The Best Places to Travel in January

Dec 22, 2019

January gets a bad rap among travel industry types, who tend to write the month off as a dead zone, “the dark weeks”—or more delicately, low season. The phenomenon is pretty straightforward: Travelers cool their jets after the holiday getaway madness, then airfares and room rates drop. The upshot? January turns out to be one of the best times to take off—particularly to one of these six spots. As for what to do on arrival, read on.

Palm Springs 

Even resolution skeptics tend to want start the year on a wellness-y note, so January sees jillions of us seeking everything from increased mindfulness to decreased bloatedness. And sure, wellness begins at home—but it gets so much more fun in the California desert, where there’s a bubbling mud bath, steaming hot spring or dramatic hiking trail at (almost) every turn. At least if you head to the Greater Palm Springs area. Though this nine-town enclave has long been home to stellar spas and retreats, recent additions to the scene have upped the ante, as you’ll find at Spa La Lé at Hotel Paseo in Palm Desert (try the Organic Farm to Face facial) or the Spa at the Sands Hotel & Spa in Indian Wells (try the Royal Rhassoul body Treatment). Then there’s the redone grand dame: Two Bunch Palms, where upgrades range from renovated guest rooms to a new tea shop and wine bar. 


If your idea of a mind-body-spirit getaway leans more pilgrimage than spa retreat, you can't do better than Timket, aka the Ethiopian Epiphany (Jan 19-20)—a no-holds-barred celebration of Jesus' baptism and one of the biggest events on the national calendar. For the best access, you'll want to join a tour—Far and Wild’s puts you front and center for Addis Ababa's famed procession of white-robed pilgrims and sharp-dressed priests as they carry the Arc of the Covenant (it’s a model, folks) to the riverside. But as fascinating as the festivities (and Addis itself) are, you'll be equally gobsmacked by the other spots on the so-called Historical Route—not least, the round island monasteries of Bahir Dar, the imperial palaces and fortresses of Gondar and the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela.


Three little words—back to school—tell you everything you need to know about the Theme Park Capital of the World in January. Want the run of the parks? Now’s your time. First stop: The recently opened and seriously buzz-generating Galaxy's Edge. Have a crazy cocktail at Oga's Cantina, where molecular gastronomy meets interplanetary source material (try the Dagobah Slug Slinger or Fuzzy Tauntaun), then check out some of the new plant-based offerings at Docking Bay 7 Food and Cargo (our pick: the Felucian Garden Spread). Or hit another local intersection of food and creativity: the Epcot International Festival of the Arts, which kicks off Jan. 17 with, among other things, a menu of art-influenced treats. Don’t miss the Mondrian-inspired almond frangipane cake with layers of raspberry jam and Callebaut chocolate. 

Harbin, China

Maybe you really want to lean into winter. Like, really, really. In which case, the Harbin Ice and Snow Festival calls (Jan. 5-late Feb). Wander through avenues of kitschy, neon-lit ice sculptures at the Harbin International Snow Sculpture Art Expo, get cozy with baby penguins, polar bears and beluga whales at Harbin Polarland and—in the afternoon—skate along the frozen Songhua River to Shangri-La Hotel’s ice restaurant, where a round of Ice Lanterns (dark rum, crème de menthe, pineapple juice, and coconut liqueur) is just the thing. The party ramps up for Chinese New Year (Jan. 25) with dragon dances along Central Avenue and firework displays above Saint-Sophia Cathedral’s emerald domes. Also bear in mind that China’s largest ski resort, Yabuli, is a three-hour train ride from the city.


Let’s be honest: Miami could have absolutely nada going on in January, and you’d still be ecstatic to be there—golden sand underfoot and a thousand shades of turquoise stretched out before you—if you've just left some iced-over corner of the Northeast or Midwest. (Not that wed don’t love iced-in corners in January. See: Harbin.) Still, Miami happens to have the opposite of nada going on this month: There’s the Miami Design Preservation League’s Art Deco Weekend (Jan. 17-19), when you can take Deco-intensive architecture tours, hear jazz and—if you're traveling with a four-legged friend—join the Arf Deco Dog Walk. That same weekend (or at least Jan. 18-19), you can also see the work of hundreds of artist at the beloved Beax Arts Festival of Art, the area's oldest juried art festival. And while you'll also find several foodie events in town this month, our favorite packs a world's worth of chocolate in a tropical botanical garden (Jan. 24-26).

Cartagena, Colombia

Between its Caribbean beaches and architectural eye candy, this UNESCO World Heritage-designated city is a year-round no-brainer. But January is a particularly great time to visit thanks to a succession of festivals. First up is the Festival De Música (Jan. 4 - 12). The 2020 program focuses on Franz Schubert, who juxtaposes beautifully against the cumbia you'll hear around every corner. One highlight? Catching the much-lauded Calidore String Quartet (Jan. 8) in the marble chapel of a monastery-turned-hotel. Then there's the Festival Del Frito (Jan. 20), a great excuse to binge on one of the region's most celebrated street foods: a beef-stuffed, golden-fried pocket of corn flour and supplemental deliciousness. And the end of the month marks the beginning of the Hay Festival (Jan. 30-Feb. 2), a celebration literature (Margaret Atwood will be in the house), science (meet National Geographic Society Explorer-in-Residence Wade Davis) and all sort of other mind-expanding subjects.

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