The Canary Islands, an archipelago of eight main islands and several smaller ones, are located in the Atlantic Ocean, just over 60 miles west of Morocco. The year-round hot climate, pristine white beaches and volcanic black ones, as well as lush valleys, the world’s third largest volcano, and picturesque villages and towns make the Canary Islands a popular tourist attraction for visitors from all over the world.
There is, however, something extra special about the islands: the night sky. Due to their location, climatic conditions, and mountain peaks, the islands are blessed with one of the clearest and most unpolluted night skies in the world. This has brought scientists to the islands, where they’ve established professional and sophisticated observation centers. Best of all, these stunning observation points aren’t only for professional astronomers, they are open to enthusiastic amateurs as well. Astrotourism is a keyword for a trend that has developed over the last few years to provide visitors who want more than just a beach holiday in the Canary Islands.
You can either go on guided tours or visit the centers by yourself. Once there, you’ll be assisted by professionals who will explain the constellations and show you how to use the telescopes. You’ll be able to marvel at the Milky Way like nowhere else. Here, we introduce the best stargazing spots on the different islands and how to get to them.
Pro Tip: The best times to visit for stargazing are February, March, and the first two weeks of August. Bring warm clothes (nights can be cold even in August), comfortable hiking shoes, and your camera.
Tenerife is the largest of the Canary Islands with the active volcano Pico de Teide, the world’s third-tallest volcano, in its center, surrounded by the Teide National Park. The entire park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of the unique moon-like landscape of rivers of petrified lava, harsh landscape, scarce-but-rare vegetation, and wildlife.
With two international airports, Tenerife is the ideal starting point for your stargazing tour of the Canary Islands. Begin here and go on by either domestic flight or ferry to La Gomera and La Palma. But first, while on Tenerife, you can stargaze at the following locations.
1. Las Canadas Del Teide
It’s a huge natural platform, which on a clear night in August, specifically, allows you stunning views of Perseid meteors and star showers as well as of the shining star Vega and the Milky Way. At any other time of the year, the stargazing is impressive, too. Las Canadas can be easily reached by car.
2. Montana De Izana
Close to Las Canadas, you find the official observatory (IAC) of the Canaries at Montana de Izana. Massive telescopes reach into the night sky. Although it’s mainly a scientific institution, visitors are more than welcome to use the facilities and observe the constellations guided by professionals. You’ll have to hike up, and the easiest way to get there is by taking the Sunset and Stars guided tour or any of several others that go to the observatory. These tours make use of the cable car, saving you time and breath for the adventure of stargazing, although if you are up to if, walking up the mountain is an exhilarating experience all by itself.
3. Mount Guajara
This is a stargazing experience for the true hobby astronomer and those who are fit enough for several hours of hiking up a mountain and prepared to sleep in a rustic cabin with no facilities. Why? Because nothing is more fascinating than watching the color show of the stars as the sun comes up over the mountain. Mount Guajara’s ragged peaks rise at equal height as the other locations for stargazing, but there are no telescopes, just the natural spectacle of Cassiopeia, the North Star, and Pegasus. If you venture on this trip, make sure you wear warm clothes and hiking shoes and bring food, water, a camera, and, if you wish, binoculars (though they are not really necessary). The stars are so bright and close that you’ll think you can touch them.
La Palma may be one of the smaller Canary Islands, but it boasts some of the most spectacular stargazing points, not to mention a splendid landscape of green forests, a few beaches, and lovely villages. You can reach the island by domestic flight from Tenerife North or by ferry from Tenerife South.
4. Roque De Los Muchachos
Located within the National Park of Caldera de Taburiente and situated on what’s called a rocky mound that rises over 7,800 feet, the observatory at Roque de los Muchachos is run by the Instituto de Astrofisica de Canarias and features an impressive array of telescopes, among them the world’s largest optical infrared telescope. Easily reached by car from the island’s capital, Santa Cruz de La Palma, you can not only watch the constellations in unparalleled clarity but also see the islands of La Gomera and El Hierro. Bring drinks and snacks; there is no opportunity to buy them at the observatory. If you prefer a guided tour, this is a good one.
5. San Borondon
If you want a very accessible stargazing experience (that doesn’t involve a hike), then the viewpoint of San Borondon is ideal for you. Located in the west of the island near the Port of Tazacorte, the viewpoint is a natural terrace jutting out over the sea and hence is nearly at sea level. No telescopes, no guided tours, but a nice walk (no parking) on a clear night to see the constellations. If you choose a dark night without a moon, you will be able to see the entire length of the Milky Way.
6. Llano Del Jable
Here we are back at a 7,000-foot altitude at a viewpoint in volcanic landscape. Llano del Jable allows, even with the naked eye, exceptional views of Pegasus, Cassiopeia, and the Andromeda Nebula. There is even a sign pointing to the North Star.
The viewpoint is on a platform overlooking the Aridane Valley with the old volcano in the background. There are no guided tours and no telescopes here, but information boards are available to help you. Follow these instructions on how to get there from the capital by car.
La Gomera, one of the smaller populated Canary Islands, is best reached by ferry from Tenerife South as it has only a tiny domestic airport.
The volcanic island has several excellent stargazing viewpoints that you can easily reach by following a stargazing route of your own design.
7. Mirador Cesar Manrique
This viewpoint in the west of the island (and at an altitude of approximately 7,000 feet) is reached on the route to Valle Gran Rey. It’s ideal for viewing the massive constellation of Orin, especially in the months of February and March. There are no telescopes and no observatory, so bring your binoculars.
8. Mirador Ermita Del Santo
From Mirador Cesar Manrique, make your way to Mirador el Santo near the tiny village of Arure. This viewpoint gives you splendid views of the Milky Way and the constellation of Gemini.
9. Mirador De Alojera
During the day, Mirador de Alojera rewards you with a splendid view across a green valley dotted with palm trees from the summit to the sea. And at night? It’s the best place to see Ursa Major and Minor or the Great and Little Bears.
10. Garajonay National Park
This national park located in the center of the island needs to be visited during the day, too, because of the iconic rock formations and the only surviving laurel forest in Europe. Hiking paths criss-cross the park so you can easily entertain yourself until nightfall when you climb up to the summit and, from a natural platform, can observe the Milky Way, the constellations of Sagittarius and Scorpio, and the red supergiant star Antares, 400 times bigger than the sun. Nearby is the Las Nieves recreation center, which has excellent parking facilities and refreshments that will help you recover from your explorations and be ready for the drive back to the capital, San Sebastian.
11. Roque Saucillo
We have left the second largest and perhaps best-known Canary Island for last because there is only one center for stargazing, Roque Saucillo. Located in Vega de San Mateo and only a short distance from the capital, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, this is a center dedicated to helping visitors see and appreciate the constellations. Again, the best time to visit is a moonless night in February or March. You can make use of sophisticated camera telescopes and attend classes and workshops here.
Be aware that most of these stargazing adventures involve physical effort, sometimes including steep climbs or long hikes. On most of the Canary Islands, it is not an activity suitable for small children or people with limited mobility. The exception is San Borondon on La Palma. Warm clothes, hiking shoes, and water are essential for all stargazing outings that involve exertion.
It’s a good idea to do some research about the constellations beforehand, so you know exactly what you are looking at and can appreciate the view, literally with stars in your eyes. And, for more trip-planning inspiration, read up on the 10 best experiences on the Canary Islands.