Namibia: Where Star-Gazing Tourists Find Africa’s Darkest Skies
THE NAMIB DESERT, Namibia, Dec 5 — Not many tourist spots boast of being dark and difficult to get to, but the Namib desert is one of a number of remote “Dark Sky Reserves” drawing in stargazers for a celestial safari.
In the cool night air, an urbane Austrian tourist climbs rocky steps behind a chic hotel lodge and peers into a matt-black metal cylinder containing a spine of mirrors and lenses that reveal the universe.
“My mum wanted to set him on fire yesterday when he said, ‘We are looking 10 million years in the past!’” he joked, pointing at the resident astronomer.
Not everyone is ready to face the enormity of the universe laid out so starkly by powerful magnification and the crisp desert sky.
But across the starkly beautiful Namib, hotels and lodges are betting that the stars will lead to more business rather than a spike in Galileo-esque witch hunts.
Many lodges have bought research-grade or “prosumer” telescopes and hired live-in astronomers as they try to lure tourists who want to gaze deeper into space and time.
According to consultancy Euromonitor, astro-tourism holidays are growing in line with increased urbanisation, with Africa in particular “taking off”.
“Most people come here for the other activities, visiting the dunes or the nature reserve where you see all the wildlife. This is kind of a bonus,” said Misha Vickas, formerly a guide at a public observatory in Sydney, but now resident at the AndBeyond Sossusvlei Desert Lodge.