The United Nations World Tourism Organisation’s naming of 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development, means there’s a greater focus on responsible and sustainable travel across the globe.
Astro-tourism (astronomy-focused holidays) is set to continue to grow as pollutants continue to cloud the sky, making stargazing nearly impossible in some heavily urbanised parts of the world. In 2016, it was reported that 80% of Americans could no longer see the Milky Way, while 60% of Europeans could not see the stars very well at all. Tour operators are therefore offering astro-tourism in the few countries in Africa and across the globe that remain free-enough of light pollution that they can showcase the celestial sky in all its beauty.
The countries that boast some of the most beautiful night skies in Africa are:
The Khoisan of Botswana are said to have used the stars to navigate true south. The country not only has very little light pollution, making its night skies perfectly clear, but the government has also declared 40% of its land a nature reserve, providing ample space for stargazing.
The beautiful skies of Morocco have for centuries inspired the Arabs to name the stars. Travellers can experience a camel trek through the Sahara to the Zagora dunes to spend the night under the stars, or experience panoramic views of the night sky at the SaharaSkay, the only privately owned astronomical observatory in North America.
Namibia is home to some of the darkest skies ever measured in the world, which lead to the NamibRand Nature Reserve being declared an official dark sky reserve by the International Dark Sky Association in 2012. A must-visit is the Sossusvlei Desert, situated in the NamibRand Nature Reserve, for some of the most most majestic night-sky views.
4. South Africa
The Kruger National Park may be known for its game, but the region also boasts beautiful night skies, with astronomy tours offered to visitors. Tours in Cape Town and Sutherland are also offered by the South African Astronomical Observatory (SAOO). At Sutherland, this takes place on a hilltop, 1 800m above sea level, with no light pollution in sight.
Forty thousand tourists are reported to have visited Kenya to witness the solar eclipse of 3 November 2016. This helped the country position itself as a top contender in the astro-tourism sector. Tourists who visit for the wildlife have the opportunity to see the stars brightly dotting the night sky at Loisaba Wilderness and at Finch Hattons, which has a stargazing terrace.