January may be the perfect time to start making travel plans for the year ahead – but it’s also a wonderful month to put them into action.
Why wait to soak up some vitamin D in Guatemala or the Philippines, shuck oysters in South Carolina, tackle a frosty Great Wall of China or hit the slopes in Iran? Start 2016 the right way with these suggestions from our travel experts.
Seek sunshine in Cebu, the Philippines
For sunshine, diving, beaches and festivals – or a combination of all of these – make for Cebu in January. The weather at this time is relatively cool and dry (no promises), but with average highs of around 30°C, that’s warm enough for most travellers to enjoy this central hub in the Visayas.
Laze on white-sand beaches, dive with thresher sharks off Malapascua Island, witness the amazing sardine run of Moalboal, or explore the history, museums and nightlife of Cebu City. Stick around for the third Sunday of the month to see the costumes, music and dancing of the mighty Sinulog Festival, when Cebu City hosts pilgrims from all over the country.
Laura Crawford – Destination Editor for Japan, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and the Philippines. Follow her on Twitter @crawfplanet
Walk on a wintery Great Wall in China
January is a great time to get a dose of the Great Wall from a very different vantage: under a blanket of snow. Winter sees far fewer visitors to the Great Wall sections near Beijing, which are usually thronged with people in the height of simmering summer. In winter, far fewer people means a chance to have the Wall to yourself and opportunities for frosty photo ops with the surrounding mountains dusted with snow.
Mutianyu is a relatively easy, though less well-known, part of the Wall to visit and the fact that it has been restored means wintery conditions will be less treacherous than on an unrestored section. Be sure to bundle up, as temperatures can drop well below zero in January and winds can chill to the bone. Thermals, boots, gloves and, if there’s been heavy snow, crampons are all recommended.
Megan Eaves – Destination Editor for North and Central Asia. Follow her on Twitter @megoizzy.
Get lost in the culture of Guatemala
January in Central America brings cooler, more predictable weather with less rain, making it the ideal time to seek out adventure among the historic cities, volcanoes and Mayan ruins of Guatemala. Celebrate the New Year in Antigua, a buzzing city rich in colonial history, before venturing to the stunning Lago de Atitlán, a breathtaking spot ringed by volcanoes and charming villages, each with their own unique vibe.
Visit the traditional town of Rabinal for the fiesta de San Pedro, where residents perform pre-Colombian dances as part of the week-long celebration, and wrap up your trip with a visit to Tikal, one of the most impressive Mayan sites in the region. Nestled in the dense, verdant forests of El Petén, visitors can explore the causeways and temples constructed by the Maya in 200 BC, and lucky visitors might even glimpse a spider monkey or two.
Bailey Johnson – Destination Editor for Central America and the Caribbean. Follow her on Twitter @The_Traveling_B
Hit the ski slopes in Iran
Iran’s exquisitely tiled palaces and ancient ruins might hog the travel headlines, but if you’re planning a trip in January, you should be heading straight to the Alborz Mountains with your skis. Several top resorts are within day-trip distance of Tehran and by Western standards are very reasonable at US$20 for a day pass.
Shemshak is the place to go for snowboarders, while Dizin comes highly recommended for off-piste skiing. The slopes at Tochal are accessed by a 7500m gondola that starts in Velenjak, northern Tehran, and whisks skiers up to the resort while treating them to unmatchable views of the snowy peaks. The atmosphere on the slopes tends to be relatively relaxed, and you can expect to see many women wearing typical skigear and hats rather than headscarves.
Helen Elfer – Destination Editor for the Middle East and North Africa. Follow her on Twitter @helen_elfer
Shuck oysters in Charleston, USA
January is the perfect time to visit Charleston and get acquainted with all of its charms. The weather is mild, the crowds have thinned, and the food and sightseeing remains top notch. Charleston has a wealth of historical sites and superb antebellum architecture to admire, which is made much easier this time of year with lower humidity and cooler temperatures, with an average daily high around 16°C.
The food scene in Charleston is inventive and invigorated, with some restaurants serving up new twists on traditional Lowcountry fare while others incorporate global flavors into new local favourites. One of the highlights of the culinary year here is the Lowcountry Oyster Festival, which takes place 31 January. With more than 80,000 pounds of oysters on hand, this is the world’s largest oyster festival.
Rebecca Warren – Destination Editor for the Eastern USA. Follow her on Twitter @RebeccaGWarren