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  • Writer's pictureAnji Connell

Astro-tourism: Exploring the Night Skies

Bushmans Kloof, The Cederberg, South Africa.

Travelling isn't just about sightseeing anymore. It's more about exciting adventures and exclusive experiences, delving into uncharted territories, and engaging in tailor-made experiences.

One of these captivating experiences is Astro-tourism — escaping the glare of city life in remote places with minimal or zero light pollution, to witness the celestial odyssey plaything out above us in all its majesty.

Prepare to be spellbound as you embark on a thrilling escapade like no other - Astro-tourism beckons, inviting you to leave the noise and glare of city life behind and immerse yourself in a world where the night sky transforms into a mesmerising spectacle of celestial wonders. Imagine being enveloped in utter darkness, the only illumination coming from a blanket of glittering stars above, painting the sky in a cosmic dance of light. Here, amidst this enchanting backdrop, ancient myths collide with cutting-edge discoveries, weaving a tapestry of mystery and intrigue that captures the essence of human curiosity. Explore constellations that have inspired legends, where stories of love, triumph, and adventure are etched amongst the twinkling lights. Feel a primal connection to the earth and sky as the beauty and vastness of the universe ignite a sense of awe and wonder within you. Let Astro-tourism be your gateway to a realm where the mystical meets the scientific, where each moment spent under the celestial canopy promises a journey of exploration, enlightenment, and pure, unadulterated magic.

Traveling to rural locations with minimal light pollution and vast open spaces offers opportunities to appreciate dark skies, witness solar eclipses, engage in stargazing, and explore research facilities and observatories. Additionally, Astro-travel allows for immersion in local cultural history and folklore associated with the stars. The appeal of undisturbed night skies and the chance to witness cosmic events within the African wilderness create lasting memories. Astro tourism has become increasingly popular globally as individuals seek to reestablish a connection with nature and explore the marvels of the night sky.

The sky holds a mystical allure that has captivated humanity for centuries. Its vast expanse, adorned with celestial bodies like stars, planets, and galaxies, has inspired wonder, awe, and contemplation. The movements of the sun, moon, and stars have guided cultures in creating calendars, marking seasons, and predicting events. The night sky, with its shimmering constellations and the elusive dance of the northern lights, has sparked myths, legends, and spiritual beliefs across civilizations. It's a canvas for storytelling, where ancient tales intertwine with scientific knowledge, igniting a sense of mystery and fascination. In the sky, we find a realm that transcends the tangible, inviting us to ponder the mysteries of the universe and our place within it.

The Aurora Borealis, Iceland

Iceland is a remarkable destination for stargazing and experiencing the Northern Lights, also known as the Aurora Borealis. With its rugged landscapes, geothermal springs, and vast open spaces, Iceland offers fantastic opportunities to witness the night sky in all its glory. Locations such as Thingvellir National Park, Thingvallavatn Lake, and the remote Westfjords are known for their dark skies, making them ideal for stargazing and Northern Lights hunting. Iceland's proximity to the Arctic Circle enhances the chances of experiencing this dazzling natural phenomenon during the winter months.

While Iceland is undoubtedly a spectacular stargazing destination, there are numerous other renowned dark sky locations across the globe that offer equally stunning celestial displays. Each of these destinations has its own unique charm and characteristics that appeal to stargazers, astrophotographers, and nature enthusiasts alike. Whether you choose to explore the volcanic landscapes of Iceland or venture to the high-altitude observatories of Mauna Kea, the world is filled with awe-inspiring places where you can connect with the wonders of the cosmos and marvel at the beauty of the night sky.

Some of the world's best dark sky destinations, known for their pristine night skies perfect for stargazing, include:

Mauna Kea, Hawaii, USA: Home to world-renowned observatories, Mauna Kea's high altitude and minimal light pollution offer exceptional stargazing conditions.

Atacama Desert, Chile: With its clear skies and high altitude, the Atacama Desert is a prime location for both amateur and professional astronomers.

Nature Reserve, Namibia: This remote location in Africa boasts some of the darkest skies on Earth, ideal for stargazing and astrophotography.

Cherry Springs State Park, Pennsylvania, USA: Designated as a Dark Sky Park, this park offers excellent conditions for observing the night sky on the East Coast of the United States.

Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve, New Zealand: Recognised as one of the best stargazing sites globally, this reserve features incredibly dark skies and stunning views of the Milky Way.

La Palma, Canary Islands, Spain: Known for its astronomical observatories and efforts to minimise light pollution, La Palma provides exceptional stargazing opportunities in the Northern Hemisphere.

Lapland, Finland: With its remote wilderness and long winter nights, Lapland offers a chance to witness mesmerising displays of the Northern Lights along with sparkling stars.

These destinations offer a unique opportunity to experience the beauty and wonder of the night sky in settings where the heavens truly come alive with celestial splendour.

Africa, with its expansive and captivating landscapes, emerges as an ideal Astrotourism destination.

The continent features notably low levels of light pollution and vast, clear skies, establishing an excellent setting for stargazing.

The Karoo

The semi-desert region of the Karoo in South Africa stands out as a haven for Astrotourism enthusiasts. The Tankwa Karoo is a fabulous place to start your stargazing journey, especially as Sutherland is on your doorstep, where the South African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) houses SALT, the largest single optic telescope in the southern hemisphere, offering unparalleled opportunities for guests to explore the mysteries of the universe.

African traditions and indigenous beliefs are rich with tales of star patterns, imbuing Astrotourism experiences with a sense of awe and cultural importance.

The African skies reveal a stunning array of cosmic phenomena, such as  meteor showers illuminating the sky with breathtaking trails of shooting stars,  the Southern Cross constellation and the Milky Way Galaxy, which sprawls across the horizon.

“At night in the Karoo is — out of this world!

Imagine seeing the Milky Way stretching overhead like millions of diamonds scattered across a vast velvet background. This amazing sky show happens because the Karoo is pretty high up, so, the air is thinner, and the cloudless skies allow a clear view of space, plus it’s remoteness means it is far from any city light pollution.

Even in Sutherland, astronomers still have to calibrate their equipment to cancel out the lights of Cape Town to accommodate the light pollution from Cape Town, 350km away.

Incredibly SALT, scientists can see deep into space and time, back to the earliest light, 13.5 billion years ago, when the first galaxies were still forming.


Astrotourism goes hand in hand with conservation efforts in Africa, where measures are implemented to protect their night skies, such as lighting regulations and establishing dark sky reserves. Astro Tourism contributes to local economies, promoting sustainable travel practices that support conservation efforts and empower local communities.

Why do it?

Gazing at the night sky isn't just about stars and planets; it's like diving into a cosmic treasure trove full of wonders waiting to be unraveled. Whether you're peering through a telescope to unlock the secrets of distant galaxies or simply lying back on a blanket, letting the twinkling constellations weave stories in your mind, studying the night sky is a magical journey that sparks curiosity and fills your soul with awe. It's a thrilling blend of scientific exploration, cultural insight, and personal enrichment, offering a gateway to a world where ancient myths mingle with cutting-edge technology. So, next time you look up at the sky, remember - you're not just staring into space; you're embarking on a cosmic adventure that can inspire, educate, and perhaps even change the way you see the world.

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