On August 21, 2017, the United States experienced its first total coast-to-coast solar eclipse in 99 years. It was an astounding several minutes, and those of us lucky to see it in person will remember it for the rest of our lives.
Well, most of us, anyway. On August 16 of that year, astronomer Neil deGrasse Tyson rained on our collective parade by noting that total solar eclipses occur somewhere on Earth every two years or so.
“So just calm yourself when people tell you they’re rare,” he wrote.
That immediately prompted a backlash on social media, since people were rightfully excited about seeing the totality -- we didn’t need anyone wrecking our enthusiasm. However, Tyson was right; eclipses are rare, but they’re significantly less rare if you’re willing to travel to see them.
With that in mind, we’ve put together a list of places to see a solar eclipse (total or otherwise) in 2020, along with tips for making the most of the experience. Hey, if you’re looking for an excuse to take a vacation, this is as good of a reason as any, right?
Annular Solar Eclipse On June 21, 2020
On June 21, 2020, an annular eclipse will be clearly visible over parts of Africa, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia at 3:45 Universal Time.
An annular solar eclipse differs from a total eclipse in one key way: The moon is significantly farther away from Earth, so the sun is still able to emit direct light. It creates a ring in the sky -- annulus is a mathematical term for a ring, by the way -- but you don’t get the same weird twilight glow that you’d experience in totality. Instead, you get a “ring of fire” in the sky, which you can’t view directly without eye protection.
In short, a total eclipse is… well, much, much cooler, and we’ll discuss your options for seeing one in a moment. Still, an annular eclipse provokes deep questions about life and the universe, and frankly, the idea of traveling in June is appealing.
The Best Place To See It: Lalibela, Ethiopia
Lalibela is one of Ethiopia’s most popular tourist destinations, and it’s in a prime position to enjoy the annular eclipse. If you’re looking to experience true awe, you can’t do much better.
The town is known for its stone churches, built in the 12th and 13th centuries in an attempt to recreate the city of Jerusalem. Take a guided tour, and you can see these holy buildings in person. You’ll also see the eclipse, which will last less than a minute. Plan carefully, and it’ll be a minute you’ll remember for the rest of your life.
Another Place To See It: Muscat, Oman
The capital of Oman is one of the oldest cities in the Middle East. Numerous natural wonders surround the city, including the Bimmah Sinkhole, which is full of flawless turquoise saltwater, and Pebble Beach, a coastal area covered in perfectly round pebbles. To explore Oman’s culture, you’ll want to stop by the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, a breathtakingly beautiful site with the world’s second-largest chandelier.
While Oman is on the coast, it’s also in an arid region, so you’ll have a high chance of clear skies for the eclipse. Be sure to book a reservation at a coastal restaurant, since the city is known for its incredible seafood.
Total Solar Eclipse On December 14, 2020
If you’re traveling solely to see an eclipse, you'll definitely want to take your vacation time around December 14, when South America will get several minutes of totality.
This total eclipse will start around 16:13:30 Universal Time, shrouding the region in otherworldly light. Pick your destination carefully, and you can enjoy this breathtaking celestial event.
The Best Place To See It: Southern Chile
The eclipse will occur right around noon, and if you head to Chile, you’ll have no shortage of destinations to choose from. Our pick is fairly obvious: The mysterious statues of Easter Island should look appropriately majestic in the dim light of totality.
If that doesn’t sound thrilling enough, consider heading to the Villarrica Volcano, one of South America’s most active volcanoes. You’ll need to keep your distance from the actual peak for obvious reasons, but the prospect of seeing a total eclipse while watching a volcano erupt seems irresistible.
Another Place To See It: Western Argentina
Really, this one’s a toss-up between Argentina and Chile. We love the idea of seeing the totality from Easter Island, but Iguazu Falls might offer even more incredible views.
If you’re not familiar with this natural wonder, Iguazu Falls consists of 275 individual waterfalls on the border of Argentina and Brazil (the landmark’s name means “big water” in the Tupi or Guarani language, which seems appropriate). You can access the falls from either Argentina or Brazil.
The eclipse will hit a relatively wide region of South America, so you’ve got plenty of options. Research a few spots in Argentina and Chile and see if one seems especially appealing. NASA’s website has a map of the area of totality, which can help you develop a suitable set of options for your trip.
Tips For Witnessing A Solar Eclipse
Watch The Weather (And Be Ready To Travel)
Eclipses don’t last long; during the December 2020 eclipse, totality will last for slightly over 2 minutes, and that’s assuming perfectly clear weather. A few stray clouds could ruin the experience, even during totality, since the sun needs to be visible in the first place (obvious, we know).
As such, you should be prepared to alter your plans on short notice. Watch the weather closely in the weeks leading up to your trip and try to keep your itinerary open.
Think About Eclipse Photography Before The Big Day
If you’re hoping to get great photographs of the eclipse, bring a decent camera (no offense to your iPhone, but you’re probably not getting professional-quality photos with it). A larger focal length will give you a larger image of the sun, but if you’re serious about your craft, consider reading Nikon’s guide to eclipse photography.
Remember to focus on your own experience before worrying about your photographs. A solar eclipse is a rare event, and you don’t want to spend it worrying about apertures and focal lengths unless you’re a professional photographer.
Make Sure You’re Well Equipped For The Eclipse
Regardless of the type of eclipse, you need to find appropriate eyewear. Looking directly at the sun can permanently damage your eyes, and standard sunglasses don’t provide sufficient protection. Look for eclipse glasses explicitly designed for the task, and discard any glasses that are scratched, torn, or otherwise damaged.
As the moon moves across the sun, points of light will shine from the moon’s edges. These are called Baily’s beads, and during a total eclipse, you can remove your eye protection when the beads disappear. You’ll need to put your eyewear back on when you see the sun’s ring start to brighten.
Visit NASA’s website to learn more, especially if you’re thinking about removing your eyewear during totality.
If You’re Thinking Of Traveling For The Eclipse, Go For It
Is it silly to travel halfway across the world for a few minutes of obscured sunlight? We don’t think so, especially given that the destinations in question have plenty to offer adventurous travelers.
While solar eclipses may be relatively common according to Neil deGrasse Tyson, they’re astounding phenomena for the people who experience them, and they’re even more breathtaking when you’re on holiday.
Of course, you could just wait a few years -- the United States will see another continent-wide total solar eclipse on April 8, 2024 -- but where’s the fun in that? With appropriate eyewear and a couple of plane tickets, you, too, can be an eclipse-chaser -- and collect some amazing memories in the process.