The best places to see the solar eclipse in 2016.
On the morning of 1st September, 2016, an annular solar eclipse will cut its way across the heart of Africa. The last time that central and eastern Africa witnessed an event like this was almost thirty years ago – before I was born. This captivating continent abounds with great sights and fantastic wildlife; why not combine these with one of the greatest light shows that the heavens have to offer?
What is an annular eclipse?
For the uninitiated, the term ‘annular eclipse’ might not mean very much. It certainly does not mean an eclipse that happens on a yearly basis, as many people might assume. In fact, ‘annular’ derives from the Latin word for ring – ‘annulus’. It is best not to ponder other words that might share this origin.
It is the ring-shaped nature of this eclipse that makes it such a unique phenomenon. Whilst a total solar eclipse leads to the sun being fully obscured by the moon, an annular eclipse occurs when the moon is too distant to fully obscure the sun. Perceived as too small, the moon crosses directly in front of the sun, but a ring of fire forms around it.
The sun’s fiery rays burst from around the edges of the moon’s blackened surface. An image that conjures apocalyptic thoughts, this mesmerising spectacle will visit the skies of Africa for a just few hours this year. To see the path it will take, visit NASA’s interactive webpage.
Where is best to see the eclipse?
This is hard to predict. It will depend on a number of conditions. These include your proximity to the exact path of the eclipse, the conditions overhead, the topography of the surrounding land and the angle of the sun above the horizon.
Furthermore, accommodation and logistical arrangements also play a part. For example, the Democratic Republic of Congo plays host to this spectacle for the longest period of time. But the vast tranches of inaccessible jungle that it crosses are not ideal eclipse-viewing territory.
Similarly, whilst the Congo is slightly more accessible, accommodation options within a few hundred kilometres of the eclipse are limited, to say the least. With this in mind, and considering a number of factors, here are some of the places that are best for witnessing this magical astronomic occurrence.
Clear skies and stunning, wildlife-rich surroundings drive Tanzania to the top of my list. September is an excellent month to visit the country, whilst both Katavi and Mahale national parks are almost perfectly positioned for viewing the eclipse.
The eclipse will reach its zenith at around 11.30am, with the sun high in the sky to the northeast. This means that even the Mahale Mountains should prove no impediment to witnessing the sight. And, in spite of the remote locale, accommodation choices are not lacking. Stay at either Greystoke Mahale or Chada Katavi. Both beautiful camps offer an array of activities, with the former renowned for its chimp trekking and the latter offering excellent lion encounters.
The pick of these for eclipse viewing is probably Greystoke Mahale. Its beautiful beachside location sits bewilderingly close to the perfect point for witnessing the eclipse. Watch as the sky darkens above the Mahale Mountains and fiery sunbursts dance around the edges of the shadowed moon.
This offers a beachside alternative to Tanzania, with the country’s largest coastal park lying either side of the perfect point to view the eclipse. With the eclipse peaking at around 11.20am, the sky will darken over the idyllic Quirimbas Archipelago as the shimmering Indian Ocean grows briefly dull. And, just like Tanzania, the beautiful surroundings will undoubtedly be overlooked by clear skies at this time of year.
Two beautiful island properties steal the best spots for this late-morning show: Azura Benguerra Private Island sits just to the south of the perfect viewing location, whilst Ibo Island Lodge is just to the north. Watch in awe as the sun, high in the sky and almost due north, is obscured above this tropical paradise. After the show is over, spend time exploring the archipelago by land and sea.
This forgotten French overseas territory is located so that the entire island will witness a partial eclipse, at the very least. But those on the southern coast will have the best seats. With the eclipse occurring at around 2pm, whilst the sun is in the northwest, the seafront boulevard of Saint Paul is the place to be. Watch as the endless waters of the distant ocean grow dark, with the sun sitting above an unbroken, watery horizon.
Alternatively, take advantage of Réunion’s volcanic landscape and climb to the island’s highest point, the towering Piton des Neiges, for an excellent vantage point. Or ascend the only active volcano, the Piton de la Fournaise, for a surreal, eerie experience. Marvel in the mesmerizingly apocalyptic landscape, as the ash-streaked rocks darken under the shadowy, fire-tinged sky.
Bisected by the path of the eclipse, Madagascar ought to be a great place to observe this event. However, although the skies will be clear, so will the land. For the eclipse’s path takes it through a region of largely uninhabited wilderness. This means that viewing options are limited by accommodation choices.
However, with the maximum eclipse not occurring until around 12.45pm, there will be plenty of time to get into position. Both Le Palmarium and Anjajavy offer excellent bases, within easy reach of the path of the eclipse. For unobscured, over-the-ocean viewing, the latter is by far the best choice. Located on an isolated stretch of Madagascan coast, this collection of villas sit in front of a wildlife-rich forest reserve.
An easy choice for last place, Gabon only sneaks in by virtue of the beautiful Loango National Park’s perfect positioning. Almost as inaccessible and lacking in tourist infrastructure as the aforementioned D.R.C., this country is not for the faint-hearted. However, there is little doubt that watching the eclipse from the magical coastal rainforests of Loango would be an experience to behold. Whilst nearby Omboue and Evengué Island offer even better vantage points, looking out across the vast Nkomi Lagoon.
Start your Journey
All of these destinations (with the possible exception of fickle Gabon) are fantastic choices for viewing this year’s annular eclipse. Whether it be exploring the Mahale Mountains of Tanzania or hiking across the volcanic landscape of Reunion, any trip that incorporates such a captivating, once-in-a-lifetime event will undoubtedly be memorable. And we can make it happen.