Zodiac and penguins, Antarctica

Where to go in January

New Year, new adventures… From penguins to Epiphany, here are our inspirational ideas for January

Baby, it’s cold outside… or at least it is in the northern hemisphere: January is the month when muffled-up Europeans look enviously abroad and start counting up their air miles.

Down Under, of course, it’s all barbies and beach parties – this is a prime time to be in Australia or New Zealand. It’s also peak season in South-East Asia, where the humidity drops and balmy, dry days reign. And if it’s sun you’re after, the Caribbean, West Africa and the Canary Islands are good bets too.

Alternatively, immerse yourself in the chill: all manner of snowy activities are on offer, from zodiac excursions past Antarctica's penguins to a simple stroll around romantically frozen St Petersburg. Wrap up warm.

Events & festivals

A BIG MONTH FOR… Two new European capitals of culture begin their year of fame: for 2012, Portugal and Slovenia are in the spotlight. Thanks to the Julian Calendar, Ethiopia celebrates Christmas two weeks after the rest of the world (6-7 January) – and the equally colourful Epiphany festival of Timkat, also in January, makes this a great month to visit the country.

CELEBRATIONS – The torch-bearing, boat-burning festival of Up Helly-Aa roars into the Shetland Islands on the last Tuesday of January – a must for aspiring Viking pyromaniacs. In Rajasthan, the Bikaner camel festival makes for a stunning desert spectacle, while in Mali, the Tuareg-led Festival in the Desert showcases world music stars amid the dunes of the Sahara (check the latest security situation before booking). Australia’s biggest arts event, the Sydney Festival, takes over the city for a month of plays, gigs, concerts and dance.

CHINESE NEW YEAR – As if that’s not enough, the Chinese world is also celebrating around now (Jan 23 2012). Dragons, lanterns and firecrackers abound anywhere with a significant Chinese population: Taiwan, Hong Kong, San Francisco, Indonesia, Vietnam and London among them. Tibetan New Year is a separate celebration, though: 22 Feb 2012.

Wildlife

JUNGLE – Got a hankering for birds, butterfiles and hidden temples? Head for Central America. January is dry season in traveller-friendly Costa Rica, Guatemala and Mexico – combine rainforest eco-lodges with Mayan temples and fine beaches. Alternatively, head to the Gambia in West Africa – away from the coast’s package resorts lie quiet rainforest lodges and chimpanzee reserves.

BIG CATS – It’s a good time to be in much of India: just past December peak season, but not too hot. Tiger reserves including Ranthambore, Kanha and Bandhavgarh are at their most pleasant, while Kerala in the south is still lush from monsoon rains.

MARINE LIFE – The world’s biggest sea creatures are on the move: whale sharks cruise past the Philippines and Honduras this month, while Blue Whales start to congregate in Baja California, Mexico. It’s also peak season for cruises to the Galapagos Islands, around Patagonia, and down to Antarctica via the Falkland Islands: expect long days accompanied by penguins and seabirds galore.

Activities

HIKING – Want to walk off those Christmas calories and pick up some sunshine at the same time? The Atlantic island of Madeira holds its annual walking festival in January; Jamaica’s Blue Mountains and the more rugged corners of the Caribbean (St Lucia, Dominica, Cuba) beckon; the mountainous interior of Oman is manageably cool; and it’s peak trekking (and rafting / skydiving / zorbing etc) season in New Zealand and Tasmania.

SKI & SNOWBOARD – resorts all over North America and Europe are open for business. Want something more offbeat? Try the slopes in Lebanon, Hokkaido in Japan, or the Alborz mountains in Iran.

WINTER ACTIVITIES – husky sledding, snow-shoeing, the Northern Lights: from late January till March is the perfect time for Arctic adventures. Kiruna in Sweden and Whitehorse in Canada’s Yukon are two top spots; there are also plenty of options in Finland, Norway and Alaska.

Natural phenomena

LUMINOUS COLOURS – Daylight comes and goes in the blink of an eye, but that means more time to gaze at the enchanting lights of the Aurora Borealis. Head up to Sweden, Norway or Finland to admire its natural beauty.

CLOUD FOREST – A unique environment, the cloud forests found high on Costa Rica's mountain tops are teeming with exotic wildlife and ideal to visit in January. Trek through the misty clouds or take to the trees along the jungle's extensive range of zip lines and cable bridges.

The weather is nice in...

PRAIA, Cape Verde 21-26°C

BRIDGETOWN, Barbados 21-28°C

DURBAN, South Africa 22-28°C

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia 22-32°C

LIMA, Peru 20-29°C

While most of the northern hemisphere shivers in the grip of winter, January is the ideal time to escape to warmer climates. Countries close to the equator are warm all year round and January marks the driest time of the year so your holiday won’t be spoilt by rain. For a lively Caribbean break visit Jamaica and Barbados, or head over to Asia and join in Chinese New Year celebrations in Hong Kong with a dry, average temperature of 19°C.

Or if you fancy something chilly, burn off a few Christmas calories on the slopes in Jackson Hole, Wyoming with crisp temperatures rarely rising above 0°C – providing the perfect conditions for skiing.

Conventional wisdom says:

A walk on ice is not nice.

Wanderlust says:

Sleep on ice and admire the Northern Lights at the Icehotel in Jukkasjärvi, Sweden.

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