(Editor’s note: Dispatches is not recommending travel to the Canary Islands, but it is possible to do so from some countries in Europe. Check travel restrictions, which are changing daily including requirements for COVID-19 tests. You can see our complete list of pandemic measures here.)
The United Kingdom is currently living through her second lockdown to prevent the spreading of COVID-19. Government officials are hoping life will be back to “sort of” normal before Christmas, which means a national favorite – winter holidays in the sun – will not be possible.
Not to worry.
One of the most popular destinations is Spain. Alas, the country is more or less closed and strict curfew rules are in place. That doesn’t mean you need to abandon your plans for beaches and sunshine, the Canary Islands are the exception.
Not only are they on the current safe travel list for the UK, they are also exempt from the nightly curfew between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. which has brought the nightlife in the rest of Spain to a halt.
The Canaries may already be on the bucket list of many Brits because of the glorious weather in winter and the fabulous beaches. But, there is another activity you might not have heard of which you can enjoy on several islands: stargazing.
It’s not only pretty to watch the sparkling stars and the Milky Way in all their glory, it also has a positive psychological effect in our difficult times: seeing the enormity of the firmament soothes the soul and puts things into perspective.
The Canary Islands, just a few miles off the coast of North Africa, have one of the clearest and unpolluted night skies in the world. That’s the reason why scientists and amateur astronomers alike have come to the islands for years to observe the stars.
This form of travel actually has a name: astro tourism.
Observatories and giant telescopes have been installed on the highest peaks of several islands, run by professionals but open to visitors who have the benefit of first rate explanations and telescopes where the naked eye is not enough (in some places it even is!) Here we give you an overview over the best stargazing points on different islands with links so you can check visiting hours, tours, prices (if any) etc.
Stargazing on Tenerife can be quite an adventure. Teide National Park with the active volcano Pico de Teide in the middle and close to 4,000 meters high is the best observation location. It’s one of the Canary Islands’ three Starlight Reserves. They are Las Cañadas de Teide, Mount Izaña with a giant telescope, and Mount Guajara which can be reached by cable car.
What you can observe best are the Milky Way, Pegasus and Cassiopeia. And during the day? Enjoy the beaches , some volcanic and black, other with white sand. There are 10 to choose from. In between you can taste the distinctive Canary wines and great local food.
This is the most northwestern of the Canary islands and can be reached either by ferry from Tenerife South or by air from Tenerife North. Much smaller than the other islands, it’s nonetheless the most prestigious of the stargazing observatories as it features the world’s largest optical infrared telescope run by the Instituto de Astrofisica de Canarias on top of the moonlike mountain area known as Roque de los Muchachos.
There are two more: San Borondon which is a rock terrace at sea level best for viewing the North Star and Llano de Jable, another Starlight Reserve great for Andromeda.
All three form part of the EU Skyroute.
There are several pretty beaches here too, although some are pebbly and black, all more suitable for water sport enthusiasts.
La Gomera is the smallest (apart from La Graciosa) island but BIG on stargazing. There is actually an entire stargazing route that you can follow from Mirador Cesar Manrique to Mirador El Santo, Mirador El Alojero and, finally, in the interior of the island, the rock formation and National Park of Garajonay.
Milky Way, Great and Little Bear and the red superstar Antares, all can be seen clearly. Here are the details.
La Gomera is best reached by ferry from Tenerife South. There are some nifty beaches too to enjoy during the day. And for the palate! La Gomera is famous for cheese, to be found in La Cabezada Diary. The rare and expensive Forastera grape is only grown here and produces a beautiful wine you simply must taste.
So, while in lockdown, dream about a Christmas under the stars during the night, on the beach during the day and enjoying cheese and great wine in between.
A final word to the wise: The rules for the UK and/or Spain can change any day and at very short notice. Check carefully before making any reservations.
About the author:
Inka Piegsa-Quischotte is an international attorney-turned-travel-and-lifestyle writer based in Spain. She has contributed to BBC/Travel, several in-flight magazines, TripSavvy (Spain) and TravelAwaits, among many other publications. After several years in Turkey, she now lives on Spain’s Costa Blanca.
Read more about Spain in our Dispatches archive here.