Experience a world of incredible sensations and flavors at Dark Sky Alqueva; observe a delightful sunset, drink a Sharish gin, or taste wine while watching the stars. Try a private or group astrophotography workshop, or a nighttime canoe trip.
Dark Sky Alqueva offers many possibilities, and was the first place in the world to be certified by the Starlight Foundation as a “Starlight Tourism Destination”, a title awarded by UNESCO and the World Tourism Organization. The official Observatory is located in Cumeada, in Reguengos de Monsaraz, Portugal. The telescopes are avant-garde, allowing detailed observation of the stars, planets, sun and galaxies, or a simple look at the craters of the Moon, only possible because Alqueva has one of the darkest skies in the world. Night Observation takes into account the phases of the moon and happens from Tuesday to Saturday, by appointment.
1. Stargazing: hunting for the stars
The stars are the main characters of a film that can be seen about 286 nights a year. Light pollution is very low due to the low population density, making the clear skies ideal for observing the stars. In Alqueva the 21.5% darkness index is among the highest in the world, opening a magnificent window for deep stellar dives.
On these dives, star hunters gaze at the sky in search of the perfect constellation. Some pursue the dream of seeing shooting stars pass by, with those who believe in wishes asking for a wish upon a falling star to come true.
Any stargazer will tell you that when the moon is full there are fewer stars, however the sky never loses its magic…The white light fills the sky and the earth like a cloak that embraces everyone in a smooth and perfect serenity. Everything seems to be entwined in perfect harmony all across the universe.
To feed the imagination of so many people looking to see the skies of Alqueva in Alentejo, the Dark Sky Route was created, which includes a range of services from accommodation to catering and tourist entertainment. There is a wide range of programs that you can enjoy, including night moon birding, bird watching, wildlife watching, hiking or horse riding, as well as canoeing and picnics, under an ever starry sky.
Entrepreneurs in the region received training in astronomy to help realize that an adaptation to night tourism was necessary, starting with permission to enter any tourist accommodation at any time and breakfast served late. All this work of changing the mindset continues to be carried out daily, but the results have been positive with businesses increasingly organise night activities. Even water sports like canoeing are also done at night.
2. When the lights go out
There is a divine glow when the lights go out that is worth admiring.
Travel through the permanent astrophotography exhibition of the Dark Sky Alqueva Reserve, where you can find photographs by international astrophotographer Miguel Claro or stop at the “photo of the day” on the NASA website, an excellent synthesis of what Dark Sky Alqueva has to offer. At the observatory, you can also explore the celestial sphere using binoculars and telescopes, through which you can safely observe the sun. Visit the small museum where you can touch a real meteorite, or see an autograph of the last person to step on the moon. The location of the observatory is curious; an old primary school from the Second Portuguese Republic, completely remodelled and adapted for this purpose in 2015.
The municipalities around the great artificial lake of Alqueva: Alandroal, Reguengos de Monsaraz, Portel, Moura, Mourão, and Barrancos have come together to enhance the characteristics of this very special sky. At night, the public lights are set to the minimum to reduce the light pollution and take full advantage of this natural phenomenon.
The constellations can be easily observed, be it Ursa Major, Ursa Minor, Cassiopeia or others that are expressed through drawings of the signs of Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius and Capricorn. Lira, the Swan, and the Eagle among many others are also visible. The observatory builds packages specially designed for you, so it is worth investing in this very creative initiative.
3. Dark Sky Alqueva: Sustainability commitment
The Dark Sky Association is a signatory of the Global Tourism Plastics Initiative, which is part of the One Planet network and seeks to address the causes of pollution concerning plastic. The Global Tourism Plastics Initiative acts as an interface of the tourism sector in the New Global Commitment to the Economy of Plastics, which unites more than 450 companies, governments and other organizations in a vision that has as its main objective to address plastic waste and pollution. It is intended to implement new definitions of the plastics economy, to mobilize the global tourism industry for actions against pollution in this area. The primary purpose is to eliminate all unnecessary plastic and innovate to ensure that it is reusable, recyclable or compostable, thus keeping it in a circular economy.
Dark Sky Alqueva is an ally of the initiative, committed to eliminating unnecessary plastic items by 2025 and innovating so that items are designed to be reusable, recyclable or composted and so remain in the economy and not the environment. It also intends to have 100% of packages transformed and wants to increase the amount of recycled content in all packages. The Global Tourism Plastics Initiative is led by the United Nations Environment Program and the World Tourism Organization, in collaboration with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.