Everybody knows that the farther you get from the big city, the more stars you can see. But many of us have no idea just how dark the night sky can be. In each of these amazing locales, factors like elevation, climate and the absence of man-made light pollution allow you to see the sky in a way you never thought possible.
Traveling to far-flung destinations can be pricey, so we've tracked down the best deals and determined how much it will cost you to see these incredible sights across the globe. So, if you're a night owl who loves to travel, start packing today, because the night sky awaits.
NamibRand Nature Reserve, Namibia
Spanning more than 500,000 acres, NamibRand Nature Reserve encompasses one of Africa's most untamed landscapes. The deserts, mountains and savanna of this reserve protect a wide range of wildlife, but for stargazers, it offers another attraction: some of the darkest, clearest night skies in the world.
Virtually nonexistent light pollution makes NamibRand Nature Reserve an incredible spot to view the untarnished beauty of the night sky. Designated a Gold Tier International Dark Sky Reserve by the International Dark Sky Association in 2012, the reserve is only the second place in the world to hold this distinction. Because strict guidelines govern the usage of artificial light in the reserve, the incredibly vibrant night skies go undiminished year round.
Round-trip airfare from New York City to Windhoek Hosea Kutako International Airport, a little over five hours north of NamibRand Nature Reserve, starts around $1,000. You can take a guided two-day trip through the nature reserve for $2,000 per person, but if you prefer to be your own guide, you can rent a car in Windhoek for around $55 per day.
The NamibRand Family Hideout, just outside the nature reserve, offers several different accommodation options, including campsites starting at about $10 per night. Another option is to stay at the Sossusvlei Desert Lodge for luxurious accommodations in the heart of NamibRand Nature Reserve. And while the lodge's nightly rates might seem pricey — $500 to $800 per person, depending on the season — keep in mind that the rate includes three meals a day, refreshments, guided hikes, safari activities and access to the lodge's private observatory.
Mauna Kea, Hawaii
The pinnacle of Hawaii, also known as the Big Island, is the lofty summit of Mauna Kea, the tallest sea mountain in the world. From the top, visitors can enjoy an unbroken view of the surrounding ocean, as well as some of the most spectacular sunsets on Earth. Additionally, the summit offers stunning views of the night sky.
It's no coincidence that the peak of Mauna Kea boasts one of the most renowned astronomical sites on the planet, the Mauna Kea Observatories. Here, 13 telescopes from 11 different countries are constantly aimed at the sky. The observatories themselves are privately owned and not open to the public, but the view from the top of Mauna Kea is free to anyone who can reach it.
On your way up the mountain, be sure to stop at the Visitor Information Station. Open 365 days a year from noon until 10 p.m., the station provides a chance to learn more about the mountain. Ask a Maunakea Ranger any questions you might have and get a better look at the stars through one of the public telescopes.
You can score a round-trip ticket from Los Angeles to Kona International Airport, around 45 minutes from Mauna Kea, for $650 or so. Hotels on the Big Island are, unsurprisingly, not cheap. Rooms over $100 are the norm, but you can find better travel deals through Airbnb, where numerous options are available for under $100 per night.
Getting to the top of Mauna Kea is one of the biggest hurdles for many visitors. Most of the island's accommodations are in the coastal areas, far from the 13,796-foot summit. Unless you plan on hiking up yourself, opt to join a tour group that heads up the mountain. The Mauna Kea Summit Adventure from Arnott's Lodge & Hiking Adventures costs $180 per person, or $145 if you're a guest at Arnott's Lodge. And the Mauna Kea Sunrise Experience offers a unique overnight adventure for $198.
Related: 10 Best and Worst Deals in Hawaii
Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve, New Zealand
Spanning more than 1,600 square miles, Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve encompasses the entirety of New Zealand's Aoraki Mt. Cook National Park, along with the villages of Lake Tekapo, Twizel and Mt. Cook. And thanks to strict controls on light pollution that have been in place since the 1980s, visitors have an incredible view of the stars.
Cradled in the Mackenzie Basin between two spectacular mountain ranges, the reserve offers a terrestrial landscape almost as beautiful as the sky above. Visiting the reserve provides an unparalleled opportunity to see constellations only visible in the Southern Hemisphere, including the Southern Cross and the Magellanic Cloud.
You can expect to pay about $1,400 for a round-trip flight from Los Angeles to Christchurch, New Zealand — the closest airport to the reserve — which is around three hours from the village of Lake Tekapo. Bus service from Christchurch International Airport to Lake Tekapo is available for approximately $56. Use Airbnb to find accommodations in Lake Tekapo, as well as the nearby village of Twizel, for around $100.
You don't have to do much more than look up to appreciate the stars at Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve. However, various tours are available. See Mt. John Observatory for $104, which includes an opportunity to view the night sky through the observatory's powerful telescope. Big Sky Stargazing tours ($49) include orientation inside the Digital Dome Planetarium, followed by a guided trip to an outdoor site.
Be sure to visit New Zealand during the crisp, clear nights of winter for the best view of the stars. And keep in mind that winter in the Southern Hemisphere takes place at the same time as summer in the Northern Hemisphere.
You can see the Northern Lights from just about anywhere in the upper reaches of the Northern Hemisphere, but few places offer a better view than Iceland. The Aurora Borealis is visible eight months out of the year here — and from just about anywhere in the country — when the skies are clear.
You can even see the Northern Lights in the capital city of Reykjavik, though the city lights make them somewhat less spectacular than they are in less populated parts of the country. But you don't have to go far to see the Aurora in all its glory. Located within walking distance of the city, the isolated peninsula of Seltjarnarnes offers a great view of the Northern Lights over the ocean. Or journey an hour north to visit "AuroraCity" itself. The vividness of the Northern Lights over Borgarnes' isolated harbor is simply mesmerizing.
A round-trip flight from New York to Reykjavik costs as little as $400. Public transportation makes it easy and affordable to get around Reykjavik and the surrounding area. And thanks to Airbnb, you can find accommodations for under $50.
Timing is crucial if you hope to see the Northern Lights in Iceland. The country is so far north that the sun barely rises at all in the dead of winter. Conversely, visitors hoping to see the Northern Lights during the warmer months will surely be disappointed by the long daylight hours.
If viewing the Northern Lights is on your bucket list, opt to visit sooner rather than later. Scientists think the Northern Lights will get harder to see over the next 10 years.
Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah
The national parks of the American Southwest are home to some of the clearest, darkest skies in North America, thanks in large part to a lack of man-made light sources. One of the very best places to scope out the stars is Utah's Natural Bridges National Monument, where the allure of the night sky is matched only by the otherworldly landscape.
For aspiring astrophotographers, the incredible stone bridges of this monument are the perfect foreground for a shot of the night sky. You can see up to 15,000 stars during a night at Natural Bridges, as opposed to the 500 or fewer visible in many urban environments. Be sure to stop at the Visitor Center upon arrival and check the calendar for free ranger-led astronomy programs, which are usually offered starting in May.
The entrance fee at Natural Bridges National Monument is $10 per vehicle. The closest airport is Four Corners Regional Airport in Farmington, N.M., about two hours and 45 minutes away. Flights from Los Angeles start at around $300, but you can drive to the site from La La Land in less than a day.
Camping is available in Natural Bridges National Monument, and it's hard to imagine a better way to experience the night sky than sleeping out under the stars. A handful of primitive sites for tents and RVs are available on a first-come, first-served basis for $10 per night. The park doesn't offer any other accommodations, but you'll find hotels in Blanding, Utah, about 40 miles away, from $60 per night.
Galloway Forest Park, Scotland
The first place in the UK to be awarded Dark Sky Park status by the Dark Sky Association, Galloway Forest Park spans a vast 300 square miles. Within that landscape, you'll find towering forests, shaded glens and wide-open meadows, but hardly a single man-made building. If you're looking to avoid light pollution, this is the ideal place to visit.
Features of the night sky that are seldom visible to the naked eye can often be seen above this Scotland park. Astronomy enthusiasts flock to Galloway Forest Park to catch a glimpse of the Andromeda galaxy, the Aurora Borealis and even distant stellar nurseries where new stars are born.
A flight to nearby Glasgow — about a $600 round-trip from New York City — puts you within 60 miles of Galloway Forest Park. From Glasgow Airport, take a train ride to Stranraer for about $30. You can then hop a bus for a few dollars to Glentrool, the "gateway to the Galloway hills."
Quite a few lodging options exist in and around Galloway Forest Park, including hotels, inns and guest houses for less than $100 per night. Camping is permitted free of charge in the forest, but you won't find designated campsites or facilities. There are also a handful of bothies (cabins) throughout the forest, in which hikers are welcome to spend the night. Just be sure to bring your own water and amenities, as the bothies are relatively rustic.
Atacama Desert, Chile
Chile is home to several of the Earth's most powerful astronomical observatories and has been called the world's best place to go stargazing. Spend one night in the Atacama Desert of Northern Chile, and you'll understand why.
The Atacama is the world's driest desert, and the lack of moisture in the air enables the stars to shine with stunning brilliance. Moreover, there are as many as 300 clear-sky days a year in some parts of the region. Combined with an almost complete lack of man-made light sources, you have a perfect recipe for stargazing.
If you want to be in reach of numerous stargazing spots, including the observatories in the Atacama Desert, opt to stay in San Pedro de Atacama. A wide range of affordable Airbnb accommodations are available in and around the town for $75 or less. Opt for a guest room, apartment or cottage.
You can fly from Los Angeles to El Loa Airport in Calama, about an hour from San Pedro de Atacama, for around $1,500 round trip. Rather than rely on public transportation, you can rent a car for cheap at El Loa Airport through EuropCar. Prices start around $50 per day, and you'll have the freedom to visit out-of-the-way places that aren't on a bus route.
Many local observatories are open to the public on certain days, allowing you to get in free of charge. You can check out ALMA Observatory for free on Saturday and Sunday mornings. Meanwhile, the Paranal Observatory — home to the aptly named "Very Large Telescope" (VLT) — offers free guided tours every Saturday. Both observatories require visitors to register in advance.