When Valerie Stimac spotted Hale-Bopp, that was it. She was hooked.
That unusually bright comet, which flew by earth in the mid-1990s,sparked, her lifelong fascination with the night sky. Add to that the fact that she grew up in Alaska watching the aurora borealis on a regularly basis, and it’s easy to see why she fell for starry nights early on. It also makes sense that her career now focuses on all things celestial.
As the founder of Space Tourism Guide and author of “Dark Skies: A Practical Guide to Astrotourism,” she loves getting others stoked on stellar encounters through astrotourism. Which begs the questions, what exactly is astrotourism?
It encompasses any travel related to astronomy experiences, she says, whether it’s a solar eclipse, meteor shower, rocket launch or even something more off-worldly like taking a zero-gravity flight or eventually going to space.
If you can, try to plan your trip around an astronomy events. In 2021, Stimac says to consider the lunar occultation of Mars in April, total lunar eclipse in May, lunar occultation of Venus in November and total solar eclipse over Antarctica in December.
“The best astronomical phenomena in 2020 were ones we didn’t necessarily know to plan for – Comet NEOWISE was only discovered in March,” she says. “I’m also excited for what new wonders we’ll discover this year.”
Here are several resorts with a focus on astronomy.
Hotel Jackson, Jackson Hole, Wyoming
The Wyoming wilderness is dazzling by day, of course, but by night, well, it’s even better. That said, there’s nothing quite like staying at Hotel Jackson, a four-star boutique property, for a bespoke, socially distanced stargazing experience. Wyoming Stargazing takes guests to Grand Teton National Park where they can bundle up in a blanket and cozy up in a camping chair while as astronomer guides them through the cosmic display. Back at the hotel you’ll have views of the Snow King and the Jackson Valley Mountains. Plan a day trip to nearby Yellowstone National Park to hit the slopes or go for a hike.
Stimac recommends paying attention to the moon phase and dressing in layers. “The moon is astonishingly bright and can prevent you from seeing the stars in that area of the sky,” she explains. “If you want to go stargazing without the moon, aim for nights near the new moon – or plan to enjoy some moongazing during the rest of the month.”
“Next, don’t underestimate how cold it gets once the sun goes down,” she says. “It’s better to pack too many layers than to have your stargazing session cut short because you get cold.”
Getting there: Fly into Jackson Hole Airport, and the hotel’s luxury car will pick you up.
Hyatt Regency and Ritz-Carlton, Maui, Hawaii
Maui meets all the requirements for epic stargazing: fantastic weather all year, barely any light pollution and impeccable star visibility. Hyatt Regency Maui Resort and Spa is a seaside escape known for its focus on the stars. For two decades, Edward Mahoney has served as the director of astronomy for the hotel’s Tour of the Stars program. Needless to say, he can answer nearly any question you come up with. And, since Maui is just 20 degrees north of the equator, guests can gaze at 80 of the 88 constellations. Choose from an 8 or 9 p.m. nightly astronomy session for your glimpse of the crystal-clear skies. Or book the romance tour at 10 p.m., which comes with sparkling wine and chocolate-covered strawberries.
Nearby, The Ritz-Carlton Kapalua has a stargazing program, where guests learn about the significant role the Polynesian voyagers played in the migration to Hawaii. Plus, telescopes are available upon request so you can spot constellations throughout your stay. When you’re ready to venture outside of the five-star hotel, there are miles of hiking trails to choose from and six beaches to lounge on. Once you’re out of energy, treat yourself to a deep-muscle massage, oxygen-renewal facial and a coconut-mango pedicure or a private cabana by the pool. If you are there from December to March, keep those eyes peeled for whales. Thousands of humpbacks visit Maui’s shores to breed and give birth in the warm waters.
Getting there: Maui is open for tourism with some travel protocols and restrictions. Hawaiian Airlines has nonstop flights from several major cities.
Four Seasons Resort, Bora Bora
The first thing that comes to mind when you think of Tahiti might be overwater bungalows and stunning turquoise water. But stargazing should also top the list. Bora Bora happens to be one of the best places to view the Southern hemisphere sky.
For the ultimate stargazing getaway, make a beeline to the Four Seasons Resort Bora Bora, where the overwater bungalows make for the perfect spot to lounge and look up at the stars. Come nighttime, get cozy on your patio lounge chairs and gaze at the night sky with the sound of waves rolling below. With no light pollution and perfect clarity, it’s often possible to see the Milky Way and the Southern Cross.
“Many of our guests are coming for an escape from the big cities, traffic, noise and stress,” says Etienne Baldeschi, head concierge at the resort. “The environment here is really about privacy, romance, peace and exploration, so stargazing fits right in and is enjoyed here by almost every guest to various degrees.”
To learn more about the night sky, book a stargazing session with Vavau where guests take a sunset cruise to a motu (island) and learn about how ancient Polynesians used celestial navigation.
Getting there: You’ll have to wait for tourism to reopen in French Polynesia before you visit. But once it does, book an Air Tahiti Nui direct flights from Los Angeles International Airport to Tahiti. Find the latest travel restrictions here.
Amangiri Resort, Canyon Point, Utah
At Amangiri Resort, a 600-acre paradise near Page, Arizona, guests can sign up for a complimentary stargazing session with the in-house astronomer. There’s even an astrophotography machine that allows up to 10 users to connect wirelessly and download astro-photos from the machine directly to their device. With Amangiri being super remote, the stargazing is spectacular.
Come nighttime, rest your head in a suite with a sky terrace (that makes stagazing quite simple). During the day, spend time trekking through the national parks and kicking back at Aman Spa for a healing Navajo-inspired treatment. During the daytime, explore nearby natural wonders like majestic Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. Adventurous types will appreciate climbing the via ferrata route, exploring slot canyons or hot-air ballooning at sunrise.
Getting there: Page Municipal Airport is located 25 minutes from Amangiri and is the closest airport.