Traveling to the Southern Hemisphere in June? You might be lucky enough to celebrate the winter solstice. Each year on June 20 or 21 you can enjoy the shortest day of the year in some incredible places, from a festival of lights in Sydney, to ancient culture in Peru. Let’s dive into six incredible ways to spend the winter solstice in the Southern Hemisphere.
What is the winter solstice?
The winter solstice happens twice a year when the path of the Sun in the sky is farthest south in the Northern Hemisphere (December 21 or 22) and farthest north in the Southern Hemisphere (June 20 or 21). On the day of the winter solstice each year the Sun travels the shortest path across the sky, meaning that day has the least sunshine and the longest night.
This day also marks the beginning of winter, according to the astronomical definition of the seasons. After the solstice the days begin to get longer again, which is why many cultures celebrate this as a time of rebirth.
Trek to Machu Picchu, Peru
The winter solstice was a time of great significance for the Incas. It symbolized the rebirth of the sun and the beginning of a new agricultural cycle. During this time, ceremonies and rituals were performed to honor Inti, the sun god. During the winter solstice, the rising sun aligns perfectly with Machu Picchu’s Intihuatana Stone. This sacred rock was used by the Incas as an astronomic clock and ritual device. It is believed that this stone had significant spiritual and religious importance to the Incas.
Hike along the Inca Trail and reach the Sun Gate just in time to observe the spiritual experience of the sun’s first rays illuminating this remarkable archaeological wonder. Celebrating the winter solstice at Machu Picchu is a magical experience that allows you to connect with the ancient Inca civilization. June is during the dry season, so while it can be cold the crowds are thinner and skies are clear.
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Witness the sunrise at Stonehenge Aotearoa, New Zealand
Did you know there’s a modern-day replica of the UK’s famous Stonehenge in the Southern Hemisphere? And just like its ancient counterpart, Stonehenge Aotearoa was specifically designed to align with astronomical events.
During the winter solstice you can witness a stunning alignment of the stones. As the sun emerges on the horizon, its rays align with specific markers within the structure, casting intriguing shadows and illuminating the site in a unique way. This unique site also incorporates elements of Māori mythology and astronomical knowledge. Plus it’s situated in a picturesque location, surrounded by New Zealand‘s natural beauty.
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Go stargazing in the Atacama Desert, Chile
The longest night of the year is one of the best times to go stargazing, and where better than the clear, open skies of the Atacama Desert in Chile? This arid desert is known for its otherworldly landscapes and for having some of the darkest and clearest skies on Earth. The remote location, high altitude, and dry climate create optimal conditions for stargazing. The absence of light pollution allows for unparalleled visibility of celestial objects.
Enjoy breathtaking views of the Milky Way, the planets, constellations, nebulae, and even distant galaxies. The winter solstice makes the Southern Cross, a prominent constellation in the Southern Hemisphere, more visible, and the towering mountains and vast salt flats create a surreal and otherworldly backdrop for observing the night sky.
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Attend the Festival of Lights in Sydney, Australia
In Australia, the winter solstice is marked by the annual Festival of Lights, part of Vivid Sydney. The city comes alive with mesmerizing light installations, art displays, and music performances. Sydney’s cool winter nights become magical with Vivid Sydney. This is the largest festival of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere, attracting millions of visitors each year.
The Festival of Lights brings breathtaking light installations and projections to the city. Iconic Sydney landmarks, such as the Sydney Opera House, Sydney Harbour Bridge, and Circular Quay, are lit up every night. The whole city becomes a vibrant canvas, creating a surreal and enchanting atmosphere. Celebrate Sydney’s multicultural fabric and the winter solstice with this arts festival that combines cutting-edge technology, music and creativity.
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Celebrate Inti Raymi in Cusco, Peru
Celebrating Inti Raymi in Cusco, Peru, is an extraordinary experience that immerses you in the rich cultural heritage of the Inca civilization. This traditional Andean festival honors Inti, the sun god. If you’re in Cusco, the former capital of the expansive Inca empire, during winter solstice you’ll find locals dressed in vibrant traditional attire and streets decorated with colorful banners.
The main event takes place at the historic site of Sacsayhuaman, located just outside Cusco. The festival features a grand procession with participants dressed in vibrant traditional costumes. During the celebrations offerings of corn and coca leaves are made to Inti and other deities. Expect an energetic and fun atmosphere with music, dance and traditional Andean instruments. No party is complete without food, so this is your chance to indulge in the rich flavors of Peruvian cuisine.
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Spot the Southern Lights in Antarctica or Tasmania
You’ve heard of the Northern Lights, but did you know the Southern Lights exist? They’re called the Aurora Australis. Like their northern counterpart, the Aurora Borealis, the Southern Lights are a natural light display caused by the interaction of charged particles from the sun with the Earth’s magnetic field. They occur predominantly in the polar regions, and the winter solstice is a favorable time to observe them.
The closer you are in proximity to the South Magnetic Pole, the better your chance of seeing this rare and mesmerizing phenomenon. That’s why somewhere like Antarctica or Australia’s southernmost region – the island state of Tasmania – are great destinations. Clear skies are necessary for unobstructed views of the auroras, and a good dose of patience! It’s recommended to check aurora forecasts and space weather updates first. It’s not always possible to view the dazzling display of green, red, pink, and purple lights that dance across the night sky.
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Do you know of other winter solstice festivities or traditions in the Southern Hemisphere? Let us know in the comments…