The Best Places to Travel in July
Whether you want to go where the wild things are (whale sharks and grizzlies and piranhas, oh my!) or really lean in to civilization—from open-air opera to Renaissance-era sporting events—July is a magic month. Read on for six of our favorite cases in point.
Isla Mujeres, Mexico
If you a) can swim and b) have a bucket list, swimming with whale sharks is certainly on it—maybe even at the top. And now’s the time to tick that box: July is peak whale shark season in Isla Mujeres, where there’s an entire Whale Shark Festival (July 19-21), complete with marine biology forums, a parade (think school kids in whale shark hats and golf carts with dorsal fins)—even a beauty contest (human, not ichthyoid, though how great would latter be?). The largest fish on the planet, the festival’s honoree feeds on plankton and—lucky for us—has no teeth. For a close encounter with the big boys (they can grow to 33 feet) take a snorkel tour, and keep an eye out for manta rays—also common in July. In need of another nature fix? Hit the turtle sanctuary for a “release ceremony” (May to October), when hundreds of hatchlings are let loose into the turquoise sea.
Santa Fe, NM
Though opera fandom helps, it’s not at all a requirement for an amazing night out—emphasis on out—at the iconic, open-air Santa Fe Opera (June 28 to August 24), where half the fun is gawking at the Jemez and Sangre de Cristo Mountains from your seats. But if you are a fan of the genre, you’ll likely be pleased to know that Puccini’s La Bohème, Mozart’s Così fan tutte, and Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers are on the line-up this season. To pull out all the stops, book a backstage tour and opening night dinner (July 13, 20, 27) the latter curated by Kai Autenrieth, Executive Chef at The Four Seasons (the hotel also offers an opera lover’s package.) For a double-dose of classical, time your visit to the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival (July 14 – August 19), when traditionalists (Lincoln Center’s Escher String Quartet) and experimentalists (Flux Quartet) mix it up at the New Mexico Museum of Art and the Lensic Performing Arts Center. And if culture is your Olympic sport, add an art trifecta to your local lineup: the International Folk Art Market (July 12-14), Santa Fe Art Week (July 12 – 21), and Art Santa Fe (July 18-21).
The Brazilian Amazon
Welcome to the jungle, where the dry season—aka low water season—is underway, and a couple of things are happening: The creatures you least look forward to communing with in this part of the world (mosquitos) retreat a bit, while those you’d love to see (giant river otters, tapirs, caimans) become easier to spot. And though you may not have thought you wanted to get up close and personal with piranhas, you’ll change your mind once your guide’s got one of these amazing power chompers in hand—an easier prospect during the low water season, when the fish have fewer channels to spread out in. Another benefit to this season: more exposed paths through the primordial wonderland that is the Amazon. Start your adventure in Manaus, the jumping-off point for most Brazilian Amazon trips—and home to a turn-of-the-century opera house that you have to see as much for the improbability of the location (i.e., mid-jungle) as for the architectural splendor. Stay practically next door at Villa Amazonia, a beautifully restored mansion. From there, head deeper into the rainforest and check into Anavilhanas Jungle Lodge, where your multiple daily excursions will take you in search of everything from pink dolphins to red-and-green macaws. And yes, you can try your hand at piranha fishing—just mind your fingers.
Watching an 800-pound grizzly eat 100 pounds of salmon in one sitting, is, well, something everyone should do at least once. And this month offers a stunning opportunity, as tons of grizzlies and browns set their sights on the spawning salmon in Katmai National Park against a backdrop of coastal blooms and fireweed flowers. You can see the bears from a whole new perspective, too – thanks to a highly anticipated, just-opened bridge and boardwalk at Brooks Falls. If you go late enough in the month, pair your Katmai trip with another stop in Wrangell for the annual Bearfest (July 24-28). There’s a packed schedule of photo workshops, safety demos, and bear-themed kids’ games, as well as daily bear-watching excursions to Anan Bear and Wildlife Observatory. And for those who like their behemoth viewing in a more controlled environment (no judgment), consider Sitka’s Fortress of the Bear, where there’s a new indoor expansion to the bear viewing deck, plus ground-floor bear viewing windows.
One Italy’s most famous sporting events lasts, on average, 75 seconds: Il Palio (July 2 & August 16) sees 10 representatives of Siena’s ancient contradas (neighborhood associations, essentially) race horses—bareback—around the city’s Piazza del Campo. And though the whole thing may be over in the blink of an occhio, the pre- and post-fervor is the exact opposite. In accordance with centuries’ worth of tradition, each contrada has its own colors and mascots, so if you show up in Siena before the race, you’ll find that pretty much every shop is selling team flair. The neckerchief seems the must-have of the event’s accessories, but if you buy one for yourself just because you like its color or design you may want to ask the shopkeep which contradas you’ll now have as friends and rivals so you don’t make a fashion faux pas on enemy turf. On race day, if you want a free spot on the piazza, get there in the morning because people start staking out their spots early (though you can pay for bleacher seating, too). But the action doesn’t pick up til the afternoon, when the contradas bless their horses and begin to parade around the city in Renaissance period costume. By early evening, the parade winds down, a firecracker goes off, and horses make their grand piazza entrance. Three laps later and not even two minutes later, one contrada emerges victorious, the restaurants and bars around the piazza put out tables out on the track, and the afterparty is off to the races. Celebrate with some traditional bisteca alla fiorentina and chianti classico. When you’re all partied out, spend the night at Grand Hotel Continental, where the suites feature original seventeenth-century ceiling frescoes (get in touch with the concierge as soon as you book to see about snagging tickets to the race).
Lucky for you that kanpai is one of the easiest toasts to pronounce and remember because you’re about to use it a lot: There’s a mile-long beer garden in Sapporo’s Odori Park, and it’s the place to be during the Sapporo Summer Festival (July 19 – August 17). Yes, yes, we know what you’re thinking about Asia in summer, but in this northern outpost, temperatures actually hover in the mid-70s throughout the season, so you’ll happily stay outdoors for the open-air concerts, traditional dance displays and fireworks. The Sapporo Beer Museum—housed in a Meiji Period brewery—is a short stumble away, and the perfect place to learn about the history of beer making in Japan, and try a few (more) samples. July is also the best month to visit the fragrant lavender fields, about two hour’s drive from Sapporo. Take a tractor tour of Farm Tomita’s psychedelic blooms, then cool off at the outdoor café, with lavender-flavored soft serve ice-cream and a glass of lavender iced tea.