This is, perhaps, the most essential suggestion: Travel with an operator/tour company that has successfully completed several previous eclipse trips. It should be obvious that the company has journeyed to numerous totalities. A good sign is if the company is primarily focused on eclipse trips and other astronomical adventures, rather than simply offering an eclipse tour because totality happens to pass through part of the world where they normally travel.
Also important is the experience of the staff involved. Have the tour leaders led previous eclipse trips? Does the tour include an experienced astronomer/eclipse chaser who can describe what to expect, and how to safely view and photograph the event? If you’ve never see totality, this is a vital expert to have along. Finally, will a meteorologist with eclipse-day weather experience be part of, or in constant contact with, the tour prior to totality? This is critical, as it will ensure the best possible weather options for eclipse day.
Asking questions about the experience of the company and its staff may also help you determine if the tour operator can deliver a quality product. Make sure you investigate more than one eclipse-trip offering. Comparison shopping might reveal if one company isn’t as organized and professional as the others.
The path of totality often crosses countries that you have either not considered visiting or have always wanted to see. An eclipse is, therefore, a great excuse to travel. But don’t make totality the be-all and end-all of the trip, especially if you’ve never seen a total solar eclipse. If totality is clouded out, your disappointment will dominate your perception of the journey.
So, when deciding which eclipse tour to join, look carefully at the itinerary beyond eclipse day. Does the trip explore some of the culture and history of the region you’re traveling to? Are there included or optional excursions that let you dive deeper into the subjects that interest you? Does the itinerary have some free time for exploration on your own, or perhaps for some shopping? Most tour companies hire knowledgeable local guides who have fascinating tales to tell about the region you’re traveling through and the people who live there. Ask if their in-country tour guides are local, or if they’re brought in from the company’s home country. If handled well, this will enrich your journey and make a view of totality the icing on the trip cake.
While you can’t expect your eclipse-viewing site to have all the comforts of home, it should certainly include the essentials: toilets, food and water, chairs, level ground, perhaps shade if the location is hot, and, of course, good odds of clear skies. Most tour companies don’t announce where they’ll be setting up to watch the eclipse, because they don’t want to be inundated by folks who aren’t part of their group. But you should be able to call and talk to the operator about some of the basics. Has the company scouted the site? Approximately where is the viewing site located? Is there a back-up site? How will the group get to the site? What amenities will be provided?
“Climate is what you expect; weather is what you get” is an oft-heard saying on eclipse tours, particularly when discussing weather prospects for eclipse day. Weather prediction is not an exact science, and it’s possible that positive forecasts made several days in advance for a particular site will turn out to be wrong. So the ultimate question to ask an eclipse-tour company is this. The day before the eclipse, if it looks like the weather at the prime viewing site won’t be good, are you prepared to consider moving the group to another location on eclipse-day morning?
To be fair, this is a hard question to answer, because there are so many variables when attempting a last-minute change of venue. An eleventh-hour move of those viewing-site comforts mentioned earlier can be extremely challenging (and may be impossible). It’s unrealistic to expect a tour company, on eclipse-day morning, to shift a very large group to a new location more than a few hours away from the prime site in the hope of finding clear skies. And unless the group is very small, it’s just not practical to attempt to chase holes in moving clouds. Still, ask the question. The answer could swing you one way or the other when it comes to choosing a company.
If you’ve already traveled with a particular tour operator and enjoyed the experience, the staff, and the people on the trip, then maybe you’ve found the eclipse-travel company that’s right for you. Perhaps you noticed numerous repeat clients on the tour, many of whom first met and became friends while chasing totality with the same company – another sign that you’ve made a good choice. In fact, the friends you make on one eclipse tour you may never see again… until you meet them, once more, on another journey to totality.
Photo Credits: (Header) TQ/Michel Girardin, (Top) Group shot: TQ/Michel Girardin, (Left) Baily’s beads: TQ/Paul Deans, (Right) Excited travelers: Eclipse watchers: TQ/Cathrine Bryn
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