The World’s Best Stargazing
Five of our favorite spots for astrotourism, and what to know before you go.
Astrotourism beckons travelers to explore the vastness of the skies from an earthly vantage point. Pair that quest with settings as breathtaking as these five spots, and you’re in a true vacation mindset.
1. TENERIFE, CANARY ISLANDS
Blessed with good weather and a “sky law” to protect the area from light pollution, the Canary Islands, situated off southwestern Morocco, are one of the world’s hottest destinations for astrotourism. Teide National Park in Tenerife, the archipelago’s largest island, is home to an area known as a Starlight Tourist Destination — a global certification designating excellence in stargazing conditions — where visitors can observe constellations with the naked eye. For a closer glimpse, the Institute of Astrophysics operates the Teide Observatory, ideally located for studying the sun.
2. MUSCAT, OMAN
From indulgent camping experiences in the Bedouin tradition to planetariums, Oman offers several options for satisfying stargazing curiosity. PDO Planetarium — the nation’s first — draws thousands of visitors each year and organizes monthly viewing parties with astronomer Marwan Shwaiki. Beyond Muscat is an area called Jebel Shams, known as the Grand Canyon of the Middle East. Situated 3,000 meters above sea level, it is beloved by astronomers for its elevation and dark skies. Here the Oman Astronomical Society hosts stargazing parties and an annual three-day event for families that includes lectures and time in the planetarium.
Al Bustan Palace, a Ritz-Carlton Hotel, can organize an unforgettable night of “glamping” below Oman’s star-filled skies. Check with your concierge for details.
3. RANCHO MIRAGE, CALIFORNIA
Whether camping at nearby Joshua Tree National Park or gazing from the surrounding desert hills, visitors can be awed by the heavens courtesy of some of the darkest nights Southern California has to offer. “Looking out into the cosmos, I am always floored by the magnitude,” says Frank Sheckler, the recreation ambassador at The Ritz-Carlton, Rancho Mirage. Sheckler hosts the resort’s Saturday Stargazing sessions, which uncover constellations and nearby planets, including Jupiter’s bands and four of its moons.
The Ritz-Carlton, Rancho Mirage hosts complimentary Saturday Stargazing sessions every weekend, weather permitting.
4. MAUI, HAWAII
“Stars were our directional signs, traffic lights and signals,” says Clifford Naeole, cultural adviser at The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua, of Polynesian celestial navigation. Star-based navigation helped bring the first settlers across the Pacific to the Hawaiian Islands, and that history, plus Hawaii’s legendary beauty, makes stargazing here a unique experience. A nighttime walk up Mount Haleakala, Maui’s dormant volcano, reveals shooting stars and the glittering glory of the Milky Way. Armed with comfortable clothes and a star map to help identify the heavens above (available at park headquarters), visitors are in for an unforgettable night.
The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua hosts a complimentary stargazing class, including a history of Polynesian star navigation, led by celestial navigator Kala Baybayan on Thursday nights.
5. SONORAN DESERT, ARIZONA
With open spaces and telescope-ready mountains, the Sonoran Desert is one of the top U.S. stargazing destinations. One reason: The Kitt Peak National Observatory, which boasts the largest collection of optical and radio telescopes in the world. Nearby, in the foothills of the Tortolita Mountains, the desert atmosphere at Dove Mountain provides the perfect setting for Benjamin Loker of Arizona Star Tours to engage guests during his Saturday events. “We might be looking at a star cluster 8,000 light-years away,” Loker says. “When the light left this star cluster, the pyramids had not been built! That’s the kind of perspective people take away.”
The Ritz-Carlton, Dove Mountain offers a Saturday night Stargazing Experience, presented weekly from 7 to 9 p.m. at no charge to resort guests.