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The secret to the perfect dark sky holiday

by Staff

Since the dawn of humankind, people have stood in the dark and looked up. The bright planets, watchful Moon and sparkling stars have given inspiration, hope, perspective and spiritual meaning to humans since we were able to comprehend them. The night sky has inspired some of our greatest works of art, music and literature, while creatures and plants have evolved in sync with the day-night cycle, responding to natural cues in the cosmos for migration, mating and pollination.

Humans also need access to natural nighttime. When darkness falls, our bodies release melatonin, a hormone responsible for drifting us off to dreamland and spending time under the stars is proven to have calming effects on our nervous systems.

But in 2023, a 12-year study published in the journal Science found that light pollution is growing at an astonishing rate of 10 per cent annually. With this rise, dark sky tourism (travelling with the express purpose of spending time in natural darkness or enjoying the starry sky) has become ever more popular. And as more than half of people worldwide live in light-polluted urban areas, it is understandable that we are seeking a deeper reconnection with the natural nighttime environment. 

Destinations that promise deep dark nights have begun to preserve these ecosystems by creating International Dark Sky Places (IDSP) – parks, reserves and sanctuaries certified by the US-based non-profit DarkSky International for their nighttime protections and non-pollutive lighting. Spending time admiring a starry sky, going on a nocturnal wildlife safari, taking an evening hike, attending a dark sky festival or visiting ancient sites aligned with the night sky – like megalithic stone circles – are all popular forms of dark sky tourism. Here’s our guide to booking the ultimate dark sky holiday and reconnecting with the cosmos.

Where to go

There are a few star-studded destinations in the world where dark skies are assured: the south-west US, Chile, New Zealand, Namibia, and Britain and Ireland. Each offers the opportunity to relax beneath the rotating heavens and contemplate the cosmos surrounded by a cosy blanket of natural darkness.

As dark sky travel is a new form of tourism, very few tour operators offer all-inclusive, package tours. This means that your best option is often a self-planned trip, focussing on local astronomy and stargazing tours upon arrival.

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The south-west US – namely the states of Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico – are rich in starry skies. The region’s dry climate and high elevation make for the perfect conditions for night-sky viewing. The first-ever IDSP – the International Dark Sky Community of Flagstaff, Arizona – was certified in 2001 and DarkSky International has its headquarters in Tucson, Arizona. Meanwhile, Utah and Colorado compete for the most IDSPs per state, with stargazing in deserts and mountain landscapes such as Arches National Park. Utah also boasts the first-ever DarkSky-certified resort, Under Canvas Lake Powell. 

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