This country is a delight in the evenings and if you are in the right spot, stargazing in Jamaica could be the highlight of your trip.
First, let’s get this out of the way. Jamaica is not a stargazing destination and if you are expecting to see galaxies and nebulas with a telescope, there are many better locations in other parts of the world to do that. On the other hand, warm temperatures and a relaxed atmosphere makes stargazing in Jamaica probably one of the best plans for spending the night – specially when you can see the milky way with the naked eye.
I went to Jamaica to photograph the milky way and at the end of the trip I did not only get incredible photographs of our galaxy, but also understood why Jamaica is the country that relaxes your body and mind.
Read more: Jamaica, with a license to relax
How to find the milky way in Jamaica
When I travel to a country outside Europe, I always hope to see at least once the milky way. I took for granted seeing this galaxy every night all the years I lived in Colombia and now that I moved to Germany, I miss seeing this natural wonder more often.
There are three main factors you definitely have to keep in mind in order to find the milky way in the sky:
- You need a perfect clear sky (which means absolutely zero clouds)
- You need to be far from external light and pollution
- The moon should not be visible
And although the milky way contains around 400 billion stars, we will only be able to see a small, but beautiful, fraction of it in perfect light conditions.
As we are part of the milky way, we are not going to be able to see its spiral form. However, as observers of our own galaxy, the best view we will get is the milky way arching across the night sky.
Seeing a full arch is only possible in a few locations around the world. Still, when I travel, my goal is not to see a full arch (I´ve seen that only 2 or 3 times in my life) but to get a nice view of that middle cloud we all have seen in photos – this is known as the galaxy center and the central bulge.
For my trip to Jamaica, my goal was ideally to find a non-polluted area outside the big cities and stargaze there. Online maps from websites like lightpollutionmap offered a quick option to see how much brightness the sky has at a certain location. This is a great tool for finding a good spot to do stargazing in Jamaica.
Once there, I located the galaxy center using smartphone apps like SkyMap and SkyTracker. These are extremely useful free applications and wherever I go, I like to check this app not only for finding the milky way but sometimes to just know what stars I´m spotting on a clear night.
Sky Map even lets you see the astronomical position of the stars in the upcoming hours, making predictable to know where the galaxy center might be in several hours or when exactly does the moon sets or rises at the horizon – just perfect for stargazing.
Photographing the milky way in Jamaica
Once I knew where the milky way was and when I was going to be able to see it, I could plan my evening around that moment.
Once I found a good spot to sit down and stargaze, I first wanted to relax and enjoy the view. Only until I had my own personal moment of calm and peace, I took out my camera and tried photography. In Jamaica I was able to unleash my creativity by implementing objects of the natural landscape into my photographs: Palms, coconuts, seashells and even the ocean itself were great elements that made my photographs more vibrant and unique.
The first nights were unexpectedly fascinating. Our group stayed at a resort in Negril and although there were lights and music every single night, we simply separated from the resort area, took a walk at the beach and sat on the sand at a dark spot. Here, with a glass of rum in the hand and music in the background, we let our eyes adapt for a while and saw the milky way crossing the sky. Even in the middle of a resort area, we were able to spot the galaxy center and its bulge – this simply shows how much pollution does Europe has, that even 50-60 km away from big cities, you still might have difficulties in spotting the milky way.
Seeing the milky way for first time in a country is something very special. The temperature in Jamaica was warm enough to be in shorts and with the sounds of the waves reaching the shore in the background, I felt like being on paradise.
Great views of Saturn, several suns and one or another shooting star passing by were the best part for our naked eyes, while photographing a clean view of the whole milky way was something, I rather let to the camera shutter.
I used the camera settings I normally use for astrophotography. And since I know them by heart, this part didn´t make me waste so much time in playing with a camera and rather focus on enjoying the moment.
After several days, our group moved to the south of Jamaica. Here is where I was most excited about, as the best view of the milky way cloud would be coming out of the ocean. I also asked to be in the most isolated cabin of the whole hotel and since I knew that this area of the country was way less polluted than in Negril, I had big plans for the night.
With a cliff view from my room, I only had to turn the lights off and look out from my window to get a full view of the milky way. Every night was an absolutely wonderful experience, as the sounds of the ocean and the waves crashing against the cliff were my music on the background.
Being outside of the city made me see the sky with different eyes. Jamaica taught me that I could appreciate the view of the milky way either with reggae, rum and people around me or just by myself and the sounds of nature.
Photographing the milky way became my side hobby in Jamaica. Every night I was excited in finding new spots, using different lights and hopefully seeing and photographing this majestic cloud of stars, most of us don´t see very often.
And while photographing the stars is something, I usually do in every trip I take, Jamaica brought up the Caribbean vibe with it: a magical atmosphere, great conversations and good friends to hang out with.