The Best Places to Visit in the Off-Season
Savvy travelers know that skipping a destination during the high season is a great way to avoid the crush of fanny-packed tourists and save money while they’re at it. Just because the weather may not be ideal or the locals might be confused to see you, doesn’t mean these travel spots aren’t worth a visit in the off months.
When: February – March
Summer is temperate and gorgeous in Alaska, but it’s missing Northern Lights and dog sleds. Yukon Quest and Iditarod, the two biggest dog-sled-racing events in America, are held in Fairbanks every year in February and March, respectively. If you’re feeling sporty, you can even join in a round of skijoring, where skiers are pulled by dogs. The daylight might be short, but the winter “skjorts” are in full effect.
If you take a good, heavy parka and some long johns, you can pay about half what the summer guests do from September through April. Reykjavik in winter is among the best places in the world to see the northern lights. You can also go wild mussel picking and can venture inside a glacier. Walking on top of glaciers is child’s play. Entering a millions-of-years-old geographic wonder is where the real fun begins.
It might be a little chilly to stand in Tokyo’s Shibuya crossing, but there are so many things to see and do in Japan in February. Topping the list: The -10 degree Celsius BBQ in Kitami, where they celebrate delicious yakiniku BBQ by gathering outside in the dead of winter. Or visit the snow sculpture festival in Sapporo, that brings three-person teams from all over the world to build sculptures that top 20 feet. Or check out Japan’s snow monkeys, who are out in force in the Jigokundani hot springs during the winter. Watching bathing monkeys isn’t voyeuristic; it’s adorable.
Shetland Islands, Scotland
When you think islands, you usually think bikinis and beach parties. The Shetlands don’t have much of either of those, but they’re worth a trip in the blustery early spring for their wildlife and whisky. If you visit the islands in April or May you can see the puffins line the coast while dolphins play in the waves. You can also take a journey back in time by visiting the Scalloway Castle and the Muness Castle. And after trekking around the islands, you can warm up with some genuine Scottish Whisky straight from the source. Brown liquor and no tourists? It’s a vacation made in Ron Swanson Heaven.
Cape Town, South Africa
When: May – June
Like Cape Town, the low season Down Under happens from May through August. You can kick off your week in style, attending Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, or sit back and enjoy the gorgeous acoustics of the world-famous Sydney Opera House. If all that seems a bit too highbrow, try scaling Sydney Harbor Bridge or petting a kangaroo. But stay away from koalas if you want to keep all ten of your fingers!
Western Ghats, India
India’s monsoon season intimidates some travellers, but if you plan your trip to the subcontinent slightly inland in the Sahyadri Mountains, you will be able to see the beauty in the rain. The monsoon unlocks seasonal waterfalls and rivers that are great for rappelling and rafting. And the rain keeps the temperatures down so you can enjoy all the scenic and historic hikes the area has to offer.
Hoi An, Vietnam
Get a head-start on Halloween during Vietnam’s Ghost Month, which is believed to be the time of year when ghosts and spirits wander the streets. Good news, ladies! You can leave your razors and waxing kits at home, because your leg hair will protect you from spirits. If hanging with spirits isn’t your thing, mingle with the living and take a snorkeling tour in the South China Sea.
When: October – December
Since the temperature of the ocean is always warm in Tulum, it doesn’t matter what time of the year you go, unless you want to avoid the loads of tourists trying to get their selfies with the Mayan ruins. If you enjoy a selfie-free environment, head down to Tulum between October and December. Not only are the crowds much lighter, the temperatures are lower since it is post-hurricane season. Instead of sweating through three T-shirts while visiting Chichen Itza, you only have to un-stick yourself from one. October is also the end of sea turtle nesting season, so you can swim with the gentle giants of the sea without having to bump flippers with the ogling hoards.
Between October and December, the temperatures are lower, the crowds are less dense, and the deals are everywhere. You can walk through the Djemaa El Fna and Marrakech Souk, two of Marrakech’s best bazaars, with fewer elbows to dodge and more space to haul your acquisitions back to your hotel room.