For all the beauty and adventure of a luxury stay in a remote location, one of the greatest payoffs can come after dinner. Unleashed from the net of man-made lights that brighten our cities and suburbs, the universe unfolds above you: a zillion stars, constellations, coursing meteors and psychedelic auroras. Then you truly know why you came to this far-flung place: to witness the magic. Aching for a light show? Here are 12 hotels around the world where the nighttime viewing is at its best.
Big Sur, California
The Santa Lucia Mountains block the Big Sur coastline from the lights of Monterey and San Luis Obispo, providing plush darkness over the Pacific. At Post Ranch Inn, 39 luxurious accommodations hang from the cliffside, and astronomy-loving staff treat guests to stargazing sessions on the deck beside Sierra Mar restaurant. Viewed through the 20-inch lens of the inn’s Meade telescope, space is all the more spectacular, especially with a cocktail in hand.
In winter, the Orion Nebula, a fiery interstellar cloud, hangs off the belt of the hunter constellation. Spring brings glimpses of Mars, Saturn’s rings and the storms that rage on Jupiter. Shooting-star watchers can book their stays to coincide with meteor showers that look as if they’re raining into the ocean: the second week in August for the Perseids, mid-November for the Leonids and the middle of December for the Geminids.
Far West Texas
More than 200 miles from a city, Big Bend in the Chihuahuan Desert is one of the country’s darkest locations. Certified by the International Dark Skies Association, the national and state parks here host ranger evenings for viewing thousands of stars.
Offering 24 accommodations, some in castlelike forts, on 30,000 acres of mesas, gorges and cactus-dotted scrub, the historic Cibolo Creek Ranch has all the isolation, expanse and clear weather of its neighboring park. Astronomers from the University of Texas’ McDonald Observatory, in nearby Fort Davis, swing by to take guests on a spin through the heavens via the property’s telescope. Ranch hands can help you plan visits to the observatory, too, for solar viewings, daytime tours and nighttime star parties.
But galaxies aren’t the only night rodeo here. The area is home to the mysterious Marfa Lights. Whether inflamed methane, electrified rock, a mirage caused by variable air temperatures or mistaken car lights, these glowing orbs add spark to the evenings, and staff can tell you where to spy them.
Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada
Perhaps the Flat Earth Society locates one of the four corners of the planet on Canada’s remote Fogo Island because the night sky is so vast here that you feel as if you’re standing on the taut edge of a sheetlike world. Perched on the rocky coast, the 29-room architectural marvel that is the Fogo Island Inn welcomes guests with an itinerary designed expressly around stargazing.
The adventure includes astronomy-themed bonfire sing-alongs and guided nighttime hikes to lookouts for pristine sky views on this island in the dark North Atlantic. The inn’s handy planisphere, or star chart, will help you find Canis Major and Sirius in wintertime and the Dippers, the Hercules constellation and the Northern Cross in summer when you peer through the first-floor telescope.
With binoculars in all the glass-walled rooms, you don’t even have to leave the warmth of your woodburning stove to enjoy the night’s brilliance unfurling above passing icebergs. But anytime of year, the best place for an astral binge is in the rooftop hot tub.
Atacama Desert, Chile
At an altitude of 8,000 feet in the Andes’ western shadow, the Atacama Desert is one of the planet’s driest places. Clouds are almost nonexistent. There are also few people, and therefore few lights or radio signals, to interfere with the many professional observatories here, including the Paranal, La Silla and the ALMA (Atacama Large Millimeter Array). They are open on weekends to visitors who book in advance.
Near the town of San Pedro de Atacama, the 50-room explora Atacama resort boasts its own observatory (with a cocktail bar, no less), where staff assist with use of the 16-inch Meade telescope. Bilingual astronomy lectures are held each night after dinner to prepare you for vistas of the star cluster Omega Centauri, the Scorpio and the Southern Cross constellations, the Large and Small Magellanic Cloud galaxies and Jupiter’s four Galilean moons.
Want to know what it’s like on one of the planets visible in the Chilean sky? The hotel also offers 40 explorations to desert destinations whose names — Moon Valley, Mars Valley — bespeak a beauty so otherworldly that NASA uses them to test their Mars-bound equipment.
Yulara, Northern Territory, Australia
For tens of thousands of years, the night sky has been a navigational and calendrical aid to indigenous Australians, who are known as the world’s first astronomers. Eclipses, planets and constellations such as the Emu, a starry representation of the flightless bird, figure in the culture’s creation stories.
Learn more about aboriginal astronomy at Longitude 131° Lodge, where 16 opulent guest tents are fronted by glass walls and balconies for amazing views of Uluru, or Ayers Rock, the famed red sandstone monolith that rises from the desert floor of Australia’s Red Centre.
Here, light pollution and humidity are at a minimum, yielding crystalline views of the Southern Cross, the Pleiades and more. Al fresco dinners at the resort’s Table 131° restaurant come with a talk by an astronomer, who explains how the dark sky’s features are understood by the local Anangu culture.
Through the end of 2020, the desert floor sparkles as well, thanks to artist Bruce Munro’s “Field of Light,” an installation of 50,000 solar-powered lights swaying atop flowerlike stems, beckoning guests to roam among them.
Olare Motorogi Conservancy, Kenya
There are brilliant stars in the skies all over the desert plains of East Africa. One of the best spots to see them is the Olare Motorogi Conservancy, a 35,000-acre reserve cooperatively run by 277 Masai landowners and five tourism companies adjacent to Kenya’s Maasai Mara National Reserve. With just seven guest tents, the elegant, solar-powered Mara Plains Camp within the conservancy offers bespoke experiences in one of the most biologically rich habitats on earth.
Where cheetah, wildebeests and other big mammals roam, there are wide-open spaces and dark night skies. As there are fewer restrictions in the private reserves, a highlight of a stay here is a night safari for spying on nocturnal creatures such as aardvarks, aardwolfs, nightjars and owls, as well as mighty lions hunting in the dark. But the adventure is enhanced with vistas of Saturn’s rings, the Southern Cross and the craters of the moon through the resort’s Celestron Nexstar 8SE computerized telescope, which automatically tracks and follows stars or planets via GPS coordinates.
Following the post-dinner game drive? Guides can call ahead, and a bottle of Champagne and a refreshing bath in your copper tub will be waiting.
Kohala Coast, Hawaii
Atop a 14,000-foot extinct volcano on Hawaii’s Big Island are the Mauna Kea Observatories, 13 gargantuan telescopes whose dark, dry, windless location optimizes them for astronomical research. The loveliest stay nearby is at the historic Manua Kea Beach Hotel, a 252-room midcentury resort on a gorgeously landscaped stretch of the Kohala Coast. Concierges there work with two tour outfits, Mauna Kea Summit Adventures and Hawaii Forest & Trail, that can take you in four-wheel-drive vehicles up Mauna Kea’s slopes.
The mountain offers challenges. Precautions for altitude, sun exposure and weather are a must on the mountain. Also, it is a controversial location for the telescopes, as the area is both environmentally sensitive and sacred ground to the Hawaiian people. There have been protests against the new telescope slated for the site, and though tours are still being booked, access to Mauna Kea has been restricted during the activism.
Luckily, even at sea level and removed from the mountain, the crystal-clear Pacific air allows views six times sharper than on the mainland. Guides from Stargazing Hawaii set up high-powered Celestron 11 telescopes at adjacent sister property, the Westin Hapuna Beach Resort, and with the help of iPad photos and laser pointers, lead you millions of light years into space to the Lagoon and Swan nebulas, the Andromeda Galaxy and more. Photo buffs can take an astrophotography class, too.
Shooting stars and satellites, southern constellations and the dazzling sweep of the Milky Way enliven the sky above this 20-room resort with swooping roofs and glass walls looking out over Tasmania’s remote Great Oyster Bay. The galaxy is delicious enough. But with a clear, uninterrupted view of Antarctica from your suite, this is one of the best places in the world to catch the Aurora Australis.
The Australian winter — June through August — is the darkest and therefore the best time for viewing, but don’t worry about the cold. With a hot water bottle tucked into your blanket, and a tea or local wine in hand, you can enjoy the southern cousin to the Northern Lights from the comfort of your own deck at Saffire Freycinet.
You can also wander down the beach to snap photos of the spectacle with the magnificent granite Hazards Mountain Range in the shot. Though there’s no guarantee that the streaks of color will appear, the lodge staff keeps atop the excellent forecasts from Aurora Service.
The Northern Lights flash over Iceland from August to May, especially around the equinoxes. At this 51-room timber-frame lodge in the countryside 90 minutes from Reykjavík, they’ll wake you in the night, wrap you in blankets and sweaters, and usher you to a comfortable outdoor seat when the Aurora Borealis starts glowing.
But that’s just the beginning of the services available at this astronomically oriented hotel. Hotel Rangá own observatory boasts a retractable roof for nightly viewing through a 14-inch Celestron reflector and a TEC 160ED APO refractor, two high-quality telescopes that are ideally mounted and computerized for astrophotography buffs. Local astronomers are on hand nightly to show you Cassini’s Division, which separates the rings of Saturn; the canyons on Mars; and even Neptune and Uranus. Sometimes they roll out the big gun: an 18-inch reflector that is the largest telescope in Iceland.
In summer, when our nearest star shines late into the night, white light filters and a solar telescope allow guests to safely count the spots on the sun.
Okavango Delta, Botswana
Have your four-poster bed wheeled outside so you can sleep under the stars, or indulge in a nighttime bubble bath in the soaking tub on your deck overlooking wading hippos at Sanctuary Baines’ Camp, an ecologically friendly reserve with six gracious suites set on stilts at the edge of the Boro River just outside Botswana’s Moremi Game Reserve.
The camp provides sanctuary to rescued elephants with whom you can visit, but its location in the Okavango Delta is also home to the rest of the Big Five, plus cheetahs, giraffes, wild dogs and more than 400 species of birds. As the African night comes alive and the Milky Way unleashes its glory, camp staff can take you on night hikes and game drives to see feeding lions, civets, porcupines and other nocturnal creatures.
You can’t escape the light in summer at this resort in Finnish Lapland because the midnight sun never sets. But come late August, dark skies return, and the Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort reopens its spectacular glass-igloo accommodations for guests seeking to stargaze from bed.
The real enticement here, however, is the Aurora Borealis. From August to April — especially just before midnight and particularly in autumn — this property, located 155 miles above the Arctic Circle, is one of the best places to catch the show. Staff help active types get outdoors to check out the auroras on horseback, in a horse-drawn carriage or on a quad bike, though the lights are never guaranteed. The Finnish Meteorological Institute tracks geomagnetic activity to predict the likelihood that the sky will light up on any given night.
On a freestanding boardwalk isolated on the starkly beautiful Salar de Uyuni, the world’s largest salt flats, this ecolodge with six geodesic-dome guest rooms offers glamping at its wildest. The accommodations look and feel like a space station, albeit one steeped in luxury. Meals are by the lauded (and socially conscious) Gustu restaurant in La Paz, and site-specific sculptures are by the renowned artist Gastón Ugalde.
Besides hiking to the Tunupa volcano, visiting the traditional saltworks and exploring pre-Columbian archaeological sites, including mummy tombs, one of the most satisfying activities at Kachi Lodge is astronomy. Your bedroom’s glass wall looks out at the salt flats’ endless horizon, and in spring when they are flooded, their surface reflects the brilliance of the cosmos like a mirror. At 12,000 feet up on the Altiplano, you’re closer to the stars, and the resort’s telescope offers unparalleled views of the Milky Way.