The period after the holidays can be a bit of a letdown. The presents have all been opened, the champagne corked, and the weather probably makes you want to just crawl back in bed and pull the covers over your head. After all you’ve spent, your wallet is probably quite a bit lighter too. But the good news is that January tends to be one of the cheapest times to travel, and whether you’re looking for a magical winter wonderland or tropical sun, there are some great destinations to consider.
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Lake Louise, Banff, Alberta, Canada
Anytime is a good time to be in Banff, surrounded by the majestic Canadian Rockies, but winter is especially magical. January, in particular, brings the Ice Magic Festival, hosted January 15th through January 26th in 2020, for the chance to witness some incredible ice art, including the International Ice Carving Competition, an event where ice carvers work to sculpt towering unique works from 300-pound blocks of solid ice over a grueling 34 hours. While you’re there you can also enjoy gondola rides over the breathtaking snow-blanketed landscape, sleigh rides, dog-sledding, canyon ice walks, ice skating and more.
Lerwick, Shetland Islands, Scotland
While the remote Shetland Islands may not be a place many people think about visiting, let alone visiting in the winter, at Lerwick, the main port of the Shetlands, Europe’s largest fire festival will be held to celebrate the community’s rich Viking heritage. Up Helly Aa includes torchlight parades, costumed marchers, the burning of a Viking boat and parties that go on long after the flames have faded away. There are plenty of delicious warming dishes to fuel your appetite too, like Reestit Mutton, Shetland’s unofficial signature dish and winter specialty with the meat traditionally soaked in brine before being hung up to dry in the rafters, taking the flavor from the peat fire burning underneath.
January is one of the best months to visit Panama as it’s officially the dry season, making it an ideal time for visitors to experience all this fabulous country has to offer, from exciting city attractions to lush rainforest and the beach, all in one relatively inexpensive destination. For a more rustic adventure, head to the San Blas Islands which are protected by an indigenous Panamanian tribe, where there are no roads or hotels, only simple huts and hammocks that dot deserted sands. This is also the month when the Panama Jazz Festival takes place just a short drive from the capital of Panama City in the City of Knowledge, over January 13th to 18th in 2020. While you’re here, look forward to wandering through the capital’s revitalized historic old quarter with its crumbling colonial buildings restored and transformed into stylish cafes, bars and boutiques.
The Whitsunday Islands and the Great Barrier Reef, Australia
January in Australia is the middle of summer, making it one of the best places to enjoy fun in the sun, including some of the world’s best snorkeling, diving and sailing in the Great Barrier Reef. The Whitsunday Islands are an archipelago of 74 islands set among a breathtaking tropical paradise sheltered by the Great Barrier Reef, providing idyllic waters for sailing. Relax onboard and soak up the beauty of this natural wonder and then jump in to experience an incredible underwater world. While most of the islands are uninhabited, five host resorts and several offer back-to-nature beach camping. Airlie Beach on the mainland serves as the coastal hub and major gateway to the islands, where you can book all sorts of tours and activities.
There are few better places for mountain lovers than the Swiss Alps, and in late January each year, the town of Château-d’Oex in Gstaad becomes even more magnificent, hosting a hot air balloon festival like no other. The festival is held January 25th to February 2nd in 2020 and draws balloon pilots from 20 different countries along with spectators who are mesmerized by the snow-capped peaks. This region of western Switzerland offers plenty of other things to do too, including world-famous skiing and boarding.
If a true winter wonderland is what you’re after, Tromsø, Norway should definitely be on your list. Often referred to as the “Paris of the North,” it’s one of the top places on the planet for catching Mother Nature’s spectacular light show, the aurora borealis (or Northern Lights). You’ll even have the chance to hop aboard the Norwegian Coastal Steamer Hurtigruten for the opportunity to see the display along a fjord. Or, embark on a magical sleigh ride which includes a traditional Norwegian meal of reindeer soup (bidos) along with all the gear you need to stay warm.
December through February in Bali is the low season, offering the opportunity for plenty of winter sun and better bargains on accommodation. While this is the rainier period, the rain comes in short bursts, with plenty of time for relaxing in the sunshine on those gorgeous white sandy beaches. There are plenty of reasons to visit Bali, but if you like to snorkel or dive, January is one of the best months to do it, and you’ll have the chance to view more than twice as many marine species in the coral reefs here than in the Great Barrier Reef.
January temperatures in the Canary Islands average in the mid-70s, and you’ll have over 2,000 miles of magnificent coastline for enjoying that warmth. One of the best places in the world for winter sun, look forward to lounging on golden beaches edged by an azure sea and sipping some of the unique wines indigenous to the region. You may want to do some island hopping with multiple excursions from day tours to overnight trips, too.
Cabo San Lucas, Baja California Sur, Mexico
You’ll enjoy plenty of sun and warm temps with a January trip to Cabo San Lucas, which lies at the southern tip of the Baja Peninsula. It’s an ideal time for taking advantage of the all-inclusive resorts, beautiful beaches and crystal clear waters that are ideal for swimming, diving and snorkeling. This is also the month for whale watching, particularly during the second half of the month, when gray and humpback whales come very close to shore.