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Nasa is discovering new planets, planning permission has been granted for a hotel on the moon and billionaires are shooting for the stars to send the first tourists into space – this is the Space Race 2.0. But as cities expand, the primitive act of sitting outside counting stars is becoming as rare as meteor showers. As our skies become more polluted, astrotourism is soaring. We’re heading to far-flung islands, to the tops of mountains and into the desert to gaze into infinity and beyond.
Night owls, astral aficionados and wannabe astronauts, these are the dark-sky destinations we’re getting starry-eyed over.
The Top 10 Spots for Stargazing Around the Globe
WHY: Stargazing is such serious business here that flight paths are adjusted in order to protect viewing conditions (and that’s probably the reason your flight was delayed). To feel like you can reach for the stars (thanks, S Club 7) take the cable car to the top of volcanic Mount Teide – it’s the highest point on the Atlantic Ocean and nearly always blanketed with stars. STAY: Royal Hideaway Corales Suites
Stewart Island, New Zealand
WHY: Every man and his Instagram grid has seen the Northern Lights but few have witnessed the Aurora Australis, the South Pole’s show-stopping celestial show. Remote, rustic and rid of any light pollution, the whole of Stewart Island makes for a prime viewing platform. STAY: Anchorstone
Sagarmatha National Park, Nepal
WHY: Strewn with snow-capped peaks and the world’s most famous mountain, Sagarmatha means “forehead in the sky” in Nepali. As its moniker suggests, you’ll be able to see a power shower of constellations crowning Everest’s highest summit – even without embarking on a gruelling trek. STAY: Hotel Summit 4410m
WHY: With a film reel of cameos under its (Orion’s) belt, astrotourism in Wadi Rum is rocketing. Most will visit the lunar landscapes on a day trip from Jordan, but bed down in one of the Bedouin camps to truly be blown away by its beauty. STAY: Wadi Rum Golden Sands Camp
Iriomote-Ishigaki National Park, Japan
WHY: More akin to Thailand’s blonde-sand shores than Tokyo’s crowded, tech-obsessed metropolis, the sparsely populated Ryukyu Islands are Japan’s version of paradise. With no closing hours and no entries free, slip into the subtropical forest – Japan’s first dark sky reserve – for undisturbed star-spotting opportunities. STAY: Sea Side House Hinano
WHY: At 3100 Kulmhotel Gornergrat – the highest hotel in the Swiss Alps – in-room views across the Matterhorn are almost as gorgeous as those from the in-house observatory. Wannabe astronomers will want to visit during Space Trip (12-17 October) a week dedicated to the skies. TO STAY: 3100 Kulmhotel Gornergrat
Pitcairn Islands, South Pacific
WHY: Pretty impossible to spot on a map, the Pitcairn Islands – found floating in the deep South Pacific between New Zealand and Peru – are the first island group to be awarded Dark Sky Sanctuary status. This is top-tier stargazing territory, helped by a strict, lights-off policy from 10.30PM-6AM. TO STAY: Book a homestay through the Pitcairn tourist board
Cambrian Mountains, Wales
WHY: Don’t worry if the only Milky Way you can locate is the one at the bottom of your snack cupboard, Wales’s 50-mile astro-trail gives you all the tools and tips you need to scope out the North Star and Great Plough that shine above the Cambrian Mountains (just make sure bring your binoculars). If clouds start to form, hunker down in one of the local pubs. There’s plenty plotted on route. TO STAY: The Royston
Borrego Springs, California
WHY: You’ll find a different kind of A-list star here. Scoot along from Palm Springs to a dark sky community that’s said to possess a powerful cosmic energy. Drive out to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park to watch the sunrise over the otherworldly terrain – it’s probably as close as we’ll ever come to visiting Mars. STAY: Borrego Valley Inn
La Fortuna, Costa Rica
WHY: Sure, Chile’s Atacama Desert is South America’s answer to Disneyland, but more visitors means more light pollution and ultimately an interruption in viewing conditions. Instead, travel to the small village of La Fortuna, buried deep in the Costa Rican rainforest. It’s one of the few places you can see the Magellanic Clouds, two dwarf galaxies that merge into one another. STAY: Nayara Springs
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