MEXICO CITY – The beautiful star-filled skies of Mexico have made the Aztec nation Latin America’s second-most-popular destination for what has become known as astrotourism.
Though astrotourists often seek out tree houses and desert dwellings as the best vantage points, the only indispensable elements are the sky and a telescope.
The rise in astrotourism can be understood in the context of the broader quest for novel travel experiences, yet even less adventurous tourists are increasingly concerned about the environmental impact of tourism.
Online hospitality platform Airbnb told EFE that 72 percent of clients say environmental factors influence their decisions about lodging.
“The interest in traveling in a more environmentally friendly way is growing all the time, as travelers are more interested in connecting with nature,” an Airbnb spokesperson said.
And astrotourism typically surges around cosmic events such as meteor showers and eclipses.
The Airbnb site currently lists 3,000 dwellings equipped with a telescope, 280 of them in Mexico.
Besides providing astrotourists with a place to lay their heads, Airbnb offers activities and excursions with expert guides.
The astrotourism phenomenon gives what have been isolated communities and opportunity for environmentally conscious economic development, according to Airbnb.
Mexico’s astronomic tradition goes back to the Maya and other pre-Columbian civilizations that developed amazingly accurate and precise ways of tracking the movements of celestial bodies, Raul Mujica, an astronomer with the National Institute of Astrophysics, Optics and Electronics (INAOE), told EFE.
Airbnb says that some of the most popular destinations for astrotourism are places that hold special significance to Mexico’s indigenous peoples, such as the Wirikuta valley in the state of San Luis Potosi, the sacred territory of the Huichol people.
Xochicalco, in Morelos, was used in pre-Columbian times as a site for observing the heavens.
Mujica pointed out that Mexico is home to the Large Millimeter Telescope, the world’s largest single-aperture telescope in its frequency range, perched on the side of the Sierra Negra volcano in Puebla state.
“In Baja California state, in the Sierra de San Pedro Martir, that is one of the best skies there is in the northern hemispheres, probably in the world. It competes with the skies of Hawaii and (Spain’s) Canary Island,” he said.
Airbnb says that the number of people visiting the San Pedro Martir National Park, which sits 2,000m (6,561ft) above sea level, has been nearly doubling every year.
The INAOE, meanwhile, offers its own selection of activities for visitors who wish to see professional telescopes and learn from specialists.
“Anything that brings people closer to astronomy is something positive,” Mujica said.