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Astronomy Tourism on the Canary Islands

Out in the Atlantic ocean off the southern coast of Morocco lies one of the more remote sections of the European Union, the Canary Islands. An autonomous region of Spain, the seven large islands and numerous small islands are known in Spanish as Las Canarias. Over the past decade, the archaepoelgo, better known for its tourist beach resorts, has become a focus for a new kind of tourism, one that looks to the stars.

The Canary Islands are perfectly situated for start gazing. Located close to the equator but beyond the reach of most tropical storms the Canaries offer views of nearly the entire Northern Celestial Hemisphere and substantial chunk of the Southern Celestial Hemisphere.  The mountains of the Canary Islands rise well above the thick cloud layer created by the trade winds and the temperature-inversion layer while at the same time blocks out the city lights from below. For some reason, this phenomena is known as the “Donkey’s Belly”. Whoever’s belly, the air on the Canaries is clear, stable and perfect to see the stars.

canary islands cruises
La Palma Telescopes. Photo by Bob Tubbs

Because of this unique position, people have been coming to the Canaries to study the stars for at least two-hundred years. In 1856, Charles Piazzi Smyth, the Royal Astronomer of Scotland climbed the mountains on Tenerife to see what he could see.

And it has only gotten better. The Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias and the Roque de los Muchachos Observatory are located the island of La Palma and the Teide Observatory can be found on the island of Tenerife. Like the Pic du Midi Observatory, together, these institutions constitute a so-called ‘astronomy reserve’ that can be accessed by space researchers from all over the world. Currently, the two observatories on La Palma host telescopes and other observatory instruments that belong to observers from over sixty research institutions from nearly twenty countries.

canary islands cruises
Roque de los Muchachos.

The Canaries can be accessed via flights from mainland Europe or via a wide-range of Canary Islands cruises that offer a variety of drop off points all over the archipelago and even beyond to the magnificent islands of Madeira, a garden-like paradise on a rock further out in the Atlantic.  The islands are situated along the north to east trade winds which results in each island having its own distinct microclimate.

The observatories offer a year-round array of activities for the sky curious tourist. Some of these activities are hosted in the observatories themselves while others take participants on the road to capture particular views. The Roque de los Muchachos opens its doors to hundreds of school kids from all over the world every year.

In addition to the observatories a number of companies have grown up around astronomical tourism in the Canaries. Check out Astroeduca or for more Caneducam for more information.


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