Team Wanderlust | 22 January 2024
19 of the best places to visit in February
Whether you're searching for some fiesta fun, unique wildlife encounters, or a snowy escape, we’ve rounded up the best places to visit in February...
Whether you're searching for some fiesta fun, unique wildlife encounters, or a snowy escape, we’ve rounded up the best places to visit in February...
February might be when most of us are still reeling from the extravagances of the festive season, but for adventurous travellers it means something more. This is when you can catch the tail-end of summer in the Southern Hemisphere, have rare wildlife encounters in the mountains of Europe, or lose your inhibitions in the rhythms of carnival season. It may be the shortest month, but its sheer volume and variety of travel experiences makes it one of the most exciting.
Whatever you're searching for, here are some of the best places to visit in February...
More than 3,500km off the west coast of Chile, Rapa Nui (better known among westerners as Easter Island) is one of the most isolated places on the planet. Travellers that venture to this remote island in the Pacific are often enticed by the mysterious moai heads that guard its coastline. Polynesian settlers arrived at the end of the first millennium, who’s later generations then carved these giant sculptures between 1400 AD and 1700 AD, that are said to represent their ancestors. In 1995, UNESCO recognised the significance of the cultural landscape and inscribed Rapa Nui National Park as a World Heritage Site. As well as February providing perfect mid-summer temperatures to explore, the locals also celebrate the two-week long Tapati Festival at the beginning of the month. Honouring the heritage of Rapa Nui and its people, the celebration consists of traditional performances, such as singing and dancing, but also island sporting events including swimming, canoeing, horseriding and haka pei (an extreme sled race down a hillside with origins from ancient island rituals).
You may have heard of a quiet little festival in Brazil called Carnival in Rio de Janeiro. Of course, we’re only joking – Rio is officially the biggest carnival in the world, attracting approximately two million people to its streets daily. Often called the ‘Greatest Show on Earth’, every corner you turn during the five-day celebration will be full of vibrant costumes, music and plenty of samba dancing, with the epicentre of the event held at the Sambodromo stadium. But Rio shouldn’t be thought of as the only place to visit in Brazil to get a flavour of carnival. Salvador in Bahia is always themed around happiness: it’s a popular event with the locals and has a lot of Afro-Brazilian influence, from the food to its music. The carnival spirit is also strongly felt in the city of Recife in Pernambuco, as well as the nearby colonial town of Olinda. Both of these festivals are strongly influenced by Indian and African heritage: lookout for papier-mâché puppets marching down the streets and street bands playing Frevo music.
The chances of seeing a snow leopard in your lifetime are not high. Fewer than 7,000 are thought to exist in the wild. But if you’re ever going to spot one, the mountains of Ladakh in February offer the best opportunity. This is when mating season (January to March) is in full flow and when treks to the high-altitude steppe of Hemis National Park offer the best chance of sightings. The big cats live here in greater numbers than anywhere else on the planet. It’s still not easy, though. Tours pit-stop in mountain villages and remote camps, with plenty of walking and waiting in between. Altitudes top 3,000m, which takes some getting used to, and trips usually last around two weeks, meaning sightings require patience and strong thighs.
Québec City makes the most of its chilling February weather with its spectacular Winter Carnival, now in its 70th year, but with origins dating back to the 19th century. Across 10 days, the city transforms into a winter fairytale, with snow-inspired decorations, elaborate ice sculptures and light displays. As well as the magical surroundings, a thrilling selection of activities are available for either spectating or participating, from frozen lake canoe races or braving a dip in an ice bath. Red costumes, carnival songs and the Effigy of Bonhomme are all parts of the winter festival’s traditions. Beyond the event, there’s more enchanting scenery to find around the Quebec. Take a walk along the Terrasse Dufferin boardwalk to get a closer look at the imposing Château Frontenac, the most famous landmark in the city, or be transported back in time in Old Quebec, a charming UNESCO-listed town enclosed by a 17th-century fortification and with 400 years of well-preserved European architecture.
February is peak mating season for the red-crowned cranes of the Kushiro marshlands. These rare birds can be seen on kayaking trips year-round, but it’s only in late winter (February to March) that you can witness their mating dance. Known locally as ‘tancho’, it was here that a group of 20 birds were found in 1924, long after they were thought to have been hunted to extinction. Now, around 1,000 live in reserves across the island’s north-east, with feeding time at Akan International Crane Centre an easy way to see them up close. For those who’d rather bag a picture in the wild, the forests around Tsurui see photographers staking out bridges early in the morning with long lens cameras. If you arrive early enough in the month, you may also catch the end of Sapporo’s Snow Festival, with its dazzling ice and snow carvings.
A visit to the New South Wales capital in February not only promises spectacular sunshine, but also one of the world’s best Mardi Gras festivals and Pride events. The two have long been interlinked, ever since the first Mardi Gras took place during Pride month back in 1978. Now, it’s a two-week long programme bursting with colourful events, promising endless entertainment in the form of drag shows, LGBTQ+ exhibitions and queer sporting events. But the climax of the festival is the Mardi Gras parade, where thousands of sparkling individuals will dance their way down Oxford Street, Flinders Street and Anzac Parade accompanied by elaborate and colourful floats. If you’re not all partied out, there’s nothing like escaping the crowds to explore the serene coastline of New South Wales, waiting on Sydney’s doorstep.
February sees the return of the Geilo Ice Music Festival, held deep in the snow-blanketed forests of southern Norway, midway between Oslo and Bergen. It’s undeniably one of Europe’s most unique festivals. Concerts take place in spectacular frozen caves, while all instruments are carved from the ice itself. The effort that goes into creating, shaping and tuning them – drums, guitars, harps, even saxophones – is remarkable. Everywhere, technicians can be seen chainsawing huge ice blocks into shape, carving them with the delicacy of artists. The highlight is the midnight concert, complete with a dazzling lightshow against the Hardangerjokulen Glacier.
Most people flock to this town on the French Riviera as soon as they see signs of warmer days, but they’re missing out from experiencing one of the most unique festivals in the world. Fête du Citron (translating to Lemon Festival in English) is exactly what it says on the tin. Held in February every year, this celebration puts a spin on a traditional carnival, with parades filling the streets with enormous floats artistically constructed from lemons and oranges. Now in its 90th year, its considered an important part of this region's cultural heritage. While here, be sure to explore Menton's picturesque medieval town, home to 18th-century Basilique Saint-Michel and 17th-century La Chapelle des Pénitents-Blancs.
New Zealand in February not only promises balmy climates, but also the opportunity to be transported into an Art Deco era. The North Island city of Napier was rebuilt in the 1930s after a Earthquake devastated the Hawke’s Bay region: it remains one of the country’s deadliest natural disasters. Although a travesty, it brought local communities together to construct the Art Deco capital we know today. Napier now honours the resilience of the city and its Art Deco heritage with a fantastic annual festival every February since 1988. Expect street celebrations, theatre performances and plenty of jazz music. Make sure to take a walking tour of all the city’s splendid Art Deco architecture, with icons including the Daily Telegraph Building and Municipal Theatre. The nearby city of Hastings is also worth a visit for its Art Deco treasures. When you’re all partied out, make the most of New Zealand’s untouched natural landscapes by hitting one of Hawke’s Bay’s stunning trails, including Lake Waikaremoana – a native forest trail that’s the ancestral home to the Ngāi Tūhoe tribe, and also one of New Zealand’s Great Walks.
Forget Rio. During February the party never stops in Uruguay’s capital, with Montevideo making a colourful base for experiencing the longest carnival season in the world (late January to early March). Uruguay’s celebrations are a bit different to the rest of South America’s more flamboyant street festivities. Yes, there are parades, but here the evenings are mostly dominated by small stages (tablados) where carnival groups compete nightly as you sit back with a cup of mate. The ‘murga’ category – a kind of choral musical theatre with a satirical edge – is the star. Few topics are off-limits for these troupes, and while many references may go over the head of even Spanish-speaking visitors, for sheer spectacle and wild costumes, they’re the highlight of the carnival.
February sees the return of the USA’s biggest party to New Orleans: Mardi Gras. These days it’s best known for its street parades, but its roots actually lie in the society balls thrown by Louisiana’s French governor centuries ago. By the late 1800s, however, the carnival had fallen into a more familiar pattern, with colourful parades and floats marshalled by ‘krewes’ of revellers hurling ‘throws’ of necklaces and trinkets into the crowds. It’s worth knowing that while Mardi Gras (‘Fat Tuesday’) itself falls on the day before Ash Wednesday, this marks the crowning day of weeks of festivities in New Orleans, during which it’s far easier to bag a room and a spot to stand along the busiest parade routes. Crowds always peak during the extended weekend before the big day, so you’ll need to book a stay months in advance if you want to be there.
Like most carnivals in February, the festivities of Belgium’s Binche Carnival, in the Wallonia region, are tied to Easter, taking place on Shrove Sunday. It’s then that this small Belgian town is invaded by armies of harlequins, pierrot clowns and, of course, gilles – costumed figures known for their wax masks and ostrich-plumed hats. They carry sticks to ward off evil spirits and often pass out oranges, which are considered rude to turn down. The UNESCO-listed festival’s origins are unknown yet it is still one of the oldest in Europe. Dancers jiggle to the strums of traditional folk music and the finale sees thousands of gilles waggle their plumes in the main square under the crack of the evening fireworks. By then it’s typically a lively affair, so watch out for the odd flying orange!
February is prime time to track some of Romania’s most elusive wildlife. The country’s Carpathian Mountains are home to approximately 3,000 wolves – that’s 10% of Europe’s entire population. Saying this, they’re still quite impossible to find unless you know exactly where to look. The first couple months of the year offer ample opportunity to seek them out, as they will be searching for prospective partners but also the snow-blanketed ground reveals their pawprints to track. Closer to the end of February, it’s also possible to catch a glimpse of the Eurasian lynx, as they too begin searching for a mate. Around 2,000 live in the mountains, and if you do manage to spot one, they’ll likely still be donning their fluffiest winter coat – black-tipped ears and all. All wildlife tours in Romania should be booked with a responsible expert guide. They will not only keep you safe and ensure the wildlife is not disturbed, but also give you the best chance of finding these incredible animals.
February is a unique time to spot grey whales off the coast of San Diego, Southern California. These creatures undertake one of the longest migrations by a mammal on Earth, travelling 15,000km of the North American coast from the summer feeding areas of the Arctic to the warm winter breeding grounds of Baja California. It’s here that these barnacled giants arrive en masse to give birth, typically doing so between January and March. This is also the best time to see them up close (but at a respectable distance) on a whale watching tour. There’s also a high chance of seeing pods of dolphins leaping alongside your boat too. For another nature spectacle, head north of the Golden State for the annual ‘firefall’ in Yosemite National Park. The firefall may look like a stream of lava pouring down the side of Yosemite’s towering rock formation, however it’s actually caused by the evening sunlight shining on the waterflow, illuminating the falls in a florescent orange. It occurs between mid- to late February every year for a mere few moments every day – if the conditions are right. Do check park guidelines before visiting, as its recent surge in popularity has caused restrictions to be put in place.
Much like the Chinese, the Buddhist Kingdom of Bhutan tends to celebrate its new year – called Losar – in February, depending on the lunisolar calendar. Although a chilly winter month, it’s perhaps the ideal time to explore the living traditions and cultures of this fascinating Himalayan nation. For example, archery tournaments take place as part of Losar celebrations in villages across the country, traditional dishes are often cooked in homes, and the Bhutanese visit local temples and monasteries for sacred rituals and performances, such as puja. If you’re not sure where exactly to go, Punakha is dubbed the ‘winter capital’ of Bhutan and home to one of the country’s most iconic dzongs set along both the Pho Chhu and Mo Chhu rivers. Be sure to wish locals tashi delek as you pass them by.
The best chance you’ll get for some European winter sun in February must be the Canary Islands, but there’s one island in this archipelago that also brings the party. The city of Santa Cruz in northeast Tenerife hosts an action-packed 15-day carnival attracting thousands to the port city to celebrate. It’s widely touted as the second most popular carnival in the world (behind Rio, of course) with its streets full of fiesta fun, especially on parade day. The mild February weather is perfect for adventurers who want to take on some of the island’s best trails, many of which can be found in Teide National Park – named after the island’s dormant towering volcano.
February’s ten-day Carnaval de Oruro in western Bolivia is an experience like no other, and for those happy to brave the thin air of the altiplano, it’s a cultural encounter with a long history. By the 1800s, what was once a raucous celebration of indigenous gods had been papered over by Christian imagery following the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors. In its place rose something unique: parades of 28,000 devils and dancers hot-footing it down the high street of Oruro, merging Old and New World beliefs in a small city wrapped by mountains. Buses take around four hours to reach Oruro from capital La Paz. Catching your breath isn’t easy at 3,700m, much less when a wave of pagan and Catholic imagery rolls towards you. Indeed, for those attending, it pays to arrive days earlier – getting used to this altitude is no easy thing – but the head-swimming mix of music, dance and costumes are invigorating. The 4km Saturday parade route in particular sees devils surrounded by dance groups and trailed by cars bejewelled in shining crockery, with the ‘dance of the devils’ the most famous of the performances.
February is a dream time to explore Chilean Patagonia’s Torres del Paine National Park. By then, the flood of summer-holidaying locals has dissipated, the nights are still warm and there’s 14 good hours of daylight to play with. The conditions and long days make it perfect for taking on one of its most iconic challenges. The ‘W’ trail (71km) zigzags the wild north of Torres del Paine and takes five or six days to traverse. It’s also easy to reach, with most hikers starting from Refugio Las Torres, a bus ride from Puerto Natales. Along the way you’ll encounter the region’s most famous valleys (Grey, Ascensio and Francés) and stroll under the multi-coloured spires of Los Cuernos (The Horns) and through the ice fields of Grey Glacier on a route packed with incredible scenery.
February is party time in the Caribbean. Held on the Monday and Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, the ‘world’s biggest street party’ is a century-old pre-Lent bender that began with the arrival of French settlers to the islands. After emancipation, the festival was adopted by the freed slaves and Africanised. It has survived despite many colonial attempts to ban it. Today, thousands pour onto the streets for the centrepiece ‘mas’ parades, stirred by the rhythms of the steelpan and soca. One annual highlight is the ‘Kings and Queens’ competition, which sees contestants don incredible costumes, some weighing nearly 100kg, while brass bands, calypso competitions and an apocalypse-worth of fireworks light up the night. Once the party is over, there's dozens of white-sand beaches with turquoise waters to rest and recuperate.
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