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The best five places to see the stars

The magic of a night sky full of stars is an unforgettable experience. Capturing it on photos, even more so. With Fefo Bouvier, astrophotographer and author of the ¨Mirá las Estrellas¨ (Look at the Stars) project, we´ll present you five places where their skies are unpolluted, keeping their natural darkness, to take your camera, binoculars or just enjoy the sights.

The Milky Way, thousands of stars, planets, meteor showers, and even galaxies will feast your eyes.

The galactic centre, the shiniest part of the Milky Way, can easily be seen as a great luminous ribbon in the sky. In the Southern Hemisphere during Winter, nights are longer, so it can be seen for a longer time. Also, cold climate makes for a clean atmosphere.

Here in the South, Magellanic Clouds can also be seen as two white patches easily spotted against the dark night sky. These dwarf galaxies are closed to the Southern Pole, making them an interesting attraction for those who never saw the Southern skies, as much as the Andromeda galaxy for those who never visited the North.

Looking up and finding the sky natural landscape is a gift from nature that can be appreciated from many places. Here, we point the five that stand out because you can clearly identify the skies characteristics at first sight, while being easily reached and for being tourist attracions in themselves.

We use the Bortle night sky scale, that measures the brightness of the nigh sky. This scale has nine levels, Level 1 being the darkest skies on earth, and Level 9 the brightest, seen from a city´s centre.

The galactic centre seen from Cerro de la Buena Vista. Image: Fefo Bouvier by miralasestrellas.com

1. Cerro de la Buena Vista, Rocha

Bortle Scale: level 2

One of the main attractions in Barra de Valizas, and as its name tells (good views) it promises impressive sights. The gist of it is to climb up to fifty-six metres to enjoy one of the most breathtaking views in Uruguay. In the night. it´s without doubt one of the best places to enjoy the starry sky and the galactic centre, which during Summer´s end and the beginning of Winter raises above the Atlantic Ocean. Being a grand open space, it´s perfect to see the Milky Way cross the sky from end to end.

If you are lucky, you´ll see the sea coming alight with bioluminiscent creatures that give a blue-green glow.

2. Cerro Catedral, Maldonado

Bortle Scale: level 2

At five hundred and thirteen metres above sea level, it´s the country´s highest place and one of the astronomic enthusiast all-time favourites for the quality of its night sky. It is part of Carapé Hills, part of the hills that cross through Maldonado and Rocha.

The zone has no services, so you won´t be able to stay all night. It´s best to visit at sunset and watch the sky during the first night hours. There are many stars that can be seen there, including those constellations that can be easy to identify such as the Orion Giant, which are no longer lonely and share their protagnic role with all the stars.

Watching the galactic centre from Cerro Catedral. Image: Fefo Bouvier by miralasestrellas.com

3. Parque Salto del Penitente, Lavalleja

Bortle scale: level 2

Home to Uruguay´s tallest waterfall, it´s also one of our most enticing natural parks. Placed among the hills of Lavalleja, the lanscape is rocky with native flora. Luminic pollution is very low, and you can stay the night here to enjoy the night sky either camping or in one of the cabins. It´s a safe place to relax and enjoy meteor showers such as the Orionids in October and the Geminids in December.

The galactic centre above Salto del Penitente park. Image: Fefo Bouvier by Mirá las estrellas.

4. Lunarejo Valley, Rivera

Bortle scale: level 2

Coined as Uruguay fourth wonder among visitors´ ratings, it´s a protected area belonging to the North Ravines. It stands out because of its hilly landscape, waterfalls, gullies, and rich vegetation. For nature lovers, there are more thanone hundred and sixty animal and plant specimens in the place. Among them, the bobcat, the anteater, capybara, otter, fox, and coati are easily seen around.

The night sky´s quality allows to see the Milky Way and the stars with incredible detail. Also the zodiacal light, a band of light in the night sky that makes it look brighter right after sunset, thought to be sunlight reflected from cometary dust concentrated in the plane of the zodiac, can be seen here.

The Milky Way and Zodiacal Light from the Norhtern Ravines. Image: Fefo Bouvier by Mirá las estrellas.

5. Mahoma Hills, San José

Bortle scale: level 3

Known as the “stone sea” for its twenty square kilometres of rocky formations, legend says the place owes its name to Ohma, a native that lived there during the colonial period. It´s a perfect place for trekking, kayaking, and horse riding. The place has a restaurant and cabins.

From the sightseeing point, easily found because of its five metres tall cross, you can easily appreciate the Magellanic Clouds and notable constellations such as Taurus, Scorpio, the Southern Cross and Orion.

The galactic arch from Mahoma Hills. Image:Fefo Bouvier by Mirá las estrellas.


When to watch the night sky in Uruguay

From March to October, and especially during Winter (June to August) is the best time to see the galaxy centre, the brightest part of the Mily Way. During Summer, facing Orion you´ll see myriads of bright stars. Even though the Magellanic Clouds can be seen all year, they stand out during Spring (September to November)

The Milky Way and Magellanic Clouds from Cerro de la Buena Vista. Image: Fefo Bouvier by Mirá las estrellas.

We reccommend checking the moon phases, because stars are better seen during the New Moon, because the moonlight is not as bright and smaller stars and the Milkt Way are easier to see at first glance.

When your are there, avoid using screens or lanterns to let your eyes adapt to darkness. If there´s no choice but to use a lantern, look for a red light one so that you won´t be blinded by its light. Also, be patient. Complete darkness arrives between one and two hours after sunset, and lasts until dawn.

We hope you have good times and good skies!