While it’s always nice to spend a vacation in a new and exciting city, sometimes you just can’t beat the rejuvenation that comes with getting back to basics. What better way to do that than to witness starry skies just like our ancestors would have? Of course, there are a lot of places to see the stars. So, to narrow your options down, we’ve asked men’s lifestyle and travel blogger Joe Miragliotta of JoesDaily.com to put together a list of 9 spectacular places to enjoy the night sky!
Especially if you live in a big city or otherwise densely populated area, you’re probably acutely aware of just how devastating light pollution can be when it comes to checking out a gorgeous night sky. Here in Los Angeles, we are luckier than some others, in that we can still make out a few of the brightest constellations like Orion’s Belt. Still, whenever I find myself venturing out even just a few hours, I always realize pretty quickly how much I’ve been missing—and I’m still only getting a fraction of the true picture. Turns out, more and more people seem to be feeling the stargazing FOMO, too, as astrotourism has been on the rise over the last few years. If you’ve been looking to jump on this particular “less is more” bandwagon as well, consider making your way to one of the beautifully optimal places below.
1. Elqui Valley, Chile
Let’s start with the first International Dark Sky Sanctuary, shall we? It’s been nearly four years since the International Dark-Sky Association made the designation of the Elqui Valley, and it’s not difficult to see why it was chosen. The site’s ideal elevation and low precipitation had already brought four astrological research bases to the area (if it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for me). While it’s possible to catch a starry show and those legendary Inca dark constellations on just about any night, think about making your visit this July 2nd for the total eclipse. Just make sure to start your planning as soon as possible. Most of its path falls over the ocean, making the opportunity to witness this particular event all the rarer and competition for a spot equivalently high.
2. Cherry Springs State Park, PA
When you think about where you might find one of the darkest skies in the United States, you probably don’t think of the state that also contains the Birthplace of America—at least, that was my first thought until I remembered Pennsylvania’s namesake and that it also boasts a large Amish Country. The actual location is Cherry Springs State Park and it can be found just a four and a half hours’ drive northwest of Philadelphia (or 3 hours west of Scranton, for our fellow fans of The Office). Visitors here are treated to amazing views of various constellations, asteroids and meteor showers, The Andromeda galaxy, and maybe even the northern lights.
3. Tuscany, Italy
While there are a great many more people living in Tuscany since Galileo’s work with the telescope, it seems the prolifically starry night skies that inspired him can still be clearly seen in many areas throughout this region. As with anywhere else, the farther away from a big city and densely populated area you can get, the better the show the sky will give you. Luckily, a visit to the rustic side of Tuscany is just as appealing as one to its more metropolitan places like Florence. I don’t know about you but a stay at a hotel on the edge of town like this, days filled with hiking and perusing the nearby town, and evening drives to see the stars sounds like my kind of vacation.
4. Banff, Vermillion Lakes
Oh boy, this one is super close to my heart. During my first trip to Canada, on a ride on the Rocky Mountaineer, I actually spent an amazing couple of nights in Banff. I have to admit I was already in a stupor from all of the breathtaking scenery by the time we got to the Fairmont, anyway. Once night rolled around, however, the spectacular night scenery somehow blew it all out of the water. I swear you could see every star in the sky, something I’ve never experienced before in my life. Still, I found out the view can get even better. Though it wasn’t much, there was still some light pollution where I was. The good news is that it only would have required a (very) short drive up to Vermillion lakes and the view could have been that much more perfect. For those who find themselves there in the winter, be sure to keep an eye out for the aurora borealis as well.
5. Seven Mile Beach, Tasmania
Speaking of the aurora borealis, did you know it has a sister? It’s known as the aurora australis and, as the name suggests, Australia is an ideal place to see it—southern Australia to be exact. While there are many great places Down Under to check them out, the Seven Mile Beach in the island state of Tasmania is arguably one of the best. Here, regardless of the time of year, onlookers can catch a glimpse of thousands of stars and those magical southern lights—all with the naked eye.
6. Meadview, AZ
If you’ve never had a proper visit to the American Southwest, I highly encourage you to add it to the bucket list. From unbelievable wellness resorts and unique markets to authentic dude ranch experiences and plenty of recreation for history buffs. Regardless of why you’ll choose to go, though, chances are you’ll only ever be a short drive from some of the darkest skies you’ve ever seen. Of course, if you’re venturing out for the sole purpose of seeing some stars, you’d do best to get as far away from a populous area as possible. Meadville, Arizona is a great option for those looking to combine a few of the activities mentioned above or even make it part of a longer road trip. I’d recommend staying somewhere that offers plenty of opportunities to take in the dark sky, like Grand Canyon Western Ranch: they offer everything from individual rustic cabins to overnight horseback riding and camping expeditions to take you even further away from it all.
7. Ishigaki, Japan
While Iriomote-Ishigaki National Park might not hold the Elqui Valley’s title of first Dark Sky Sanctuary in the world, it can boast being the first location in Japan to be recognized by the International Dark Sky Association. Now, I know what you’re thinking, “Isn’t Japan notorious for being one of the brightest countries on the planet?” Don’t worry, you’re not losing your mind. Though this fact does remain true, the park happens to be located on its southernmost inhabited island, quite far away from its main crop of land. To get to the park, chances are it’s going to require you at least two days’ worth of travel. That said, once you do finally find yourself here, expect to take in some incredibly breathtaking scenery—both in the light of day and dark of night.
8. Hella, Iceland
As you’re probably already aware, you could go nearly anywhere in Iceland and be all but guaranteed an obnoxiously full sky of stars. That said, some places are still going to be a cut above the rest. One such particular location happens to be the town of Hella, located about an hour and a half’s drive southeast of the capital. While the town itself is absolutely worth visiting on its own with its plethora of outdoor activities and incredible scenery, astrotourists will want to head just a little farther out to Hotel Rangá. Here, guests can take advantage of their beautifully dark skies, onsite observatories, and wakeup calls for when the northern lights decide to show. Just make sure to schedule your trip during the right time of year as the country tends to have inadequate darkness for stargazing in their short summer and a little too much precipitation through the middle of winter.
9. NamibRand Nature Reserve, Namibia
Let’s finish with what might just be the most beautiful location on this list, as well as one you can feel good about visiting: NamibRand Nature Reserve in Namibia. The reserve got its start in 1984 with the aim of preserving the unique flora, fauna, and landscapes of the area, and has since incorporated 17 former livestock farms back into a contiguous natural habitat. As maintaining skies free from artificial light is important to both local plant and animal species, keeping this particular kind of pollution out of the area is also a huge part of their conservation battle. It’s thanks to this fact that the NamibRand Nature Reserve has some of the most gorgeous night skies around. While you might be inclined to think that a visit here from humans might not be in the best interest of their goals, it’s actually limited, luxurious, and low-impact tourism that enables them to be self-sustaining. That said, a stay here is absolutely a win-win.
Joe Miragliotta of Joe’s Daily is an official Travelocity Gnational Gnomad. Gnational Gnomads is an exclusive group of high-profile travel and lifestyle experts who offer tips and inspiration on behalf of Travelocity.
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