Photo by Noradoa/Shutterstock.com
Photo by Valentin Valkov/Shutterstock.com
Winter blues are easy to beach on beaches like this one in the Dominican Republic.
Looking for some Valentine’s Day trip inspiration? We’ve got you covered.
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For lots of folks, February maybe doesn’t feel like the most intuitive time of the year to travel. But it should be—beach towns in certain parts of the world are buzzing, world-class restaurants and bars may be easier to book if you’re not traveling in peak season, and it’s the perfect time to travel with your sweetheart for Valentine’s Day. What are you waiting for? Here are the 10 best places to travel in February.
February is great for: history buffs, bargain hunters
February is a good time to travel to the Ecuadorian capital in 2019: you’ll miss the busy Carnival days in March, but get mild weather. Surrounded by snow-capped peaks, Quito has a historic quarter that was designated as an UNESCO World Heritage Center.
Must-see highlights include La Compañía de Jesús, a Jesuit church with a Baroque-style interior that fuses elements of Moorish, Flemish, Italian, and indigenous art. Nearby on Plaza de San Francisco, the 16th-century Monastery of San Francisco is a notable Catholic church: It’s the largest architectural structure in colonial Latin America and Quito’s oldest church.
The Basilica del Voto Nacional is the largest new-Gothic basilica in the Americas, a two-spired Catholic cathedral that looks over the city. The church isn’t technically finished—in fact, local legend states that once it is finished, the world will end—but it’s worth checking out, especially for the views (which you can see by climbing the towers) and the turtles, iguanas, and armadillos that act as the gargoyles.
Quito also has a market for practically anything you’d want to buy, and in February, during the wet season, you’ll actually get plenty of sun for strolling the stalls. For traditional Ecuadorian clothing and crafts, such as alpaca sweaters, woven baskets, or leather bags, head for Mercado Artesanal La Mariscal. With hundreds of vendors selling artisan goods, it’s a great spot for souvenir shopping. Art enthusiasts and would-be collectors should stop by Parque El Ejido, where local artists sell their work on weekends.
February is great for: wine aficionados, lovers of the great outdoors
Located on the North Island of New Zealand, Auckland is that country’s biggest city, but it’s still small by global standards. February brings summery weather, with little rainfall and highs averaging in the 70s.
New Zealand’s landscape is jaw-droppingly beautiful. Soaring mountains, gorges carved out by glaciers, thundering waterfalls, and dormant volcanoes offer awe and adventure in equal measure. To really get a sense of the country’s amazing nature, you’ll need to head out on some day trips from Auckland.
On the North Island, visit Rotorua’s geothermal landscape, with its boiling mud pools and gushing geysers. The limestone caves of Waitomo are a natural wonder, with glowworms creating eerily beautiful underground galleries. It’s also an excellent place to learn about Maori culture.
New Zealand’s fertile volcanic soil, cool climate, and abundant sunshine also produce some of the world’s best wine. Waiheke Island, just a short ferry ride from the city, produces world-class chardonnays and syrahs. Head to Cable Bay Vineyards for wine tasting and dining with produce from its organic garden. West Auckland used to be the center of New Zealand winemaking and is home to some of the country’s oldest winemaking families. Sample excellent rieslings and chardonnays at West Brook Winery and stay for a picnic on its lovely grounds.
February is great for: romantics, fans of fresh alpine air and lake breezes
Sophisticated Geneva oozes Swiss elegance. Surrounded by France on three sides (much of it alpine terrain with snowcapped peaks), the city faces magnificent Lake Geneva, making for a wonderfully romantic, wintery retreat for Valentine’s Day.
To add some fairy tale romance to your February, there are more than a few castles near Geneva, and all are easy to reach by train. First stop should be Chillon Castle; located on a small islet on Lake Geneva, the fortress has thick walls, watchtowers, a drawbridge, 14th-century paintings, and dungeons straight out of legends.
Teetering on a hill above Lake Geneva, Nyon Castle is known for its characteristic white walls and dramatic charcoal-colored turrets. A local history museum is now on site as well as a porcelain collection, and its terrace offers some of the best views of Mont Blanc.
For easy slopes right outside Geneva’s doorstep, head to Zermatt, a mountain resort town home to the iconic Matterhorn. It’s a solid two- to three-hour journey, but well worth it to ski around the majestic peak and explore the chalet-filled, car-free village.
And, of course, when you’re in Switzerland, you must buy chocolate. To tote the dreamiest varieties home, stop by family-owned Auer in Geneva’s Old Town, where house specialties are created by hand (it’s famous for its dark truffles and chocolate-covered almonds).
February is great for: desert devotees, spa enthusiasts
The Phoenix metro area consists of a handful of cities: Phoenix itself, Scottsdale with its resorts, the university town of Mesa, and dozens of other smaller cities. Winter is the best time to visit southern Arizona, weather-wise; you’ll beat the scorching heat, and you can enjoy the Sonoran landscape during daylight hours.
On the eastern side of Phoenix, Papago Park has easy trails with interpretive signs and fantastic red rock formations, while Usery Mountain Regional Park has nearly 30 miles of mixed-use trails. The Maricopa Parks and Recreation department offers guided moonlight hikes from various parks around the city—sunsets, silhouetted cacti, and a full moon make for a memorable night in nature. Remember to bring water and apply appropriate sun protection for any outdoor activity.
When you’re tired from hiking, relax at the spa. One easy in-town spot to check out is Joya Spa at the Omni Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Montelucia, which has day packages that include private suites.
At the Boulders Resort & Spa, guests can relax in one of Arizona’s best hotels and a spa that really shines, offering a meditative labyrinth, turquoise wraps, acupuncture and massages, brightening facials, aromatherapy treatments, and much more.
February is great for: chocoholics
Located on the country’s Yucatán Peninsula, Mérida is packed with beautiful homes and municipal buildings that date back to the colonial era, impressive and well-maintained archaeological sites (such as Chichén Itzá, a UNESCO World Heritage site), and museums that interpret history dating from the height of the Mayan civilization to the present. If you’re going to be eating chocolate in February for Valentine’s Day, you may as well go to the source.
Cacao, or chocolate, has long been central to Yucatecan culture, and in and around Mérida, visitors can taste some of the most delicious chocolate made in Mexico. But beyond just indulging in chocolate, Mérida invites visitors to learn more about everyone’s favorite sweet treat at places like the Choco-Story Chocolate Museum in nearby Uxmal. At the museum, visitors will travel through the chocolate production—from bean to harvest to production and delivery. This sensory museum also offers Mayan crafts and traditional performances to provide a well-rounded experience.
For those who want to take the learning a step further with hands-on activities, sign up for a full-day cooking class that focuses on chocolate at the Los Dos Cooking School. The class includes lunch and a tour of the Cacao EcoMuseum at Tikul, a plantation where 740 acres are planted with Criollo cacao, one of the world’s oldest and rarest cacao varieties. You’ll also learn how to make churros and chocolate, a favorite Mexican dessert.
February is great for: space geeks, foodies
It’s been more than a year since Hurricane Harvey struck Houston and brought with it more than $120 billion in damages, but Houston still has plenty to offer visitors. (So much so that we’ve named it one of the 25 Places to Go in 2019.) A world-class art scene, food galore, and, in 2019, a celebration of an exciting anniversary: 50 years since Apollo 11 touched down on the moon. Go in February to escape the muggy summer heat and avoid the high prices come March, when the city’s huge rodeo takes place.
Aspiring astronauts should stop at Space Center Houston, home to more than 400 space artifacts. Visit the astronaut training center where you might get to watch astronauts train with space vehicles, or head to Mission Control, which is the control center that brought Apollo 13 back home.
One part of the space experience that travelers won’t need to replicate is the dodgy food. Houston is a melting pot, and its 10,000 restaurants reflect that, with offerings that represent 70 different countries and U.S. regions. Brennan’s of Houston has been offering a menu stuffed with New Orleans flavor for more than 40 years—think oysters Rockefeller, shrimp and grits, and a Bananas Foster that is prepared tableside. Another local landmark is Tony’s, where Tony Vallone has served upscale Italian classics such as squash blossom and truffle risotto, filet mignon, and dry aged duck à la presse for decades. For sushi, you can’t go wrong with Uchi, who offers contemporary fresh sushi dishes (it flies in fish from Japan daily) with a focus on responsibly sourced fish.
February is great for: swimmers, honeymooners
Nassau, the capital of the Bahamas and located on the island of New Providence, is a vibrant city full of culture and beachside fun. In February, visitors can splash around in the clear water and delight in seeing fish zipping around the coral reefs that line the New Providence island coastline.
Charter boats departing from the Nassau waterfront take snorkelers out to scenic spots like the Rose Island Reef. There, divers will find two shipwrecks: The Mahoney and The Alcora. While at Rose Island, you can also swim with pigs (yep, pigs) with Sandy Toes, which can also organize your trip to the island.
Experienced swimmers will want to head farther out to the Andros Barrier Reef off the coast of Andros Island, the largest of the Bahamian Islands. At 190 miles long, it’s the third-largest reef in the world. Approximately 170 species of fish and coral call the reef home, including schools of red snappers, stingrays, reef sharks, lobsters, octopi, and marlins. It’s the best spot near Nassau for serious fish sightings.
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Stuart’s Cove is a cute collection of wooden shops lining a pocket marina dotted with dive boats. The outfitters here peddle every imaginable form of snorkeling and scuba including shark dives—a thrilling opportunity to swim alongside reef sharks at aptly named dive sites like Shark Wall. Dive Center Bahamas can help organize a shark dive as well as night dives and excursions to Nassau’s Lost Blue Hole, a submerged crater that goes down as far as 200 feet.
February is great for: salseros, appreciators of music
As the capital of Cuba (AFAR readers’ favorite Caribbean island in 2019), Havana is often described as being frozen in time, a nod to the city’s crumbling colonial architecture and the abundance of American 20th-century classic cars rumbling along potholed streets or past scenic beaches. But anyone who spends even five minutes in Havana can see that nothing is frozen—this city is in perpetual motion, whether it be a lively festival, a local street market, or an impromptu salsa session. And what better way to woo a Valentine than with some sexy salsa moves?
Sway to the beat of drums in Centro Habana’s Callejón de Hamel, an outdoor alleyway decorated with trencadís mosaics; it has an Afro-Cuban jam and dance session every Sunday. Or head to a local club like La Casa de la Música, where you’ll find someone willing to help you step up your dance game. And for those who don’t feel confident in their salsa skills—or have no idea what they’re doing—there’s always the option to take a salsa class at La Casa del Son in Old Havana, situated in a colonial building that dates to 1715.
Don’t sweat it if dancing isn’t your jam. No matter what night of the week, visitors to Havana can find a rousing live music performance to enjoy with their honey. Listen at Casa de la Música, which has two locations—one in Centro Habana and one in the Miramar neighborhood (the former is larger)—where salsa fans can also hear some of the island’s best timba acts. Or try Jazz Club la Zorra y El Cuervo (The Fox and the Raven), one of Havana’s most famous (and crowded—it’s small) jazz venues where you enter via a red phone box that looks like it was plucked right out of London.
February is great for: beach bums, lovey-dovey couples
The capital of the Dominican Republic—a country that made our list for top destinations to go in 2019—is the one of the oldest continuously occupied cities in the Americas. A UNESCO World Heritage site, Santo Domingo’s Colonial City has a well-preserved core of grand buildings dating to the 16th century, along with busy sidewalk cafés and a park in front of the first cathedral built in the New World. February falls during the dry season and is a popular time to visit. If you want a sweet spot to spend your PTO, look no farther.
A stroll through the Santo Domingo Botanical Gardens or a carriage ride down the cobblestone streets of the Colonial Zone are surefire ways to raise the romance quotient on a trip to the Dominican capital.
The interior courtyard of the historic Hodelpa Nicolás de Ovando is a lovers’ hideaway in the middle of the old city, as is the rooftop infinity pool at the boutique Billini Hotel, a Spanish colonial masterpiece that has served as a convent, arsenal, and archbishop’s residence over its 400 years. A day trip to the Ocoa Bay Vineyards can include a dip in the winery’s infinity pool as well as tastings of cabernet sauvignon and the other wines produced sustainably at the estate.
Casa Bonita Tropical Lodge, a member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World, has 12 guest rooms with views of the Caribbean and the Sierra Barahuco; it offers farm-to-table dining and a forest spa. On-site activities at this resort for active couples include a zipline, hiking, mountain biking, and horseback rides. And, of course, not too far from the city are some of the most beautiful beaches in the Caribbean.
February is great for: skiers, snowboarders, lodge-lovers
Jackson Hole itself is the entire 42-mile long, seven-mile wide valley in northwestern Wyoming, while Jackson is the valley’s cowboy cosmopolitan main town, complete with wooden sidewalks and a town square with an elk antler arch at each corner. In February, the popular ski destination offers plenty of deep powder to play in.
There are three ski resorts around Jackson Hole: Snow King Mountain, Jackson Hole Mountain Resort (JHMR), and Grand Targhee. Grand Targhee is a no-frills resort with ample intermediate terrain, deep powder, and lift tickets for less than $100.
Meanwhile, Snow King Mountain rises right above downtown Jackson and has three chairlifts, night skiing, and inexpensive private lessons. This is Wyoming’s first ski resort, with 400 acres, three lifts, and 32 runs. Other activities include the Winter Cowboy Coaster, a roller coaster that takes riders up 456 feet before dropping them down loops and turns. The resort area also has snow tubing, which is a lot of fun for kids (although adults enjoy it, too).
When people come to Jackson Hole for a ski vacation, though, they usually come for the aforementioned JHMR, which is about 12 miles from downtown Jackson in the small community of Teton Village. In 2014 it underwent a huge renovation and remains a top spot for skiers. You can experience new and old JHMR by reserving a table for lunch at the restaurant Piste. Eat some confit duck wings and watch skiers and snowboarders drop into Corbet’s Couloir, a narrow chute that requires a 15-foot jump at its start.
>>Next: Where to Go in 2019
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