13 places to visit in January for every type of traveler
January brings the promise of a new year and countless opportunities to travel the world.
With the December holiday season in the rearview mirror, January is thankfully one of the cheapest months to plan a vacation, and smart travelers are already starting to plan their early 2019 getaways.
We looked at airfare trends, climate data, and global cultural calendars to select 13 vacation spots you should scope out for a January vacation. They include a stunning tropical island in Thailand, a surreal natural mirror made of salt in Bolivia, and a subzero neon theme park in China that attracts more 10 million visitors a year.
Check out our 13 recommendations for your next January adventure, and kick off 2019 with a bang.
Los Angeles, California
All the staples of LA tourism are in play in January, from Universal Studios Hollywood to the Griffith Observatory and the glamorous storefronts of Rodeo Drive. And with highs in the upper 60s Fahrenheit, there will be plenty of action and people-watching to do at Venice Beach or Santa Monica Beach, even if it might be a little too cold to get in the water.
It's worth noting that the Los Angeles area is suffering two wildfires as of this publication: the Woolsey Fire and the Hill Fire. You can make a difference by donating to relief organizations or, if you visit Los Angeles, volunteering your time to help those in need.
More than 200 inches of snow lure winter sports lovers to scenic Aspen, Colorado, each winter.
Although December through February are the most expensive months to travel to this powdery haven, early January is when rates for hotels and ski lifts are the most affordable of the season. That's the sweet spot on the calendar between December holidays and the start of the annual X Games, which start in late January.
Caladesi Island, Florida
|St. Petersburg/Clearwater Area Convention & Visitors Bureau|
Florida's pristine and isolated Caladesi Island is the perfect winter destination for beachgoers who like to travel at their own speed.
The quiet island off the coast of Central Florida is only accessible by ferry or private boat. But although it's slightly harder to reach than your average Florida beach, adventurous travelers will appreciate its serenity and calm.
"The best things about Caladesi Island are the things it doesn't have — roads, crowds, tackiness and noise," The New York Times wrote in 2008. "There is little to do except enjoy nature, and there is nothing to buy except simple sandwiches, drinks, postcards and modest souvenirs at a small concession stand."
Puerto Escondido, Mexico
|Flickr Creative Commons/Bryce Bradford|
Puerto Escondido is Spanish for "hidden port," and the name couldn't be more apt. The Mexican beach town has managed to stay off most tourists' radars for years.
But with all Puerto Escondido has to offer, it may not stay that way for long. All kinds of relaxing activities are available there, from scuba diving to horseback riding. You'll also have the opportunity for some excellent wildlife sightings, especially dolphins, sea turtles, and whales.
After your day at the beach, you'll want to head into town and enjoy the local seafood, straight from the Pacific Ocean.
St. Kitts and Nevis
St. Kitts and Nevis is the perfect winter destination for beach-loving travelers who are looking for "a touch of adventure and a dash of history," as US News and World Report put it.
The twin islands offer travelers stunning beaches and picturesque scenes of natural beauty, with just about every type of scene available, depending on the shore you choose.
Head to the capital city of Basseterre on St. Kitts and explore some of the relics of British rule, like Brimstone Hill Fortress. And come to the islands early in the month and you'll catch the tail end of the colorful and vibrant Carnival celebration, which runs more than a month.
Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia
The Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia is the largest salt flat in the world, and a surreal place to spend a January vacation for travelers who like to go off the beaten path.
From December to February, generous rains soak the region, turning the salt flats into a giant mirror displaying surreal optical illusions.
"It's incredible that nature created something so simple yet awe-inspiring," traveler David Boudreau told Business Insider in 2012.
Madeira is an autonomous region of Portugal off the coast of Morocco, and it's the place to go if you like thrill-seeking and rugged natural beauty.
"It has a unique primordial rawness thanks to ancient volcanic activity, with cloud-shrouded toothy peaks and lush, plummeting valleys, exuberant with greenery. Many of the beaches are black and rocky, scattered with boulders rather than shells," The Independent wrote of Madeira in 2016.
Mountain biking, paragliding, and canyoning are all popular activities to do on Madeira. And when you need a change of pace, Madeira is legendary for its food and wine scene, as well the nightlife in its capital Funchal.
Illustrious Innsbruck, Austria, is world-renowned for its Alpine peaks and Old World charm. The town, which hosted the Winter Olympics in 1964 and 1976, attracts skiers from around the world.
The city itself is small and compact, making it perfect for scenic walks if you're all snowed out. Local sights include the Cathedral at St. Jacob and the Renaissance-style Schloss Ambras castle.
But Transylvania is also one of the best places to visit in Europe, being rich in history, multicultural charm, and medieval intrigue. The region is home to about 100 castles and 70 fortified churches — the spooky Bran Castle is a fan favorite — providing endless opportunities to explore and learn.
Curious travelers will venture through the colorful streets of Sighisoara and other small towns.
Against the powerful backdrop of the Carpathian Mountains, it will be hard to feel like you're not in a fairy tale.
Winter temperatures plunge below zero in Harbin, China's northernmost major city. But there's a reason more than 10 million travelers flock there each December, January, and February — the Harbin International Ice and Snow Festival.
The festival — the largest of its kind in the world — centers on a surreal, neon-lit theme park with castles, sculptures, and replicas of monuments like the Taj Mahal and the Sphinx, all carved from ice. It's a scene that needs to be witnessed to be believed — just make sure you bring your warmest jacket.
There's never a bad time to visit the island of Phuket in southern Thailand — it's a little piece of paradise year-round.
Pure white-sand beaches and clear waters await visitors to this tourist hotspot, where visitors can take their pick of tropical shorelines and lay out, scuba dive, or snorkel the day away. In the northeastern region, adventurous travelers can seek out unique wildlife in Khao Phra Taew National Park, and relax at a Thai massage spa afterward.
But although there are multiple tropical getaways on this list, what sets Phuket apart is its nightlife. Whether you're a rowdy, all-night partier or simply looking to get a glimpse of Thai culture through food and drink, there are endless ways to have a memorable experience in Phuket.
Wanaka, New Zealand
Wanaka is a picturesque town on New Zealand's South Island, and it's the perfect place for outdoor adventure. The town's mountain and lakeside setting, as well as its proximity to Mt. Aspiring National Park, make it the ultimate base for outdoor activities like hiking, bicycling, rock climbing and skydiving. Remember, January means warm weather in this part of the world.
Back in town, you can take in the magnificent scenery from viewpoints, go wine-tasting, and while away the hours at quirky places like Puzzling World and the National Transport and Toy Museum.
São Tomé and Príncipe
The small island nation of São Tomé and Príncipe off the coast of Central Africa offers a road-less-traveled experience for those willing to make the journey.
If you prefer a slow-paced, culturally rich vacation, you'll relish the opportunity to stay at a traditional plantation house and soak up the music, dance, and good vibes in Creole villages on São Tomé's southern coast.
You also don't want to miss the biologically rich Obo National Park, prized for its virgin rainforests. The World Wildlife Fund considers the park to be one of the most important biological areas on the planet.