The beautiful and starry skies of Mexico have made it the second country in Latin America where astroturism is most practiced, a new trend in sustainable travel that combines contemplation and stillness with respect for the environment. Houses built on a tree in the middle of the forest or remote and glazed buildings in desert landscapes are some of the destinations chosen by travelers, who need two essential things for this experience: the sky and a telescope that allows them to delve into its depth.
The search for a different experience is essential to understand the rise of this type of tourism. However, according to information provided to Efe by the Airbnb hosting platform, 72% of travelers say that "environmental benefits when choosing accommodation influenced their choice", so there is an environmental awareness in the decision.
"The interest in traveling in a more environmentally friendly way is growing more and more, as travelers become more interested in connecting with nature," the platform indicates. Likewise, it considers that concrete events such as "star showers and eclipses increase the interest in astrotourism".
Currently, on the platform there are 3,000 listings of accommodations that include telescopes, and in Mexico there are more than 280 accommodations related to astronomical topics. Beyond the accommodation, Airbnb offers some specific experiences to observe the starry sky in which the tourist is guided and instructed by local experts who visit.
Regarding prices, the company refrains from identifying the experience as a luxury, arguing that there are different accommodation options in which prices vary depending on the area and the season. Regarding the increase in demand, they consider that "astrotourism is an emerging segment that unites scientific communication with the development of natural areas" and that "it represents an important economic opportunity for the communities that exercise it".
"We believe that this trend has a good outlook in the future," they say.
For his part, the astronomer Raúl Mujica tells Efe that Mexico has a great astronomical tradition since pre-Hispanic civilizations observed the sky with unusual precision. In fact, according to Airbnb, some of the most visited destinations for astrotourism are considered special places by some indigenous cultures.
One of them is Wirikuta, in the state of San Luis Potosí, considered a sacred place of the Huichol worldview. Also it emphasizes Xochicalco, in the state of Morelos, that from prehispanic times was a center of observation of the celestial bodies. Mujica adds that at the top of the Sierra Negra volcano, in the state of Puebla, is the Great Millimeter Telescope (GTM), the largest in the world in its class.
According to the person in charge of dissemination and communication of the National Institute of Astrophysics, Optics and Electronics (INAOE), the skies of the north of the country are exceptional for practicing astronomy. "In the part of Baja California, in the Sierra de San Pedro Mártir, that is one of the best skies in the northern hemisphere, probably the world. Compete with the skies of Hawaii (USA) and Canary Islands (Spain), " he says.
Mujica describes this sky as "very stable and far from the big cities, in the middle of the Baja California Peninsula". Airbnb also highlights the uniqueness of this National Park located more than 2,000 meters above sea level. They specify that this privileged destination to observe the stars has experienced an increase in the number of travelers of more than 190% year after year.
Other astrotourism destinations that are experiencing great growth are Antofagasta, Chile (327%); La Palma, Spain (90%); Kiruna, Sweden (134%), and Yarmouth, Canada (221%). The INAOE also offers astronomical experiences that differ from astrotourism by the use of professional telescopes and by the data offered by specialists to tourists.
"We receive 10,000 people a year, visit the laboratories, the historical telescopes we have and make an observation in the solar telescope," explains Mujica. This advice and guardianship by the experts is "the greatest advantage" that INAOE has over astrotourism. But, whatever option people choose to observe the sky, the scientist concludes by stating that "anything that brings people closer to astronomy is something positive".