Appreciate the wonder of the night sky with these world-renowned stargazing destinations

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  • Published on September 22, 2022
  • Last Updated March 10, 2023
  • In Spotlight

The world seems a bit smaller under a blanket of stars, and these low-light destinations provide incredible views.

From the earliest memories within human history, peoples’ relationship to the stars has been one of wayfinding, storytelling, spirit and guidance. While the constellations of the night sky once held an important role in collective Black cultural memory with the familiar refrain of “follow the drinking gourd,” in the neon of city life and on well-lit suburban street corners, these twinkling beacons are largely hidden behind the overwhelming glow of artificial light. On the road away from home, heavenly bodies can be brought to life with a bit of intentional seeking. As fall approaches and nights grow longer, opportunities to reconnect with the twinkling skies increase.This list compiles some of the world’s best observation destinations, but if you can’t make it to any of these places, use the International Dark Sky listings to find a spot near you.

Kiruna, Sweden

Pairing the shimmering magic of a resplendent night sky with the crisp bite of winter’s chill, the Swedish Lapland is an ideal destination for skyward observation. Kiruna, specifically, is just 30 miles from one of the world’s largest civilian space centers, Esrange Space Center, where visitors can tour the cutting-edge facility and maybe even catch a satellite launch. Take a bus to nearby Abisko, where the best views of the Northern Lights are consistently found.

Atacama Desert, Chile

The single driest place on earth outside of its most extreme poles, the Atacama desert in Chile, with some areas receiving only millimeters of rainfall each year. Due to this phenomenon, the skies are nearly always completely cloud free, creating perfect stargazing conditions. There are numerous observatories in the area where visitors can learn more, but one that lives at the edge of the desert, Elqui Domos, offers an enviable travel opportunity as well. Guests can sleep in open-ceiling domed tents or cabins with glass roofs to more privately observe the stars during their stay.

Tenerife, Spain

With its close proximity to the equator, meteorological distance from tropical storms, and high elevation, the Canary Islands, scattered just off the Moroccan coast, offer some of the world’s best stargazing. Tenerife, in particular, has worked to pass regulations in regard to airline travel that protect the night skies from light pollution borne by overhead planes. Visitors can take a cable car to the top of the volcanic Mount Teide to better observe the best of the skies and discover the latest in space exploration if they happen to attend during dedicated learning opportunities like the Starmus Festival, which has visited the islands in the past.

True Dark Skies Trail, New Mexico

The arid weather conditions, low population density and soaring altitudes found in the state of New Mexico provide ideal stargazing conditions in many locations across the state. Visitors can connect some of the state’s best sites, from Capulin Volcano National Monument to Cosmic Campground International Dark Skies Sanctuary on a road trip trail guided by the stars.

Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve, New Zealand

The largest dark sky reserve in the entire world, this destination is highly favored by professional astronomers, who travel across oceans to reach it. Laws in the local area nearby require homes and businesses to mind their lighting, with many relying on low-sodium lamps whose orange glow is less intrusive. Bundles of stars so thick they could be taken for clouds are revealed to those who venture onto this plateau.

This story was created by Detour, a journalism brand focused on the best stories in Black travel, in partnership with McClatchy’s The Charlotte Observer and Miami Herald. Detour’s approach to travel and storytelling seeks to tell previously under-reported or ignored narratives by shifting away from the customary routes framed in Eurocentrism. The detour team is made up of an A-list of award-winning journalists, writers, historians, photographers, illustrators and filmmakers.

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