Avoid the crowds and bag a bargain by travelling to the world’s best bits when everyone else isn’t. Here are 10 reasons to resist travel during high season, straight from Lonely Planet's 1000 Ultimate Adventures.
'Green season' safari, Botswana
Hippos in Botswana by Mazzali / CC BY-SA 2.0
Botswana is not a cheap safari option – many of its luxury lodges cost up to $1000 per person per night. Gulp. But travellers willing to endure the odd downpour can nab a bargain when the tourist hordes have headed home. November to April is euphemistically dubbed ‘green season’ – rain is frequent and the resultant thick vegetation can make wildlife harder to spot – but it’s also when lodges offer significant discounts and landscapes are at their most lush, attracting myriad birds. Many animals give birth at this time of year too, and a good guide will point out plenty of healthy young babies – as well as the predators inevitably skulking nearby, looking for an easy lunch.
Go: Malaria is present in parts of Botswana, including the Okavango Delta and Moremi and Chobe National Parks – prophylaxis should be taken.
Winter wolf-tracking, Yellowstone National Park, USA
During the summer more than three million people pile into Yellowstone National Park; just 140,000 visit in winter. Sure, some of the roads close from December to March, ranger-led activities fizzle out and temperatures plunge to -20°C. But the pros are manifold: not only are the highlights blissfully tourist-free but the wildlife watching is superb. Resident species such as elk, bison and bighorn sheep overwinter at lower elevations and stand out a mile against the ice-cloaked land. Plus you can enlist a naturalist guide to tramp through the sparkling landscape, following the footprints of the elusive grey wolf, easily visible in the virgin snow.
Go: Cross-country ski trails are groomed in the Old Faithful, Mammoth, Canyon and Tower areas; half-day ski-touring packages cost $15. See www.nps.gov/yell.
Monsoon trekking, Western Ghats, India
Mumbai during monsoon? You must be mad! Granted, the Indian metropolis isn’t much fun from June to September, when heavy rains flood roads and breed disease. But venture 100km inland to the Sahyadri Mountains and you’ve got the ideal wet-weather playground. These hills – part of the larger Western Ghats – come to life. Rivers and seasonal waterfalls are in full flow (perfect for rappelling and rafting) while the countryside glows vibrant green. Plus the rains keep temperatures cool for hikes that take in ancient paths, ruined forts and secluded homestays.
Go: Malshej Ghat (154km from Mumbai) is a popular choice for trekkers; migratory flamingos flock here during the monsoon.
Rainy season, Iguaçu Falls, Brazil/Argentina
Iguaçu Falls by Phil Whitehouse / CC BY 2.0
‘Iguaçu’ is a Guaraní Indian word, combining y (meaning ‘water’) and ûasú (‘big’). Big water – yes. But bigger at some times than at others. Brazil and Argentina share this border-straddling cascade – a 3km-wide, 80m-high spillage of 275 separate falls, gushing through the jungle. At its annual peak, 6500 cubic metres of water per second are tumbling down this cataract. Trouble is, in peak visitor period (the dry months of April to July) this can shrink to a trickle. To see the falls in their full, forceful splendour, come during the December to February wet season. Just bring a waterproof jacket.
Go: The Argentine side offers the most varied close-up views of Iguaçu Falls; the Brazilian side has the best panoramic vantage.
Lake Baikal, Russia
Lake Baikal is in Siberia – a word to make even the well-fleeced shiver. No surprise, then, that most visitors to this fathomless expanse of blue come in summer. And yet...Baikal in winter, when the mercury plummets to -20°C, is far more fun. The mighty puddle freezes over; you can walk out onto its translucent, creaking surface, the ice 2m thick but so clear you can see kelp forests swaying beneath. Negotiate this crystallised world by husky-sled, skis or snowmobile – or take to an ice-hovercraft, leaping over waves frozen like skate-ramps – then warm up in a banya (steam sauna), Russian-style.
Go: Flights connect major Russian hubs to Irkutsk (65km from Baikal) and Ulan-Ude (250km). The Trans-Siberian railway also passes through these cities.
Winter in Venice, Italy
Venice by Roberto Tim / CC BY 2.0
Low mist wisping off the canals, empty alleys of glistening cobbles, St Mark’s Square without the tourists: Venice in winter can be cold, damp and even a complete washout (they call this the acqua alta – 'high water', or flooding season), but the chance to wander without the crowds is worth donning a pair of wellies for. Wrap up warm and get lost; at some point you’ll hopefully find yourself by big-hitters like the Rialto Bridge and awesome Gallerie dell’Accademia but the fun’s in the atmospheric back streets – and the warming cafes where, of course, you’ll always get a seat.
Go: Alilaguna operates a boat service from Marco Polo Airport to St Mark’s Square; journey time is just over an hour.
Hurricane season in Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao
Hurricane season is a serious issue in the otherwise idyllic Caribbean. The warm waters so beloved by tourists can draw in storms from June to November. Though there are no guarantees, it’s usual for any given island to experience at least one wild-weather alert a year and take a direct hit every five to 10. But not all outcrops are made equal and those in the southern Caribbean, sitting outside ‘hurricane alley’, seldom see storms at all. Which makes Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao – home to colourful colonial architecture, gorgeous sands and great diving – excellent summer choices.
Go: All three islands (formerly the Netherlands Antilles) have international airports; the official languages of the islands are Dutch, English and Papiamento.
Winter birdwatching, Brighton, England
Brighton: the British seaside town of chips-in-newspaper helter-skelter fun, the pebble beach Londoners flock to in good weather, the ideal boutique, boho-chic summer city break. But in December to February? It’s low season and things are a bit quieter – unless, that is, you’re a bird. As tourists desert Brighton’s famous pier in winter, starlings from across the South Downs move in. At dusk they amass in their hundreds of thousands, performing balletic murmurations, rippling like water in the sky, then, as if on unseen cue from Mother Nature, they pour beneath the pier to roost in one great swooshing torrent.
Go: The murmurations (formations of birds in flight) can be viewed from anywhere along the seafront, between the piers or standing on the Palace Pier itself.
'Low season' bargain hunting, Hawaii, USA
There are two high seasons on the isles of Hawaii: firstly, deep winter, when travellers want to escape cold weather elsewhere. The second is high summer, when vacationing families descend. Both these periods see price hikes – but neither is actually the best time to visit. In truth, no time is awful here: these volcanic outcrops are balmy year-round, with averages only fluctuating from 25°C to 30°C. But April to June is not only the start of the drier season, it’s outside the more hurricane-prone July to November period, plus humpbacks – which amass off Maui from December – stay around until May.
Go: Temperatures drop with elevation – visitors to higher-altitude sites such as Haleakala (Maui) or Kilauea (Big Island) should dress accordingly.
Winter surfing, Portugal
Surfer in Portugal by gfpsousa / CC BY 2.0
Mainland Portugal has almost 950km of coast and much of it is ideal for summer holidaying: there’s a classy, quiet, golfy or gaudy resort to suit most tastes. But for surfers, winter’s the time to be there, when the Atlantic swells are biggest and most consistent, and when beaches are free from other people. And it’s not even that cold – though you’ll want a decent wetsuit (sea temperatures average 17°C). The southern Algarve is mildest – find laid-back surf spots between Lagos and Sagres. But the gnarliest waves hit further north: brave the breaks around Porto and the Costa Verde if you dare.
Go: Faro is the best access airport for the Algarve. Porto, which has its own airport, is three hours by train from Lisbon.
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