Stargazing in Spain
From Van Gogh’s Starry Night to the nursery rhyme Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, we have always been fascinated by the stars above us, and the past few years have seen a huge rise in ‘Star Tourism’.
Fortunately, for any budding astronomers out there, Spain is home to an abundance of excellent stargazing locations and the Starlight foundation is one of the biggest companies offering stargazing guided tours in Spain.
What makes the Canary Islands perfect for stargazing are the low levels of air and light pollution, as well its elevated position due to the volcanic landscape.
The area around Tenerife’s Mount Teide volcano has been visited for many years by astronomers from all over the world, and its unique rocky terrain has been used to depict alien planets and prehistoric landscapes countless times in film and photography. It was famously used as the backdrop for the 1966 film One Million Years B.C (better known by some for the film poster of Raquel Welch featured in The Shawshank Redemption).
In addition to its ‘on-theme’ landscape, Tenerife has also played host to the astronomy ‘Starmus Festival’ a number of times and it has been attended by the likes of Stephen Hawking, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Richard Dawkins. The island’s observatory sits at 2,390m above sea level and has been operated by the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias since its inauguration in 1964.
The Parador de Las Cañadas del Teide is handsomely located to make the most of the island’s stargazing hot spots, and the Parador hosts talks by a Starlight guide every Friday evening for its guests.
The island of La Palma has jumped on the popularity of stargazing, having offered astronomy tours for many years already, in fact, it is a self-proclaimed ‘Stars Island’ thanks to the Sky Law specifically put in place in 1988 to reduce light pollution and protect the views of the starry skies. Each municipality on the island has its own observation points with different themes, and the island encourages you to explore as many points as possible and learn about the different constellations and planets. The most important astronomical aspect of the island is the internationally renowned Roque de Los Muchachos Observatory, one of the most complete telescopic complexes in the world. Sitting at over 2,400m above sea level, the observatory is used as a scientific base in both Solar Physics and High Energy Astrophysics, as well as for observational purposes.
The Parador de La Palma is located between the Parque Los Alamos and the Barranco del Carmen observation points, and only 10km away from the island’s capital of Santa Cruz de La Palma.
Gran Canaria has also put measures in place to limit light pollution and the Parador de Cruz de Tejeda is located in one of the island's most prominent beauty spots, surrounded by beautiful forests.
The Monfragüe National Park in Extremadura is renowned as one of the best bird-watching locations in Spain and you can spot the magnificent Black Vulture amongst its bird population, but did you know that during the night people turn their eyes to the skies for an entirely different reason? Excellent sites for stargazing include the Torrejón el Rubio Astronomical Observatory and Monfragüe Castle. We have three historical Paradors within easy reach of the nature park in Plasencia, Cáceres and Trujillo.
Andalusia, home to flamenco, tapas and the Costa del Sol, is less well known as an excellent stargazing location in mainland Spain. The high altitude sierras are perfect for spotting constellations. The Sierra Sur de Jaén district and Sierra Morena range in Northern Andalusia are popular sites for stargazing and some local companies offer night tours among the stars as part of the nature trail packages.
Famous for its wine production, La Rioja is also home to some fantastic nature parks including the Valles del Jubera, Leza, Cidacos and Alhama Biosphere Reserve which offers night tours to see nocturnal birds, as well as star gazing tours - you can even look upon the stars as you bathe in the thermal springs!
The region also benefits from two 'star parks' in Laguna de Cameros and Cervera del Río Alhama, both of which are within an hour and a half's drive of the Parador de Soria.
In addition to the areas mentioned above, Spain is home to numerous other star gazing locations including the Gredos Mountains, the Serranía de Cuenca Nature Park, Galician islands and the Spanish Pyrenees. For anyone interested in star gazing and organising tours, we recommend checking out the Starlight Foundation website which provides much more information on the types of tours and services offered all across Spain.