Alqueva is the first site in the world to receive the “Starlight Tourism Destination” certification. This certification, awarded by the Starlight Foundation is supported by UNESCO, UNWTO and IAC. Starlight destinations are visitable places characterized by excellent quality for the contemplation of starry skies, and the practice of tourist activities based on this resource.
The region of the Great Lake Alqueva in Alentejo, Portugal is a wonderful place to see the stars, constellations and distant galaxies such as the Milky Way. The unique characteristics of the night sky with a very low rate of light pollution, in the municipalities of Alandroal, Reguengos, Monsaraz, Mourão, Barrancos, Portel and Moura ensure the ideal conditions for an excellent observation of the dark sky. In Alqueva the sky has good atmospheric conditions for stargazing most of the year. Such skies are disappearing in Europe, where most of the population has no longer the privilege to observe an unpolluted sky.
Its low level latitude (38degN), minimal light pollution and impressively clear skies provide the astronomy beginner and the expert with unparalleled opportunities to explore the magic and mystery of the night sky.
For the beginner the clarity of the night sky (average of 286 clear nights a year) makes it easier to recognise all the constellations, identify the stars and even spot some deep sky objects with the naked eye. Telescopes and binoculars are also available at key locations to enhance the visual experience and expert guides are on hand to provide information and advice.
For the more experienced observer and expert deep sky objects (galaxies, nebulas and star clusters) are visible down to 52 deg south declination. The low light pollution and clarity of the sky provides a unique opportunity to observe the dimmest deep sky objects and to see the moon and planets in sharp focus.
Astrophotography too can be pursued successfully and dramatically here.
Alqueva is a unique region very rich in cultural and natural heritage with, various visible megalithic remains whish suggest that our ancestors symbolically valued the landscape, relating it to the diversity of celestial movements, small picturesque villages and opportunities for to develop different tourist activities that could start during the day and extent during the night.
The experiences implemented through an Alqueva Dark Sky® Route allows tourists to undertake several night activities such as stargazing, bird watching, hiking, horseback riding, wildlife observation, canoeing, dinners on the lake shore, activities with children and even wine tasting.
It is wonderful to observe close up the rugged, cratered surface of the Moon and study the movement of the four main moons of Jupiter. To find Ursa Major, Ursa Minor and Cassiopeia, but do not just stop there. Stroll through the eyes many other constellations, visible in a wide range depending on the season of the year. For example, to locate Lion, Virgo and Libra, spreading out your eyes by Scorpio and Sagittarius, following the mysterious Capricornus, without forgetting Cygnus, Aquila, Lyra, passing the eyes through the majestic Milky Way, observe Aquarium, the faint Pisces, stretching the Gaze to Pegasus and Aries, visit the magnificent Taurus which night after night challenges Orion. Follow for Gemini and be sure to see Auriga. All this surrounded by the magnificent nature, sounds and smells.
The Alqueva Dark Sky Route has telescopes and binoculars and it is possible also to learn how to stargaze.
The lodging units integrated in the Alqueva Dark Sky Route are prepared to receive the astro-tourists with services adapted to their specific needs, like late night meals and meals to go for stargazers.
The Route integrates members certified by the Alqueva Dark Sky Reserve to offer services of accommodation, restoration and tourism activities. The accommodation and restoration units can also offer activities and to know what they can offer please read, below their contacts, the rubric Dark Sky activities.
Some of the units listed have agreements between them to provide different services according the specialization of each. And they can offer more night and day activities by request.