Bucket-list favourites, fairy chimneys, beer festivals and more await culture vultures in May. Drive through the USA’s Deep South to explore America at its most ‘American’; beat the early bird to Machu Picchu; discover Mother Nature’s magical kingdom in Cappadocia, Turkey; and raise a glass in Prague during its most exciting month.
Beat the crowds to Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu is probably the world’s most bucket-listed site. Its precipitous location and mysterious purpose, coupled with the fact that it sat undiscovered for centuries, make for the most magical combination. It gets especially busy during Peru’s drier season; permits for the four-day Inca Trail hike to Machu Picchu must be booked months in advance at this time. Unless you go in May.
May is the first dry month, but is outside traditional vacation season. Ergo, the weather is good, but the trails and trains of the Peruvian Andes are less crowded. Dry days are good for countrywide sightseeing too, as well as visits to the Amazon, where rainfall is a little lower and wildlife easier to spot.
- Trip plan: Fly from Lima to Cuzco. Explore the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu (by train or trek). Take the Cuzco to Puno train to Lake Titicaca. Continue west to colonial Arequipa and deep Colca Canyon, returning to Lima. Add on a stay at a remote Amazon ecolodge.
- Need to know: Only 500 people are permitted to walk the Inca Trail each day; quieter alternatives include the Salkantay and Choquequirao treks.
- Other months: Jan-Apr – wettest (Feb: Inca Trail closes); May-Sep – dry, busy (Jun-Aug: busiest); Oct-Dec – rains begin gradually.
The ‘fairy chimneys’ are warming up in Cappadocia, Turkey
Mother Nature must have been in a whimsical mood when she sculpted the Central Anatolian region of Cappadocia. Here, the soft tuff rock has been carved into fantastical ravines, tablelands and turrets that would befit Mr Disney. It’s a magical place to explore (kids especially will love it), and the warm-but-not-hot spring weather is ideal for activities.
Hike along steep-sided valleys and explore underground cities where rock-hewn churches contain ninth-century frescoes; stay in budget and boutique cave hotels; and drift overhead in hot-air balloons. Winters can be cold – snowy even – but by May temperatures are pleasantly up (25°C; 77°F) and rainfall is low. Indeed, locals put their coal stoves away at the start of May, a portent for good weather.
- Trip plan: Walk in the Ihlara Valley, explore the subterranean city of Kaymakli, visit Göreme Open Air Museum and take a cooking class. Combine with İstanbul (two-hour flight) or a beach flop on the Turquoise Coast (two-hour flight).
- Need to know: Two airports serve Cappadocia: Kayseri (47 miles, or 75km, from Göreme) and Nevşehir (25 miles; 40km).
- Other months: Apr-Jun & Sep-Oct – best weather; Jul-Aug – very hot; Nov-Mar – cold, snow possible.
For a musical, historical, gastronomical drive in five states head to the USA’s deep south
Deep South USA comprises Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana. Perhaps as ‘American’ as America gets, it’s a region of boundless hospitality, country, blues and jazz, cultural richness, barbecue and buttermilk biscuits. It has eccentricity, charm and spunk in spades. May is a good month for a regional road trip, when the sun is warm, the roads emptier and the flowers are in bloom.
Start in Kentucky, where the bluegrass pastures and dogwoods look spectacular, and the riotous Kentucky Derby (Louisville, first Saturday in May) begins the month with a bang. South lie major musical treats: Nashville, Memphis, Tupelo (birthplace of Elvis) and Muscle Shoals (‘Recording Capital of the World’). There are also plantation houses, Civil Rights sites, bourbon distilleries, Gulf-side fishing villages serving great gumbo and the irrepressible rhythms of New Orleans.
- Trip plan: Plan a road trip suited to your available time. It’s 715 miles (1150 km) from Louisville to New Orleans, a huge distance even without any detours. If you’re time poor, focus on a section, such as a weeklong music pilgrimage from Nashville to New Orleans.
- Need to know: In the USA, you must pay for gas before you fill your tank.
- Other months: Mar-May & Sep-Oct – mild, pleasant; Jun-Aug – temperatures peak; Nov-Feb – cooler, wettest.
Drink and be merry in Prague, Czech Republic
May is the most intoxicating month to visit Prague. Never mind the lengthening, warming days (which are ideal for boat trips on the Vltava River and walking across Charles Bridge). No, it’s Beer Festival time!
More than 150 brews are showcased in a vast 10,000-seater tent in the city’s Letná Park. Czech food – from spicy sausage to ‘Moravian sparrow’ (actually pork and dumplings) – is served up too. Away from the festival, there’s more consuming to be done in the city’s fin-de-siècle cafes and bars.
- Trip plan: Allow a day for the Old Town and Jewish Quarter, a day for Prague castle and the Lesser Town, and a day for museums and shops. Get around by tram.
- Need to know: The Prague Spring Music Festival, a celebration of classical, jazz and world music, is held in May.
- Other months: Nov-Mar – cold (Dec: Christmas markets); Jul-Aug – hot, busy; Apr-Jun & Sep-Oct – warm, quieter
Looking for more inspiration? Check out our book Where To Go When for 360 ultimate escapes from family-friendly adventures to animal encounters and relaxing retreats.