village in Cuba when they had a blackout. So there was absolutely no electricity in the whole village (which is quite far from the others). There I saw the most beautiful night sky and I could not take my eyes off it!
I believe stargazing at a dark sky should be on everybody’s bucket list. Not as much for the beauty, but for the feeling. It makes you realize or think about how small you/people are in the universe.
How does astro tourism help?
Stargazing is for free and as I was describing, you don’t really need to plan it, if you travel to very remote areas. But what astro tourism offers, it’s guidance from a specialist and amateur telescopes. I’m sure there are different levels as well, and the ones more literate in astronomy won’t be disappointed.
I believe it’s the same as with art. You can go by yourself, look at a painting and admire it for its beauty (assuming you are not an expert). But if someone comes and adds a bit of background and guides you where to look for details, then it makes more sense. And it makes a difference.
Where to go?
There are many locations across the globe and I wouldn’t even try to find them all. Here are a few ideas:
One of the best locations to see the dark sky in Europe is La Palma, the smallest island among the Canary Islands. I’ve seen astro tours offered here.
I think UK is catching up quite quickly with the trend, and this website offers stargazing experiences all across the UK. I’m also thinking to book one, and I will write about my experience in a new post.
I’ve seen a very beautiful night sky while on a night bus across Argentinian pampas. But looks like astro tourism is big in Chile. There are many locations, but one of the top destinations is San Pedro de Atacama desert.
Speaking of which, a desert is a definite bet for a dark sky, mainly because it’s not inhabited. These tours from Dubai add the cultural background and wisdom, which makes them even more special.
This old post from HuffingtonPost gives you some ideas about astro tourism in Africa.
Dark Sky Parks and the International Dark-Sky Association
IDA’s (International Dark-Sky Association) mission is to preserve and protect the nighttime environment – as stated on their official website. It started in the US and it spread to be international. A place clear for stargazing (and I’m sure many other requirements) can receive the title of Dark Sky Park. Here is a list of all Dark Sky Parks, as approved by IDA.
I think it’s great that this is getting increased attention and awareness and there is an effort to protect it. Because we don’t usually think about how the “starred” sky slowly disappeared from our lives. I remember when I was little, growing up in Romania, one of my favourite activities at night was to try and count the stars. Now I live in London, and obviously can’t do that, which is sad to me. But people who are not used to look up and see a sky full of stars don’t miss it.
I believe stargazing is a great experience, either as a practice or as a one time. It brings the magic, the hope or the hopelessness, you name it. That feeling.
PS: My friend George, blogger at rtw.to, loves stars as much as I do. The good thing is, he actually takes amazing photos (unlike me). All photos posted in this article were taken by him.