Star Search: 6 Hotels with Astronomy Programs

by  Katie McElveen | Feb 22, 2016
Sandpearl Resort
Sandpearl Resort / Photo courtesy of the property

There’s nothing quite like looking up and setting your sights on the stars. The weeks ahead and spring are prime viewing times, too, thanks to celestial events like a super-bright full moon on February 22; close encounters with planets (Jupiter on March 8 and Mercury on April 18); and moonless skies that will enhance views of star clusters and distant galaxies -- like the Milky Way -- on March 9 and April 17. Don’t forget to check the calendar, since a full moon -- while gorgeous on its own -- might obliterate your view of dim stars.

For the wandering stargazer, there’s good news: more and more hotels are offering astronomer-led tours of the night sky, often from observatories equipped with high-end telescopes. Here are six of our favorites.

1. Sandpearl Resort (Clearwater Beach, Florida)
This resort sits directly on a gorgeous stretch of Gulf beach and has a wealth of activities that include organic cooking demonstrations, city tours, dolphin programs in partnership with the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, artists in residence, kayaking excursions, nature walks, and eco-safaris with a marine biologist. Its Astronomy Night takes place on the resort’s boardwalk every other Friday evening after sunset, and is led by an astronomer from the Tampa-based Museum of Science and Industry, who uses stories and a telescope to leads guests on a solar journey of constellations and planets.
Rates are from $249.

2. La Casa del Zorro (Borrego Springs, California)
Situated in the middle of the Anzo-Borrego Desert State Park (about 90 miles north of San Diego), La Casa del Zorro is located in one of a handful of Dark Sky-designated communities. To accommodate guests looking to take in the glittering skyline, the resort has a Stargazing Theater that plays host to celestial events. During this time, an astronomer is on hand to answer questions and give participants the chance to view planets, constellations, and meteor showers through telescopes equipped with ports that make it easier to snap photos of the galaxy. Beyond the star-filled activities, the resort has a pool, spa, fitness studio, yoga classes, and easy access to hiking and biking trails within the park.
Nightly rates are from $129. A Stargazing package is from $189 and includes accommodations, use of a telescope during your stay, breakfast, and early check-in and late check-out.

3. Hyatt Regency (Maui, Hawaii)
For more than 20 years, the hotel’s Tour of the Stars program has been impressing guests thanks to enthusiastic staff astronomer (and former teacher) Eddie Mahoney. The tour is offered on the hotel rooftop, where Mahoney thrills guests with factoids and keeps track of satellite comings and goings so that the starry-eyed can catch a glimpse of everything streaking across the sky.
Hotel rates are from $263. Tour of the Stars is $25 for hotel guests and $30 for non-guests. For $40, you can book the couples-only tour that includes chocolate-covered strawberries and champagne. 


Observatory / Kulmhotel Gornergrat

4. Kulmhotel Gornergrat (Zermatt, Switzerland)
Perched on a mountain 3,390 feet above sea level and surrounded by glaciers, Kulmhotel Gornergrat is the highest hotel in the Alps. At night, it feels as though you can almost touch the stars from the outdoor observatory, which is stocked with all the equipment you need for serious star searching. (Come summertime, you can use the telescopes to look for wild ibex trekking up the mountains.) Here, rooms are named based on whether they face Matterhorn or Monte Rosa Massif, and each has a chunk of rock from its namesake mountain embedded in the wall.
Rates are from $300 and include breakfast, dinner, and Internet.

5. Trout Point Lodge (Nova Scotia, Canada)
Its website says “eco-lodge,” but sustainability doesn’t necessarily equal rugged at this log cabin retreat tucked deep into the Halifax’s Acadian Forest. Rooms are outfitted with luxurious furnishings like deep bathtubs, handcrafted sapling beds, and stone fireplaces. Located in a region of southwest Nova Scotia noted for Northern Lights displays, Trout Point has developed a full stargazing program that includes an on-staff astronomer, a large outdoor platform, telescopes, and astronomical laser pointer and binoculars. The lodge takes astronomy so seriously that in 2014 it became the world's first Starlight Hotel. During the day, astro-tourists can use the solar telescope to watch bright solar flares explode from the sun.
Rooms are from $180 CAN, approximately $131 USD.

6. Elqui Domos (Pisco Elqui, Chile)
Scientific observation and romance come together at Elqui Domos, a collection of geodesic domes and wooden cabins built with wide openings in their ceilings that allow you to observe eastern Chile’s remarkable night sky without ever leaving the bed.  Several years ago, the hotel went full-throttle by building an observatory with a motorized dome that's filled with professional-grade equipment including Schmidt-Cassegrain-type Celestron telescopes and a digital camera. Pro tip: For a different experience, try the resort's guided nighttime horseback rides.
Rates are from $155.

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