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10 Best Places to Travel in January

By AFAR Editors

10.17.19

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Manuel Antonio National Park, although the smallest in Costa Rica, is the country’s most visited national park. 

Courtesy of Daniel Karfik/Shutterstock

Manuel Antonio National Park, although the smallest in Costa Rica, is the country’s most visited national park. 

Whether you want to embrace the cold and enjoy winter sports, or surf on Costa Rica’s Pacific Coast, January is the ideal month to travel to these 10 spots.

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By January 1, the New Year will have been rung in, and it’ll be time to make good on all those resolutions. Maybe you want to beat the winter blues and focus on wellness. Maybe you want to spend more quality time with family and friends. Maybe you just want to get out there and see more of the world. These 10 spots are solid bets, whatever your 2019 goals may be.

Corcovado National Park encapsulates beach, swamps, and forest, making it ideal for hiking and wildlife viewing.

Costa Rica

January is great for: families, nature devotees

More than a quarter of Costa Rica’s land—virgin rain forest, wetlands, cloud forests, dry forests, beaches, and marine habitat—has been protected in perpetuity, making the Central American country a global leader in conservation. Its 28 national parks are integral to the effort, safeguarding valuable vegetation and animal habitats as well as supporting surrounding communities through park fees and donations. Skip peak travel at New Year’s and go later in January: You’ll get the benefit of dry season with slightly lower prices.

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The most-visited national park in Costa Rica is also the country’s smallest. Manuel Antonio National Park, about midway on the country’s Pacific Coast, is an all-purpose family favorite. The park offers numerous hiking trails into the tropical forest, abundant wildlife (sloths, coatis, and especially monkeys), secluded white-sand beaches, and coral reefs for snorkeling. Further north at Arenal Volcano National Park, a new eco-friendly tented camp is slated to open for travelers—and yes, there will be a sloth sanctuary.

Guides are required to go to Corcovado National Park, on the Osa Peninsula, but it’s worth the trouble. It has a stunning variety of wildlife, including tapirs, monkeys, margay cats, alligators, hammerhead sharks, and four species of sea turtles. There are also 23 miles of prime beach and 13 ecosystems, including mangrove swamps, lowland forest, and highland cloud forest. —AFAR Editors

At just over 1,000 square miles, Lima provides a multitude of international cuisines and dining experiences.

Lima, Peru

January is great for: gourmands

Once known as the City of the Kings, Lima is now one of the world’s best places to at least eat like a king. Drier weather makes January is a beautiful time to go. Just be sure to make those restaurant reservations well in advance or you’ll be trying your luck on waiting lists.

At three Michelin-starred Central, chef Virgilio Martinez will take you on a 17-course tour of his homeland’s innumerable ecosystems (prepare for the piranhas from the Waters of Nanay). No à la carte here—this is purely tasting menu territory, but Central offers a vegetarian tasting menu and a smaller eight-course menu.

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Chef Mitsuharu Tsumura adds Japanese flare to Peruvian food at Maido (which topped the World’s 50 Best list for Latin American restaurantswith such dishes as fish hot dogs, sea urchin rice, and delicious pisco drinks. The restaurant moved up a spot on the World’s 50 Best rankings, sitting pretty at number seven in 2018.

Astrid y Gaston is one of Lima’s most famous culinary spots, and celebrity chef Gaston Acurio will dazzle you with the creations that made him both godfather and global ambassador of modern Peruvian cuisine. Menu offerings like scallops with pistachio, vanilla, and cilantro and Peking guinea pig make this a restaurant must-eat. —AFAR Editors

For more than 35 years, the Sundance Film Festival has identified emerging storytellers.

Park City, Utah

January is great for: cinephiles, skiers

Every January, more than 100,000 filmmakers, actors, and movie geeks gather in Park City, about 30 miles southeast of Salt Lake City, to screen new films at the Sundance Film Festival. From January 23 through February 2, 2020, visitors attend screenings of new films, panel discussions, and even multimedia installations; passes go on sale in October, and tickets to individual screenings are available for $25. 

But celeb-spotting is not the only reason to visit Park City in January. Skiers can get their powder fix at Deer Valley and Park City Mountain resorts, which offer a combined 7,300 skiable acres. At the Utah Olympic Park, visitors can recapture the excitement of the 2002 Winter Olympics; free exhibits detail winter sports histories and Opening Ceremonies memorabilia commemorate the Games, while a day pass gives folks a chance to experience winter activities, Olympic-style, like a ride on the real bobsled run (with the help of a professional driver, that is). —Sara Button

The shallow sandbars of so-called Stingray City are frequent gathering spots for stingrays in Grand Cayman.

Cayman Islands

January is great for: culinary travelers, winter sun-seekers

The Caymans, a cluster of three Caribbean islands covered with tropical forests, punctuated by stalactite-filled caves, and lined with miles of beaches, have always been an easy getaway for those on the East Coast: Grand Cayman, the largest of the islands, is just a 90-minute flight from Miami. In winter, temperatures in the Caymans are warm enough for swimming and sunbathing, and from January 15 through 20, renowned chefs including Eric Ripert, José Andrés (a 2018 AFAR Travel Vanguard winner), and Emeril Lagasse fly in for the Cayman Cookout, a food and wine festival that takes place at the Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman. 

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A $66 million expansion of Grand Cayman’s Owen Roberts International Airport will make it easier for travelers coming from other parts of the United States to reach the islands. (The Caymans have been removed from the CDC’s Zika list, making it a safer choice for pregnant women.) Hotels and resorts have also been upgraded in recent months. The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman, with a coveted location on the white-sand Seven Mile Beach, has followed up the renovation of its 365 rooms with a refresh of its Caribbean-facing lagoon-style pool. On Little Cayman, famed for proximity to scuba-diving sites known by divers around the world, the 11-room Pirates Point Resort recently updated its rooms, as well as its dining room and a lounge filled with sea-inspired painting and sculptures by local artists. The retreat is a draw for dedicated divers, who have easy access to Bloody Bay Wall, one of the most dramatic underwater cliffs in the Caribbean. —Jill K. Robinson, as seen in the January/February 2019 issue 

In 2017, the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration made changes to how street vendors can operate. It’s uncertain how the future of Thailand’s street food will be affected, meaning now is the time to visit.
Bangkok

January is great for: street food fanatics

Thailand is famous for its street food. Fruit vendors slice and dice fresh pineapple, watermelon, and other fruits from ice-laden carts; trays of milk tea pass hands through the crowds; and the aroma of fresh barbecue, doused in spicy sauce, wafts through the air. Every stall or shophouse specializes in its own specific delicacy—often made with recipes passed down for generations. There’s even a Bangkok vendor who earned herself a Michelin star for dishes like her khai jeaw poo (crab omelet).

But in late 2017, hoping to make sidewalks safer, the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration began making changes to where and when street food vendors operate. Now, vendors can’t set up before 6 p.m. in some of the city’s most popular places, and when they do, they must use designated spots.

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You’ll find street food vendors congregating in a few key areas: Chinatown, Victory Monument, Soi Ari, and Bang Rak. And if you don’t mind braving the crowds, head to Silom Road, the main vein of Bangkok’s business district, and follow the office workers ordering their daily vittles.

Order in Thai and you’re guaranteed a grin. Try favorites such as moo ping (grilled pork skewers); satay gai (chicken satay): yum woon sen (glass noodle salad); khao man gai (Thai-style chicken and rice); khao neow ma muang (mango sticky rice); tom yum (hot and sour soup); pad thai (stir-fried rice noodles); and hoy tod (oyster omelet).  —AFAR Editors

Québec City is a winter wonderland in itself, but visitors also have prime skiing and snowboarding opportunities just 30 minutes away.
Québec City, Canada

January is great for: powder peeps

With 17th-century spires and cobblestone lanes, Québec City has a lot of European charm. Knowing even a few phrases of French will come in handy here, and you’ll need a very warm coat and plenty of layers to survive January’s average highs of 10 degrees F. But even in the cold temperatures, you’ll find yourself warming up to this French colonial city.

Three ski lodges that are less than a 30-minute drive away make it easy to plan a trip that combines city and slopes. Le Relais, just 15 minutes from Old Québec, offers easy lighted runs that are great for families. A little farther out is Stoneham Mountain Resort, Canada’s largest night-skiing destination. Hot shots will feel right at home here with freestyle runs and an Olympic-level half pipe. The après-ski vibe includes outdoor hot tubs and performances by chansonniers, or French folk singers. Mont-Sainte Anne, another mountain resort popular with the locals, is only about 25 miles from downtown. A massive network of paths through pine and spruce forest make it North America’s largest spot for cross-country skiing, and 19 of its trails stay lit after dark for night skiing. 

If you’re willing to go farther afield, you can find wilder skiing. Le Massif de Charlevoix, about an hour’s drive from Québec City, offers one of the most scenic landscapes of all. Lots of fresh natural powder falls on slopes perched right on the St. Lawrence River, and a large area is dedicated to backcountry skiing. About 60 miles from Québec City,  Massif du Sud, the highest ski mountain in the area, has glades for cross-country skiing, trails for snowshoeing, and helicopters for delivering downhillers to those hard-to-reach places. —AFAR Editors

Hell’s Gate National Park is about 26 square miles and home to zebras, giraffes, gazelles, and other wildlife.
Nairobi

January is great for: wilderness watchers, adrenaline hounds

In Kenya, there are plenty of natural ways to get the blood pumping. Although a bit unpredictable, the rains in January tend to be on the short side, so weather will be good for your outdoor adventures. Take a day trip about 60 miles out of Nairobi to the Tana River, where the rapids are perfect for whitewater rafting, and the calmer pools offer spots in which to cool off, drift along, and spot wildlife. Thrill seekers can bungee jump almost 200 feet over the river near the tiny town of Sagana.

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Bikers will enjoy exploring the trails of Nairobi’s urban Karura Forest, or taking a two-hour trip outside the city to Hell’s Gate National Park for serious mountain biking past hot springs and extinct volcanoes.

Need even more action? Your high-octane needs will be met by a spectacular 11-hour hiking trip to the thickly forested crater of Mount Longonot, an extinct stratovolcano set about 45 miles from Nairobi at the base of the Great Rift Valley. Or for the truly fit and motivated, a multi-day trek up Mount Kenya is worth it to experience the second-highest peak in Africa. The mountain is about 85 miles from Nairobi. AFAR Editors

Visitors to the Dominican Republic find white sand beaches and clear waters.

Dominican Republic

January is great for: snorkelers, whale watchers

During winter, temperatures in the Dominican Republic stay comfortably in the 70s and 80s. Holiday celebrations continue from Christmas to Carnival in February and March, and whale-watching season in Samaná Bay kicks off in mid-January as humpbacks migrate north.

The mega resorts that line this Caribbean island’s east coast may have put it on the map, but new developments are beckoning visitors to the D.R.’s quieter side. In 2019, Club Med Miches will open in the agricultural town of Miches, on the northeastern coast, an hour’s drive from the better-known region of Punta Cana. Occupying 93 acres on the same expansive stretch of pristine beach, it is scheduled to open in December 2019. The Club Med will have two sections: a tranquil, adults-only area with wellness facilities; and a family-friendly zone with a children’s club. Guests can kayak among the mangroves, hike through coconut plantations, and snorkel and scuba dive past miles of coral reefs. This year marks the 175th anniversary of the nation’s independence: In the capital, Santo Domingo, expect military parades and air shows along the Malecón, the city’s seafront promenade, throughout the year. —Kathleen Squires, as seen in the January/February 2019 issue 

Jaffa is the oldest part of Tel Aviv, with archaeological history dating back nearly 10,000 years.

Tel Aviv

January is great for: history nerds, outdoorsy folks

In January, Tel Aviv’s temperatures are mild, with highs in the 60s, and it can be rainy. But you’ll beat the crowds, prices are low, and it’s still pleasant enough to do a lot of exploring. The most relaxed—and very Israeli—way to spend time at the Namal (Hebrew for “Port”) is to buy a sandwich and a coffee to go from Israel’s most popular coffee chain, Aroma, and sit on the wooden stairs right by the bay. Then, stroll along the Jaffa Port to soak in some of the ancient history—it’s estimated that its history goes back 7,000 years, making it the oldest port in the world. While there, admire the three-story Clock Tower, which was built in 1903 during the Ottoman period.

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For more history, it’s worth taking the 50-minute bus ride between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Visitors can explore the Tomb of Mary, the Mosque of the Ascension, the Tomb of the Prophets, and the Garden of Gethsemane. Other must-sees in the Old City include the Western Wall, the remaining wall from the Jewish Temple and one of the most sacred Jewish sites to worship (scarves are handed out to anyone with bare shoulders and a white yarmulke is offered to men), the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (where it’s believed Jesus was buried), as well as the Dome of the Rock (the site where Muhammad was raised to heaven).

And don’t forget a float in the Dead Sea. Smear mineral-rich mud all over your skin before you walk into the water; the mud comes off easily and leaves your skin soft. While there, you can also hike in the Ein Gedi National Park. Close by are the Qumran Caves, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. —AFAR Editors

Oscar Niemeyer designed the Museu de Arte Contemporânea de Niterói, which was completed in 1996.

Rio de Janeiro

January is great for: architecture lovers

Another killer spot for January travel is Rio, which earns its nickname as “The Marvelous City.” Perched between the ocean and rainforest-cloaked mountains, it has been given UNESCO World Heritage status for its natural beauty, culture of outdoor living, and the inspiration it provides artists and musicians (and in 2020 UNESCO designated it the first World Capital of Architecture.)

For a notable example of the city’s architecture, don’t miss the Museu de Arte Contemporanea Niteroi, nicknamed MAC Niterói, housing the nation’s second-largest collection of modern works. The best way to get there from Rio is by ferry. Designed by legendary Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer, the swooping UFO-shaped structure occupies a sea cliff and frames panoramic views of Rio across Guanabara Bay. It’s a really cool building, reflecting the art work that can be found inside, but its location with views of Rio really make it stand out.

For something a bit more historic, Baroque and Renaissance styles collide at Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Candelária, built between 1775 and 1894. One of the city’s largest and most lavish churches, it has multicolored marble columns and a massive cupola (small wonder Rio’s rich and famous vie to get married there). —AFAR Editors

This post was originally published in December 2018; it was updated on October 17, 2019, to reflect current information.

>>Next: 25 Places to Go in 2019

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