The Best Dark Sky Destinations in the World


Inspired by the James Webb Space Telescope’s striking pictures of space? Stargaze and snap impressive photos of your own at these astrophotography hot spots.

It’s been a cosmic summer, thanks to NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope. Delivering snapshots of glittering nebulae and the oldest galaxy known to humankind, the Webb telescope — the world’s largest and most powerful — is ushering in both a new age of astronomy and a new crowd of space–enamoured shutterbugs.

Dazzled by the intergalactic images you’re seeing on your Twitter feed? Travel to these five photographer–approved stargazing destinations to capture your own.

September 23, 2022
   Atacama | Photo by Anastasiia Shavshyna (iStock)

Atacama Desert, Chile

Call it Earth’s stargazing Eden for professional and amateur astronomers around the world — the Atacama Desert’s unbeatably dry climate, high altitude and low levels of light pollution combine to produce some of the clearest skies on Earth, 300+ nights a year. Under night’s cloak, the Chilean desert’s Mars–like landscape provides travellers with a spectacular vantage point for capturing the Milky Way’s centre and the Magellanic Clouds — features that are scarcely seen north of the equator, yet trademark residents of the southern sky. It’s also one of the best places to see colourful star clusters like Omega Centauri and Jewel Box. Choose the high–altitude oasis town of San Pedro de Atacama or the fertile Elqui Valley, which became the world’s first International Dark Sky Sanctuary in 2015, as your base for photographing the southern cosmos (and for sampling local pisco, or Chilean brandy, while you’re at it).  

   Jasper | Photo: Priscilla Du Preez

Jasper National Park, Canada

Totalling over 11,000 square kilometres, Jasper National Park is the world’s second largest Dark Sky Preserve and the world’s most accessible. From the plateau town of Jasper in the Canadian Rocky Mountains, the park’s most phenomenal stargazing spots — Pyramid Lake, Mount Edith Cavell, and Maligne Lake, to name a few — are just a short drive away. But shutterbugs don’t need to leave town to capture Jasper’s most stunning stellar vistas: The Jasper Planetarium’s telescope is the perfect medium for glimpsing distant galaxies and planets. Ask nicely, and planetarium staff will share their secrets for capturing the Milky Way on camera. Plan to visit during October for the Jasper Dark Sky Festival, when travellers can glimpse the Northern Lights, catch outdoor symphonic performances illuminated by starlight, and trace the night sky’s major constellations by helicopter.

Pic Du Midi
   Pic Du Midi | Photo: Les Argonautes

Pic du Midi, France

At night, the icy summits of the mountains surrounding Pic du Midi — a towering peak in the Pyrenees — provide the perfect backdrop for the planets, moons and constellations visible above southern France. The northern night sky feels all but close enough to touch from the Pic du Midi Observatory, a 19th–century astronomer’s outpost perched atop the mountain’s summit. While the building is more than 2,877 metres above sea level, a night at the observatory is a comfortable one, thanks to the facility’s cozy accommodations, in–house restaurant, and lounge deck. Kick back in one of the observatory’s sun loungers to snap a winning shot of the Pleiades and Hyades star clusters and Betelgeuse, a particularly bright star in the Orion constellation.

   Chaco Canyon | Photo: Chaco Culture National Historic Park Service

Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, United States

The Sombrero Galaxy is nearly 30 million light years away, but to see this disk–shaped star system, one only needs to spend a night in New Mexico’s Chaco Culture National Historical Park. This remote canyon outside Albuquerque is one of the best places in the United States for stargazing and astrophotography. More than 99 percent of the certified International Dark Sky Park is a natural darkness zone, or void of outdoor permanent lighting, creating the perfect conditions for shooting colourful nebulae, star clusters and distant galaxies. Schedule your visit around May or October, the darkest times of the year when the Chaco Observatory’s star parties — midnight gatherings of photographers, astronomers and star enthusiasts — are the hottest places to be. Sleep is easy to get in Chaco Canyon, but hard to justify when there’s so much to see. For a dose of culture and history, pull an all–nighter and wander through the park’s moonlit Chacoan ruins of the Pueblo peoples, the canyon’s original stargazers.

   Uluru | Photo: Henrique Felix

Uluru, Australia

From Sydney and Brisbane, it’s a one–and–a–half–hour plane ride to Australia’s best–kept stargazing secret: Uluru. Travellers may know Uluru best for its daytime views, but come nightfall, the nearly 350–metre–tall rock tucked within Australia’s Uluru–Kata Tjuta National Park shrinks against the backdrop of the outback’s kaleidoscope night sky. The area’s isolated geography — the closest large town is 450 kilometres away — makes it a prime photography ground for southern sky jewels like the Southern Cross constellation and the Pleiades star cluster. Uluru–Kata Tjuta National Park closes to visitors in the evening, but its outer banks provide an equally spectacular vantage point for those observing the park’s exceptionally clear sky. Stick around after sunset for Sounds of Silence, an immersive dune–top dinner experience complete with bubbly, canapés and otherworldly views of our glittering universe.

Related: Through a Photographer’s Lens: Ben Prescott’s Guide to British Columbia