January is back to business. After nearly a month of half-empty offices and using the excuse that nothing gets done during the holidays anyway, January is the Monday of months, when we all dutifully head into the office with a resolution to be more productive. Well, most of us. Others see January as a time to escape winter and head somewhere warm. Or hit the mountains to ski. Or just generally not be in the office with all those other people who’ve resolved to be more productive. For those folks, January offers some fantastic destinations that aren’t as crowded as they might be during the holidays. Here are our picks for the best places to travel in January.
The height of the Australian summer still doesn’t bring brutal heat to the nation’s largest city. But what it does bring is the annual Sydney Festival, one of the world’s top winter festivals, during which theatrical performances, concerts, street performers, art installations, and lectures take over nearly every venue in town. It’s like a citywide art festival combined with the general excitement of summer, with free concerts spanning ten days from January 9th to 27th. This year’s headliners, who aren’t free, include Neneh Cherry, Suppression Dam, Mulatu Astatke, and the Black Jesus Experience. Even if you’re not into any of them, the festival is absolutely worth the flight.
The romance of moonlit snow covering the charming Vermont countryside is the stuff of honeymoon fantasies. But even if you’re not planning to travel with that special someone, January is an ideal time for a ski escape to the Green Mountain State. Though the slopes at Killington are the best known, a couple of other resorts have brought in some new additions that make them worth checking out this January. In Stowe, the new Lodge at Spruce Peak has opened the new Whistle Pig Pavilion, an après-ski drinking den where you can enjoy live music, craft cocktails, or anything else after a hard day of skiing the Stowe Mountain Resort. In the southern part of the state, Mount Snow just opened a new $22 million base lodge that brings this snowboarding and skiing resort straight to the forefront of East Coast destinations.
Patagonia — Chile and Argentina
The jagged peaks and sprawling glaciers of Patagonia are around all year, but only really trekkable during certain months. The mild “summer” in the southern hemisphere is the perfect time to trek the Torres del Paine trail in Chile, hiking through mountain lakes, waterfalls, forests, and glaciers. The most notable of those ice masses is the Perito Moreno Glacier in Argentina, the rare glacier that’s actually not receding in our era of warmer climate. That doesn’t mean it’ll be there forever, but it does mean it’ll be there if you go this year. If you’re interested in the trek, Intrepid Travel runs a trip beginning in Chilean Patagonia and ending in Buenos Aires, crossing the Torres del Paine over a glorious 10 days.
You may have heard some rumors about civil unrest in this Central American country, but the spring’s protests have died down, and the country is for the most part back to business as usual. Of course, the world hasn’t quite figured this out yet, and as hotels slowly reopen, you’ll have deeply discounted rates during the best season to visit. Gone are the brutally hot temperatures of summer and high winds of fall, so the waves at spots like Playa Maderas and Popoyo are manageable for novice surfers. It’s dry season, meaning you can reasonably plan for beach days without inclement weather, and you’re visiting before Holy Week, so the bars, restaurants, and other cultural attractions will still be open. January also brings the religious festival of Diriamba – the feast of San Sebastian – where, if you play your cards right, you’ll find yourself invited to a local’s home for an authentic Nicaraguan feast.
Granted, the nearly perfect Thai weather in January makes this the height of high season in southeast Asia. But Thailand is a big country, and going in January doesn’t mean you’ve gotta wedge yourself on the beach in Phuket or battle for boat space to Ko Phi Phi. Check out some of the less-visited parts of the country, like Koh Tao island, where you’ll find an abundance of sea turtles and some of the most underrated diving in the world. Or head up to Chaing Rai near the Burmese/Laotian border where you can trek through the jungle or check out the coolest 20th-century temple in the country at Wat Rung Kuhn.
Nobody does winter quite like Quebec, a brutally cold corner of Canada that celebrates winter with the same enthusiasm most places celebrate spring. Case in point is the annual IglooFest in Montreal, which this year runs from January 17 to February 2. This three-weekend EDM festival puts some of the biggest DJs in the world out on the pier at the Old Port of Montreal, and despite the cold, the crowds pack the place year after year. Before the DJs come on, the festival has other cool programming like live screenings of Quebecois-dubbed Slapshot, where attendees dress up as characters from the cult classic like an ice-bound Rocky Horror Picture Show.
For the ultra-ambitious, January is the ideal time to attempt a summit of Kilimanjaro, where temperatures are mild and winds aren’t as brutal as other months. If massive oxygen deprivation isn’t so much your game, this is also the month where you’ll witness the great wildebeest migration into the Serengeti. For the unfamiliar, this is when over two million wildebeest, zebras, and gazelles move through the grasslands of the Serengeti and Masai Mara; for those looking to tackle their first safari, this January might just be the time.
January sits smack in the center of dry season in Panama, so enjoying any of the beaches along its two sprawling coasts brings better odds for sunshine than the rest of the year. You’ll also have your best shot at catching a clear purple sunset along the beaches at Playa Bonita near Panama City or getting calm waters as you head out to the rustic San Blas Islands and their deserted, undeveloped shorelines. January also brings the annual Panama Jazz Festival, a weeklong festival from January 14 to 19 this year headlined by Andrew Heyward and Alex Blake.
It’s been a rough fall for the Golden State, what with vicious fires burning up both Northern and Southern California. This after fires decimated wine country last year. The silver lining is that you can help the area recover for a lot less than it used to cost with spots like the Boon Hotel offering packages for $150 a night, inclusive of some wine tastings. Beyond scouring the tasting rooms, Sonoma has other drinking options, like an entire beer trail leaving out of Santa Rosa that includes stops at favorites like Russian River, Lagunitas, and Stumptown breweries.
Sun Valley/Ketchum, Idaho
Skiing out West is tough competition, and while it’s hard to argue with the scenery of Colorado or the soft powder of Utah, America’s first destination ski resort in Sun Valley is still a spectacular sight in January. In addition to the world-class skiing, snowboarding, and snowshoeing, you can also hit up America’s first dark sky reserve and gaze at the stars on a clear night. Though the area has no shortage of ski condos to rent out, it also recently got its first full-service lifestyle hotel at the Hotel Ketchum, complete with a craft cocktail bar and two gourmet restaurants.
This 4,000-year-old port city often gets overlooked on Israel itineraries to the history of Jerusalem and the modern metropolis of Tel Aviv. But it’s quickly becoming the hottest destination in the country. The city’s resurgence is anchored by the historic flea market, which has been rehabilitated from ruins to become Jaffa’s top location for new restaurants. Jaffa also sits right on the Mediterranean, boasting magnificent water views all over the city interspersed with historic Byzantine, Roman, and Ottoman structures that make this one of the most fascinating small destinations in the region.
Belize can be one of the wetter Caribbean countries with its location right on the coast between Mexico and Central America making it a prime zone for thunderstorms and tropical activity. But come January, all that is a memory, and you can enjoy the second-largest barrier reef in the world, as well as the rough-and-tumble beach towns with relatively clear skies. One of the world’s great diving destinations is likely in its last years of anonymity, too, as this year brought both the Marriott Autograph Collection’s Alaia Belize and Four Seasons’ Caye Chapel to Belize. Meaning throngs of up-market tourists are sure to follow. And as the country saw a 17% increase in tourism last year, it’s almost certain this will be among your last winters to have the place to yourself.