Star-Studded Travel

by Sandra Ramani

In recent years, one of the biggest trends in travel has been journeying to place for a specific astronomical event—think the Great American Solar Eclipse back in 2017, or the annual seasonal sightings of the Northern Lights. But to enjoy the beauty of what lies above, you don’t have to wait for a once-in-generation display or plan your trip around a limited window of opportunity (and then cross your fingers for good weather). There are plenty of places around the world known for their exceptional stargazing all year long.

Many have been designated as Dark Sky areas by the International Dark-Sky Association (darksky.org), an organization dedicated to spreading education about artificial light pollution and how it can disrupt wildlife, impact climate change and human health, and generally change the way we interact with the night sky. Spanning the globe, these places (which fall into such categories as Communities, Parks, Places, Sanctuaries or Reserves) made the roster based on their location, limited light pollution and commitment to protecting the natural surroundings.

To help promote their setting in a Dark Sky region—or in an isolated area that’s just generally stellar for star-sightings—a number of hotels and resorts have created ways to help their guests learn about and engage with the night sky. Here’s a look at what some properties are doing—plus a few astronomy-themed spa treatments that aim to harness the power of the stars.

Compass Rose Lodge

Utah has among the highest number of International Dark Sky-designated parks and communities—so many that its governor recently declared April the official Utah Dark Sky Month. Among the 23 such places are five national parks, 10 state parks and even two towns, so there are plenty of opportunities to experience the stars on a road trip, camping adventure or nighttime stroll. An insider’s tip: The winter months are actually some of the best for taking in the starry sky fields here, both because it gets dark earlier in the day and because the reduced moisture in the air helps make the stars more transparent to the naked eye—and easier to capture with a camera.

Located in the town of Huntsville, about 15 miles from the North Fork Park Dark Sky area, the 15-room Compass Rose Lodge takes its cues from the surrounding Ogden Valley’s agricultural heritage by offering a charming farmhouse experience. The property is also home to the Huntsville Astronomic and Lunar Observatory (HALO), which lodge guests can experience via guided tours and astronomy sessions, when you might spot everything from globular clusters to the rings of Saturn. compassroselodge.com

ADERO Scottsdale

Set high above the Sonoran Desert, this 177-room Scottsdale resort—opened in 2020—is the only Marriott Autograph Collection hotel to be set in a Dark Sky Zone. As such, the place has been designed to feature prime spots for taking in the solar system, from the in-room balconies to the central Stargazing Lawn. On select evenings, designated “Star Dudes” (aka Dark Sky Zone experts) are on hand with binoculars and telescopes for guided looks at the galaxy, from the Orion constellation to the brightly shining Sirius, or Dog Star. Guests can also request to have a telescope brought to their room, and night sky charts are available for those who want to take a self-guided “tour.” aderoscottsdale.com

Little Kulala and Kwessi Dunes

In addition to being famous for its towering, red-hued sand dunes—which visitors can hike up (and run down)—Namibia’s Sossusvlei Desert is a certified Dark Sky Reserve, thanks to its clear night skies and limited light pollution. This, along with its position, makes it an unparalleled place to spot such celestial happenings as the Milky Way, Magellanic Cloud bursts and large groupings of stars.

Located on 27,000 acres of desert reserve, Wilderness Safari’s recently redone Little Kulala lodge treats guests to guided nighttime sky “explorations” that offer a deeper understanding of just what you’re seeing up above. At bedtime, ask the staff to make up the extra bed on your suite’s roof, then put your newfound knowledge to the test as you fall asleep under a canopy of stars (wilderness-safaris.com). Over in the NamibRand Nature Reserve, Natural Selection’s Kwessi Dunes, opened in 2020, is home to 12 chalet-style rooms with a dedicated “stargazer” lounge, plus outdoor sleeping areas where you can drift off under the African sky. Guides are on hand to help guests identify the Southern Cross, Orion’s Belt and more. naturalselection.travel

Explora Atacama

With almost no light pollution, about 300 clear days a year and a setting some 7,000 feet above sea level, northern Chile’s arid Atacama Desert offers some of the best stargazing in the world.

The noted Explora Atacama lodge has taken advantage of its unique setting by setting up a mini-observatory with a large, professional-grade telescope on its property. Guests can book a post-dinner session in the observatory to hear a talk by one of the astronomers, followed by a look at the galaxy, while enjoying desserts and drinks. Longer “deep-dives” are also available, as are two-hour astrophotography sessions in the observatory and longer photos safaris out in the desert. Depending on the time of year, you’re likely to spot planets, nebula, comets, globular clusters and much more. explora.com

Shore Lodge Resort

As the home of the country’s first and only Dark Sky Reserve with Gold Tier status—a designation given to only the darkest of night skies—Idaho is a prime spot for star-chasers. About two hours away from that reserve, on the edge of one of the largest areas of protected wilderness in the continental U.S., you’ll find this mountain resort perched alongside a 5,330-acre lake.

Come in the summer to catch the annual meteor showers, which boast about 30 shooting stars each hour, or head out on a private stargazing picnic sail on the lake. In cooler months, take in the sky while snuggled under blankets on the private beach or while around a bonfire, s’mores in hand. The Lodge can also arrange for guests to journey to a private yurt up in the mountains for an even more undisturbed look at the stars. shorelodge.com

Anantara Kihavah Villas Maldives

Surrounded by nothing by the crystal-clear waters of a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, this island resort is home to SKY, the Maldives’ first and only over-water observatory. The custom-built domed structure holds a research-grade telescope that can be remote-controlled to move 360 degrees, ensuring you won’t miss a thing up above.

Guests can visit the observatory for sessions with the resident Sky Guru, Ali Shameem, who has over a decade’s experiences as a professional astronomer (and whose mentors include noted astronomers from Italy and Chile, as well as U.S. astronaut Buzz Aldrin—a Maldives regular). Because of the Maldives’ position just above the equator, the star-scape from both hemispheres can clearly be spotted from the observatory—and likely even from one of the resort’s private sandbanks. anantara.com

Mauna Kea Resort

Thanks to low light pollution, regularly clear skies and unobstructed views of the sky, the island of Hawaii is a dream for stargazers. Learn more about what lies above at the beachfront Mauna Kea Resort, which is made of the timeless Mauna Kea Beach Hotel and the nearby family-friendly Westin Hapuna Beach Resort. The hotels partner with Star Gaze Hawaii to offer guided seaside astronomy sessions for all ages, multiple times a week; the experience is open to both hotel guests and the public. The experts leading the activity will also share a bit about the history of astronomy and the mythological lore of the stars. maunakearesort.com

Under Canvas

Experience the great outdoors in comfort with a base at one of the conservation-minded Under Canvas locations, which offer both camping sites and “glamping” tented accommodations—the latter complete with en-suite bathrooms, West Elm furnishings and wood- burning stoves. To enjoy the “safari” found in the skies, book one of the Stargazer tents, which come with a sky-viewing window strategically placed above the king-sized bed. Under Canvas is located in several national parks across the country, including Yellowstone in Montana, Mount Rushmore in South Dakota and the Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee; new outposts for 2021 include Lake Power-Grand Staircase in Utah and Acadia in Maine. undercanvas.com

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