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Where the Stars Are Bright

Inspired by this week's Perseid meteor shower? Check out the best travel destinations to view celestial bodies.

With the recent opening of the largest telescopic astronomy project in the world—Chile’s Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array, or ALMA—astro-tourism has gone from niche to hotter-than-hot. And as the Perseid meteor shower peaks this week, national parks, hotels, and other travel destinations are offering curated astronomy experiences for star geeks and novices alike.

 

The best part? You don’t have to travel to the ends of the Earth to get awed by the night’s sky.

 

Atacama Desert, Chile

One of the driest places on earth, northern Chile’s stark Atacama Desert has ideal conditions for stargazing: high altitude, few clouds, and virtually no light pollution.  

What you’ll see: Near-perfect visibility gives you crystal-clear views of the Milky Way, Saturn and Jupiter. All the big players in the Southern Hemisphere, such as the Tarantula Nebula and the Fornax Cluster of galaxies can be observed.

Daytime playtime: Sandboard down a towering dune, ride on horseback across a massive salt flat, watch geysers at dawn or trek through wind-carved rock formations.
Where to stay: Relax at the Alto Atacama​ Desert Lodge​, ​​one of the most sustainable ​properties in South America ​with an outdoor observatory​.

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Mauna Kea, Hawaii

High above the town of Hilo on the Big Island is one of the most renowned observatories in the world, perched atop a 13,796-foot dormant volcano. It’s open to both professionals and amateur astro-enthusiasts alike. 

What you’ll see: Spot Northern Hemisphere classics with a stunning clarity, including Orion, the bands of Jupiter, Ursa Major and the Milky Way.

Daytime playtime: Hit the white sand crescent beach of Kauna‘oa for snorkeling, SUP or scuba diving. The truly intrepid may hike to the volcano’s summit. If you can outsmart the frigid temps and dizzying altitude, you’ll be rewarded with a killer view from the top of Hawaii’s tallest mountain.

Where to stay: Nearby Mauna Kea Beach Hotel is set on sprawling, palm-tree covered grounds.
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NamibRand International Dark Sky Reserve

This section of southern Africa is among the most sparsely populated countries on Earth. (And "perhaps the darkest location IDA has ever designated," according to the International Dark Sky Association.) Overnight guests, including local school children, can sleep out under the stars at an education center in the park.

What you’ll see: The skies above the reserve's 770 square miles of land are the closest you’ll ever get to “natural” darkness. The Milky Way blazes bright above your head. With a telescope, you might even see storms on Jupiter, a shooting star or the Southern Cross.

Daytime activities: Safari across the sun-baked terrain at sunrise or climb to the upper ridge of Big Daddy Dune, one of the highest in this area.

Where to stay: Staff at Sossusvlei Lodge will introduce you to all the major constellations and planets via telescope. 

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Lake Powell, Utah

The combination of a thin atmosphere and lack of artificial light for miles makes for an incredibly clear and inky-black sky above the Natural Bridges National Monument. In 2006, the International Dark-Sky Association named it the world’s first International Dark Sky Park.

What you’ll see: The colorful Milky Way through the “window” of the massive Owachomo Bridge.  

Daytime playtime: The 186-mile long lake offers sandy beaches, refreshingly cool water, and Instagram-worthy red-rock vistas. Dive in for boating, waterskiing, kayaking and fishing. Head to Rainbow Bridge National Monument, a natural sandstone bridge to explore its canyons and sand dunes.

Where to stay: Check into one of Amangiri Resort’s suites with Sky Terraces—three protecting walls with the open sky above and a pool below.

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Galloway Forest Park, Scotland

Glimpse more than 7,000 stars and planets (sans telescope) in Galloway Forest Park, the United Kingdom’s first dark sky destination.

What you’ll see: Head to Clatteringshaws, overlooking lochs and rolling hills. Or go to the Scottish Dark Sky Observatory for evening viewings. You’ll see the Milky Way and thousands of stars with the naked eye.

Daytime playtime: Take to the Raiders' Road Forest Drive and follow the winding River Dee; picnic beside the Otter Pool and watch out for wildlife.

Where to stay: Cally Palace Hotel is just outside the pretty village of Gatehouse of Fleet on the Solway coast, set in over 150 acres of grounds which used to be a 18th century country mansion.

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