Visit a Starlight Reserve in the Canary Islands and Go on Safari through Galaxies! Joseph Decibus May 26, 2016 Adventure Travel, Eco Travel For a heavenly island vacation where the heavens themselves can be a big part of your fun and adventure, consider a trip to the Canary Islands. Due to their charmed location, the Canaries offer a great beach vacation plus – and it’s a terrific plus – amazing stargazing! We’ll tell you why the Canaries’ location is so special, and then we’ll highlight some of the best spots there to see the stars, leaving a review of the beaches for another time. The Perfect Location for Fun in the Sun and the Night Sky Belched from the fiery bellies of undersea volcanoes in the Atlantic Ocean a long time ago, the seven Canary Islands form an archipelago just off the southern coast of Morocco. An autonomous community of Spain, they were created in an idyllic spot in the Gulf Stream where they, and all who visit them, are blessed with about 300 days of sunshine per year, each day nicely cooled to an average temperature of 72-76° F by the Trade Winds. So no matter when you go, you can bank on fine beach days. What’s not as well known about the Canaries, which were called the “Fortunate Isles” in ancient times, is that their remote location and a mix of other factors, which we’ll explain, make them some of the darkest islands in the world at night, providing you with the perfect venue for exploring the night sky. The stargazing experience here includes both the Northern and Southern Skies, and is like a safari of sorts where you get a chance to see so many celestial bodies that would be hard to see elsewhere herded into the night sky. Watching the night sky here is mind expanding, spiritually exhilarating, and humbling all at once. The astonishing number of stars that envelop you, reign over you, makes you feel both connected to the Universe and alone in it. What a cosmic irony that such islands born from the depths of sea volcanoes should become some of the best and most beautiful for viewing the very heights of the heavens! Milky Way Stars above Desert Sand Dunes, Maspalomas in Gran Canaria / Shutterstock Sunbathe by Day, Stargaze by Night For your heavenly island vacation then, sunbathing and stargazing go hand in hand in the Canaries as the brightest beach days beautifully become the darkest starlight reserve nights. So you can easily worship one great star, the Sun, all day and then worship the many other stars of the Milky Way Galaxy all night long. The night sky over the Canaries, particularly over the starlight reserves, is one of the darkest, most pristine in the world, enabling you to better see the stars and planets, and them to “see” you, such is their nearness felt here. The high quality of the night sky is due in part to the Canaries’ remoteness from industry and urban centers and to their Trade Winds that clean the air and cap cloud height. Comet Q4 / Iván Hernández Pírez, IAC The Starlight Reserves are Where the Stars Really Shine Each of the seven islands has at least one unique astronomical viewpoint from which you can see specific constellations such as Cassiopeia, Sagittarius, and Scorpio during different times of the year. But the starlight reserve areas on Tenerife and the entire islands of La Palma and Fuerteventura, which are both designated as starlight reserves, are really where you want to go to reach up and touch the stars. Also, Tenerife and La Palma have world-class observatories with some of the largest telescopes in all of Europe. Here are four starlight reserve areas where you can gaze at the stars until your heart’s content: Teide National Park on Tenerife Island – a Park for Stargazers Too To really hear the music of the stars and planets and swoon in wonderment at the absolute beauty of space visit Teide National Park located in the center of Tenerife Island. Designated as a starlight reserve, the park has transparent, very dark night skies and is at a high altitude and close proximity to the Equator – the perfect stargazing environment. Also, its surreal, lunar-like landscape enhances your astro-adventure. The Moon above Teide National Park on Tenerife / Shutterstock Llano del Jable on La Palma Island – a Volcanic Plain Just under the Heavens La Palma Island, the second highest Canary Island, was one of the first places in the world to be designated a starlight reserve, and it has many superb astronomical viewpoints. One of the finest is LLano del Jable, which is a volcanic cinder field located in the high point of the municipality of El Paso right in the center of the island. Llano del Jable’s height of about 4,500 feet above sea level makes it a great spot for viewing the night sky, especially the constellations in the Andromeda Galaxy, which is the nearest galaxy to the Milky Way. San Bartolo Mountain on La Palma Island – 360 Degree Night Sky View San Bartolo Mountain is a very accessible viewpoint in the eastern part of La Palma Island that lets you view the night sky in all directions. At about 1,440 feet above sea level, it’s not nearly as high as Llano del Jable, but its accessibility, facilities, and stellar panoramic views of the night sky make it a great stargazing spot. Fuerteventura – The Newest Whole-Island Starlight Reserve Like La Palma Island, the entire island of Fuerteventura is a starlight reserve, receiving its designation relatively recently. Morro Velosa viewpoint located near the town of Betancuria is one of the best places on this island to see the stars, especially young newborns. It offers a 360-degree view from the center of the island. It is, however, usually very, very windy and this can create havoc with any viewing equipment that you might be bringing to the spot. So be prepared. Roque de los Muchachos Observatory / Nicholas Szymanek, IAC Tour World-Class Observatories As you’re puzzling out the names of stars and planets on your stargazing adventure, giant, powerful international telescopes in the islands’ observatories are quietly looking deep into outer space to discover new galaxies and solve problems of astrophysics. Teide Observatory and Roque de los Muchachos Observatory are the two principle ones in the Canary Islands, and you can visit each. While you can take a guided daytime tour, which you reserve online, to see certain telescopes, you can’t use the primary telescopes to see the heavens. They are reserved for scientists exclusively. Though at Teide, you can reserve the Mons telescope if you meet certain conditions of use. Teide Observatory is located at 7,840 feet above sea level on Mount Teide on Tenerife Island, and Roque de los Muchachos Observatory is located at 7,861 above sea level on Roque de los Muchachos on La Palma Island near the highest peaks of the Caldera de Taburiente, an extinct volcano. They can take hours to reach by car or bus, depending on where you are staying on their respective islands, but visits to each are recommended. You can go to Mount Teide during the day or night, and you can reserve guided stargazing trips there in which field telescopes are provided. While you cannot visit Roque de los Muchachos at night, you should go during the day to see its spectacular panoramic views of La Palma and neighboring islands. Silhouette of Man in Milky Way Ecstasy / Shutterstock Experience a Celestial Stargasm In the rich astral diamond mines of the Canarian starlight reserves, the mother load of stars will be all yours. There are just so many, many stars to be seen here that they seem to compete for territory – and your gaze – in the night sky, crowding out darkness itself. You can see new stars, old stars, shooting stars, dying stars, hot stars, cold stars, stars in classic constellations like Orion, stars in clusters like the Beehive, and in asterisms like the Big Dipper. And not to be outshone, the planets also make the scene. Jupiter and Venus shine particularly brightly in the reserves. In short, the riot of stars and other celestial bodies in the Canary heavens will fuel your stargazing fever as the more you gaze, the more you’ll want to gaze and gaze and gaze! To say that you’ll be starstruck is an understatement. You feel like you’re on just another planet in the Solar System, which dances to its own mysterious music. Star watching here is an experience that will burn bright inside you long after you leave the reserves, after your trip ends. Stargazer and Star Trails / Shutterstock Note that Your Stargazing is Protected by Law Believe it or not, a law actually protects starlight in the Canaries. The Law of Protección de la Calidad Astronómica de los Observatorios, or The Sky Law, and the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias (IAC), which applies it, have defended the night sky over the Canaries for more than 20 years from light, atmospheric, and radio wave pollution for astronomical research and stargazing alike. The law regulates, for example, the types of exterior lighting that can be used on certain Canary Islands, down to the specific kinds of light bulbs allowed. It even regulates air traffic so that the planes that we take to get here don’t interfere with our view of the heavens. “An unpolluted night sky that allows for the enjoyment and contemplation of the firmament should be considered an inalienable right equivalent to all other socio-cultural and environmental rights…” according to the The Sky Law. The Starlight Foundation, which is a UNESCO-supported organization, has also protected starlight here by designating specific areas of Tenerife, and the entire islands of La Palma and Fuerteventura as starlight reserves, as previously mentioned. As you must have gathered by now, a starlight reserve is like a nature reserve, but it protects the quality of the night sky and starlight, with tools like the The Sky Law, instead of endangered flora or fauna. In short, it’s a stargazer’s dream destination, a special portal on the Universe, and exactly where you want to go. Book a Themed Holiday You can book themed astronomy holidays that include trips to the starlight reserves and the major observatories. These guided tours can sometimes be the best ways to get to some of the harder to reach viewing points on the islands as well as to learn a lot about the night sky. Attend Starmus III – A Festival of Stars from Science and Rock Music The third Starmus Festival takes place from June 27 – July 2 on Tenerife Island, and you can attend it. May 31 is the deadline for the regular registration fee though. Fusing science, art, and rock music, this festival features presentations by astronauts and scientists, including Nobel Prize winners, as well as concerts and tributes by rock stars and artists. Think Stephen Hawking meets Rick Wakeman and Brian Eno. Dr. Hawking will be giving a presentation entitled “A Brief History of Mine,” and Rick Wakeman and Commander Chris Hadfield, one of the first Canadian astronauts to walk in space, will be performing a musical tribute to the star man himself David Bowie who died just recently. Brian Eno will be a featured star at this year’s Star Party, and will also give a presentation entitled “At the Crossroads of Art and Science.” It sounds like a great time! Getting to the Canary Islands To get to the Canary Islands from North America, you fly to a major city in Spain such as Barcelona or Madrid and then fly from there to one of the larger islands such as Tenerife. Once on a Canary Island, you can island-hop using a ferry service. To get to the Canaries from Western Europe, you can take a direct flight. While CheapOair can’t quite book a trip into outer space for you to see the heavens just yet, we can book your trip to the Canaries. Would you like to visit a Canarian starlight reserve? Have you been to other starlight reserves around the world? If so, let us know in the comments section below.