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The Top 15 Astrotourism Destinations in the World in 2020

In Featured, Space Tourism by Valerie StimacLeave a Comment

As you plan your travels in 2020, how do you decide where to go? We all know that the world is full of amazing astrotourism destinations. Narrowing them down is the hard part. To that end, we’ve tried to help by screening the top recommended travel destinations for the coming year, and identifying which are good for astrotourism – and why.

So how did we choose these locations? Well, you might not know, but Space Tourism Guide founder Valerie runs a travel site. Over on that other site, she did a big data analysis and figured out where to travel in 2020. As part of that project, she pulled out any of the destinations which she knew are also great for astrotourism. That’s what made the list!

Read on for the best astrotourism destinations in 2020. This list covers the world, from Australia to Canada to Spain, and a number of other interesting places in between!

1. Christchurch, New Zealand

Aurora in New Zealand - Pixabay
  • Best for: Stargazing, Aurora Viewing
  • Best time to visit: Spring, Autumn

Joss Hooren is a travel blogger on her site Little Green Globetrotter. She spent 18 months living in Christchurch. “The South Island is an astro-lovers paradise and, with plenty of dark skies, it is well worth the trip to this little corner of the globe to see the night sky,” she says. “Christchurch is an ideal base; a small but vibrant city with close and easy access to the great outdoors and those all important dark skies!”

“The Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve is one of only 12 such reserves in the world,” Hooren continues. “The reserve is located approximately 200kms south west of Christchurch – allow 2.5-3 hours driving.”

Finally, Hooren has advice on what to see while stargazing in the Christchurch area of New Zealand’s South Island: “Some highlights to look for include the Southern Cross, the Galactic Kiwi, an asterism created by the space between constellations, and the Matariki cluster.” You can also try to spot the aurora australis from New Zealand’s southern island; here are the best spots.

2. Greenland

Northern Lights in Greenland - Mads Pihl - Visit Greenland 5
Photo credit: Mads Pihl for Visit Greenland
  • Best for: Aurora Viewing
  • Best time to visit: Spring, Autumn

Among the aurora destinations around the world, Greenland is one of the most off-beat and more difficult to reach. That shouldn’t deter you – but it is a bit of a caveat since it means you’ll have to work a little harder and endure a bit more intense weather to see the northern lights. Add to that the fact your chances of seeing the northern lights in Greenland are great due to its geographic location on the globe, and we’ve got one of the best astrotourism destinations in the world this year on our hands.

Similar to the difficulty in reaching Greenland during the peak aurora months of September and March, it’s pretty darn hard to find experts who’ve seen the aurora in Greenland and also do travel writing! So while we don’t have any expert to quote in this section, we do have a fantastic resource on how to see the northern lights in Greenland ready for you to read.

3. Bariloche, Argentina

Solar Eclipse Graphics
  • Best for: Eclipse Chasing
  • Best time to visit: Summer (Southern Hemisphere)

Travel blogger Rebecca Arnold has traveled the world, and documents her stories on her blog, Rebecca and the World. “Bariloche is one of the most popular places to visit in Argentina. In [the southern hemisphere] summer, people flock there for hiking, water activities and relaxing in town. In winter, it’s Argentina’s – and South America’s – premier skiing and snowboarding destination,” she shares.

During the South American summer in 2020, Bariloche is also a top destination because it will be near the path of totality for the total solar eclipse on December 14th. This is ideal, as Arnold shares “Bariloche is a great place to base yourself. The city is actually in northern Patagonia, and there are plenty of outdoor activities for those who like to keep active.” Including those of us who are chasing the moon’s umbra as it races across the earth!

4. Morocco

Best Astrotourism Destination - Morocco - Gustaw Jot via Flickr
Photo credit: Gustaw Jot via Flickr
  • Best for: Stargazing
  • Best time to visit: Spring, Autumn

When it comes to astrotourism, there’s one main – and fantastic – reason to visit Morocco: epic stargazing in the Sahara. Travel blogger Aura Teslaru wrote about her own Sahara tour in Morocco, including stargazing.

“I booked a private tour from Marrakesh. The guide picked me up from my hotel and drove me to Sahara,” she shares about the experience. “We made a few stops along the way at Ouarzazate, Dades Valley, and Todgha Gorge. When we arrived at the desert I was escorted to the camp. After a yummy meal, we played some berber songs together with other tourists and then we climbed to the top of one sand dune and watched the sky.”

About the stargazing, Teslaru says, “I’ve never seen the stars shine so bright. It was one of the most memorable experiences in my life!” She ends with sage advice: “However, the cold took me by surprise. If you plan to go stargazing in the Moroccan desert, make sure to throw a few warm clothes in your luggage.”

5. Maine

Northern Lights in Acadia
  • Best for: Stargazing
  • Best time to visit: Summer

In the U.S., the four corners are a surprisingly diverse and fantastic set of astrotourism destinations. Think about it: Alaska is a prime aurora destination, California is home to spectacular national parks (like Joshua Tree and Death Valley) that are great for stargazing, Florida is the ultimate spot for rocket tourism, and… Maine! Maine is also a prime stargazing spot, though it’s often overlooked for elsewhere in the country.

I had the pleasure to tick Maine off my 50 U.S. States to-visit list in 2019, and took a detour up to one of the best places in the state for stargazing: Acadia National Park. But that’s not the only place – even the capital city of Maine is light pollution-sensitive, and chose to install dark-sky-friendly light fixtures in the urban core (source). We’ve also heard rumors that Maine is seeking its first certification for its first Dark Sky Park and that will hopefully come to pass in 2020.

While most of this list is full of far-flung and foreign getaways that require a day or more to reach, Maine is delightfully close to home and easy to access for those who don’t want to journey so far.

6. Bora Bora, French Polynesia

Best Astrotourism Destinations - Bora Bora - Chris Hoare via Flickr
Photo credit: Chris Hoare via Flickr
  • Best for: Stargazing
  • Best time to visit: Spring, Autumn

Do you really need to ask why a paradise like Bora Bora is one of the top astrotourism destinations of the year? “Stargazing is in Bora Bora is everything you expect it to be,” shares travel blogger Christian Lindgren who shares stories on his site Unusual Traveler.

“Still, you will have to get away from the main island an get out to one of the smaller Motus (small islets) which surrounds Bora Bora,” he continues. “I especially found the small atoll of Fakarava in the Tuamotu archipelago to be the perfect place to go stargazing since there’s literally no light pollution here. Fakarava is mostly famous for scuba diving, so are the stargazing here out of this world.”

And if you find yourself in Polynesia, don’t forget to learn some of the history about the Polynesian’s connection to the stars: “The local guides are very knowledgeable and will explain how the ancient Polynesian used only the stars and the ocean current to navigate their way around the Pacific Ocean. The guide will also tell old stories and legends of how the Polynesian people are connected to the stars,” Lindgren concludes.

7. Canary Islands, Spain

Best Astrotourism Destinations - Canary Islands - Doc TB via Flickr
Photo credit: Doc TB via Flickr
  • Best for: Stargazing, Observatories
  • Best time to visit: Spring, Autumn

When you consider this list of the top astrotourism destinations, do you see the pattern formed by the Canary Islands, Bora Bora (#6), Hawaii’s Big Island (#8), Tasmania (#10), Puerto Rico (#12), and Easter Island (#13). If you know your geography at all – or just catch a few words in common between each – you’ll know right away: they’re islands! And islands are great for stargazing because they’re isolated and development is limited by the geography of the island/island chain.

We’re still waiting to hear back from our travel expert on her experience stargazing in the Canary Islands, so stay tuned to learn more about how to reach the Islands and make the most of the great night skies there.

8. The Big Island, Hawaii

Stargazing in Hawaii
Photo by James at Epic Tours
  • Best for: Stargazing, Observatories
  • Best time to visit: Spring, Autumn

Similar to other islands on the list, Hawaii – especially the Big Island – is one of the top stargazing destinations because of its geography and isolation. The Big Island is also one of the top observatory sites in the world! Atop the mountain of Mauna Kea, you’ll find 13 professional observatories, working each night to document the universe from one of the clearest and highest view points on earth.

In addition to professional observation and the ability to visit some of the observatories during the day, there are a number of tour operators that offer stargazing tours on the Big Island at night. We took one such tour, and included them among our suggestions for stargazing in Hawaii.

9. Churchill, Manitoba

Northern Lights in Canada - Manitoba - Emmanuel Milou via Flickr
Photo credit: Emmanuel Milou via Flickr
  • Best for: Aurora Viewing
  • Best time to visit: Spring, Autumn, Winter

Read and imagine: “Laying on the watchtower at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge, eyes to the sky, we waited. They appeared mostly green and we witnessed a variety of shapes — ‘curtains’ as well as something that looked like a volcano shape, and another that looked like a flying saucer. There seemed to be something of an electric buzzing sound like you might hear if you passed under electric wires.”

This is how journalist Sunny Fitzgerald describes her experience seeing the northern lights for the first time in Churchill, Manitoba. It’s the aurora that help put Churchill on the list of the best astrotourism destinations this year!

It’s not easy to reach Churchill, but it’s worth it. Fitzgerald shares, “Manitoba has so much to offer so whether you go to see the aurora, experience the tundra, take a walking safari in search of polar bears and other wildlife, it’s worth the trip. And you’ll be in good company of like-minded people that enjoy spending their time standing (or laying, as the case may be!) in awe of nature.”

Learn more about the best places to see the northern lights in Canada, including Churchill.

10. Tasmania, Australia

Southern Lights in Tasmania Featured
  • Best for: Aurora Viewing
  • Best time to visit: Year-Round

You might remember that travel writer and Tasmania expert Andrew Strikis helped us put together our popular guide to seeing the southern lights in Tasmania a few years ago. So when Tasmania was highlighted as one of the top travel destinations for 2020, we new it was worth a reminder that this is one of the world’s best aurora destinations.

“Travelling to Tasmania with the sole purpose of seeing the aurora is a big risk,” Strikis admits. “However, Tasmania is an incredibly beautiful island and to only focus on the aurora would be to miss out on its pristine forests, sweeping coasts and gorgeous alpine vistas.”

“A better plan would be to plan your travels for late winter or early spring when the nights are long and the aurora is most frequent, and to allow yourself a week or two to explore the island by car on a Tasmania road trip,” Strikis advises. “When an aurora does occur, the dark skies and excellent network of roads allow aurora spotters to make a very quick escape to their favorite spot.”

11. Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia

Best Astrotourism Destinations - Salar de Uyuni - Esmée Winnubst via Flickr
Photo credit: Esmée Winnubst via Flickr
  • Best for: Stargazing
  • Best time to visit: Autumn, Winter, Spring (Southern Hemisphere)

“With its practically cloudless skies and near complete lack of light pollution, the Salar de Uyuni is an incredible place for stargazing: think the iridescent curve of the Milky Way crystal clear above the earth,” says travel writer Steph Dyson, who blogs about her adventures in South America on her site, Worldly Adventurer. “What’s more, if you’ve timed it correctly and visited on a cloudy night in rainy season, it’s hard to know where the sky ends and the earth begins because of the reflection in the seemingly endless plain of water that covers the salt flats,” she continues.

The Salar de Uyuni is one of those destinations that anyone who loves stargazing has probably seen photos of – and dreamed of visiting. But how do you maximize your trip, given how much it takes to get there? “All multi-day tours of the Salar de Uyuni involve a night stay in a local salt hotel on the outskirts of the salt flats or, if you’re feeling really adventurous, in a geodesic dome on the flats themselves,” Dyson shares.

12. Puerto Rico

Best Astrotourism Destinations - Puerto Rico - Jeff Hitchcock via Flickr
Photo credit: Jeff Hitchcock via Flickr
  • Best for: Visiting an Observatory
  • Best time to visit: Spring, Summer

While stargazing is certainly an option in Puerto Rico outside the major cities (and aurora viewing and eclipse chasing is not an option in 2020), you might wonder why Puerto Rico makes the list of top astrotourism destinations this year. There’s one word: Arecibo.

Arecibo is Puerto Rico’s most famous astrotourism destination – and you’ve probably seen it in movies like the James Bond movie GoldenEye and the sci-fi epic Contact. And, it’s open to visitors, even as repairs from Hurricane Maria continue.

Sarah Sarita Ratliff is both a travel journalist and runs tours in Puerto Rico, and she knows about how to visit Arecibo. “Arecibo is easy to get in and out of and is accessible from the south (Utuado, Ponce, etc.), the east (San Juan, Manatí, etc.) and the west (Aguadilla, Mayagüez, etc.).,” she says.

In addition to nerding out about one of the biggest radar observatories in th world, Ratliff says that Arecibo is definitely worth the trip. “Recently the observatory added a bunch of games and interactive tools,” she reveals. “There are [also] a few touristy things to do in and near Arecibo, including Camuy Cavernas, Tanama ceremonial burial grounds/ziplining, a second fort that’s the same size as El Morro in Viejo San Juan.” Together these make Puerto Rico a well-rounded destination for astrotourists and everyone else too.

13. Easter Island, Chile

Best Astrotourism Destinations - Easter Island - Erik Charlton via Flickr
Photo credit: Erik Charlton via Flickr
  • Best for: Stargazing
  • Best time to visit: Summer, Winter (Southern Hemisphere)

Like many cultures whose heritage is based on the islands they call home, the Rapa Nui people of Easter Island have a long history of relying on the night sky for navigation; this is part of why the dwarf planet Makemake was named after the Rapa Nui fertility god of the same name.

Easter Island is well worth a trip for the culture and history alone – but it’s undeniably an epic stargazing destination too and that’s why it makes our list of the best astrotourism destinations this year.

Alternative travel blogger and TV host La Carmina made a trip there and had the opportunity to see the night sky in all its glory. “Easter Island is isolated in the Pacific Ocean, and very few people live here. These conditions make stargazing particularly wonderful, as the moon and stars shine bright in the dark, clear skies,” she writes. “Easter Island also seems like an alien land, with bizarre landscapes and rows of ET-like Moai statues. This also adds to the feeling that you’re stargazing from a strange planet.”

While it takes a lot to reach Easter Island – the airline LATAM offers flights from Santiago, Chile and Tahiti, French Polynesia – La Carmina says it’s “absolutely” worth it: “I’ve star-gazed in incredible destinations worldwide — Morocco, Maui and Iceland come to mind. However, nothing compares to my experience on Easter Island. Watching the stars twinkle under the 15 giant Moai statues of Tongariki… I lost all sense of self and time. It was the closest I’d felt to being in another universe, in the presence of ancient aliens.” Yep, we’re sold.

14. Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon Star Party - Michael Quinn for NPS via Flickr
Photo credit: Michael Quinn for NPS via Flickr
  • Best for: Stargazing
  • Best time to visit: Summer

We’ve already published about how to go stargazing at the Grand Canyon, but like Tasmania, it’s worth calling out that this massive geological feature is one of the best places in the world for astrotourism. We asked STG contributor Jennifer Melroy from National Park Obsessed to share her own thoughts about what stargazing at the Grand Canyon like and why it’s special.

“Stargazing in the Grand Canyon is the ultimate contemplation spot for our place in the universe,” Melroy says. “You are standing next to one of the largest holes in the earth and looking up to one of the darkest skies. It isn’t called the 8th Wonder of the World for no reason!”

In addition to all the great advice she shared in her article about stargazing at the Grand Canyon here, she has one last suggestion on when to plan your trip in 2020: “Every June, Grand Canyon hosts a weeklong Star Party. The local astronomy clubs come out with their telescopes and teach visitors all about the stars.”

15. Cape Canaveral, Florida

Best Astrotourism Destinations - Cape Canaveral - Michael Seeley via Flickr
Photo credit: Michael Seeley via Flickr

Lest you think this whole list is just about the night sky and cool things that happen in it, the final place on our list of the best astrotourism destinations this year is all about the human journey to space (which we hope and predict will be a lot more exciting this year!).

When it comes to rocket launches and trying to see them, there’s nowhere quite Cape Canaveral, Florida. Between Kennedy and Canaveral, Florida’s Space Coast hosted 16 launches in 2019 – so if you want to plan a trip to see a launch in 2020, your odds are good. Just be sure to give yourself extra days around the launch day in case of scrubs and weather delays.

Bonus! Wadi Rum, Jordan

Jordan Trip Featured Image - Momo on Flickr
  • Best for: Stargazing
  • Best time to visit: Spring, Winter

Rounding out the list of this year’s best astrotourism destinations, we were obviously delighted to see Wadi Rum among the top places to travel in 2020. It’s one of the main destinations we are visiting on our Jordan Stars-to-Mars tour in March!

Wadi Rum is a massive desert climate with unusual rock formation and limited development. This makes it a great stargazing spot, since there’s virtually no humidity or light pollution to interfere with your view of the night sky. Read more about Wadi Rum among other Jordan stargazing spots… and add yourself to the waitlist for our next Stars-to-Mars tour.

Which of these top astrotourism destinations are on your list this year? Let us know in the comments!

About the Author
Valerie Stimac

Valerie Stimac

Valerie is the founder and editor of Space Tourism Guide. She decided to start the site after realizing how many friends and family had never seen the Milky Way, and that space tourism was going to unlock the next great travel destination: space!

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