Top 10 places to go on vacation in January

We’ve picked out our top 10 January vacations. They run the full gamut, from full-on winter vacations in Lapland to seeing Cuba under cooler – but still sunny – skies. Activity-wise, there’s a theme: Northern Lights and Antarctic voyages are at their peak popularity and the Timkat Festival in Ethiopia is (understandably) perpetually popular – just make sure you fit in some trekking too. You’ll find some surprises in the shape of Australia’s little sister, Tasmania, too.

1. Chase the Northern Lights in Finland

Ditch tourist favourite Rovaniemi and choose a vacation that heads for a lakeside village like Menesjarvi, where light pollution is as mythical as the elf-like tonttu. These pitch-black skies are the best canvas for the Northern Lights. It’s a waiting game even here, so you can pack the rest of the day with ice fishing and show shoeing. The best vacations also give you the chance to dine with Finnish families and learn about the ups and downs of herding above the Arctic Circle.

Our top selling trip: Finland Northern Lights vacation
See all our trips: Northern Lights watching vacations
Read more: Finland winter vacation guide and Northern Lights travel guide

2. Road trip around Tasmania

One of the biggest regrets of travelers going to Australia is tagging on a trip to Tasmania as an afterthought. Even two weeks barely does this island of mountains, rainforests and jagged coastlines justice. Hop on a self drive vacation tailored to you: whether that’s wandering around the Tamar Valley vineyards or catching your breath at panoramic Adam’s Peak. The best vacations put you up in B&Bs run by Tasmanians who welcome you like long lost family.

Our top selling trip: B&B self drive tour of Tasmania – meet the locals
See all our trips: Tasmania vacations
Read more: Tasmania travel guide

3. Track tigers in India

Tigers ghost through Central India’s jungles, so you’ll need to travel with a tour guide who knows Bandhavgarh and Kanha national parks like the back of their hand to maximise your chance of seeing these elusive beasts. The cliffhanger is all part of the adventure – along with evening game safaris (this is also leopard and hyena country) and luxury safari camp lodgings.

Our top selling trip: Wildlife vacation in Central India
See all our trips: India wildlife vacations
Read more: India wildlife travel guide

4. Celebrate the Timkat Festival in Ethiopia

Timkat is more than a Christian celebration of the Epiphany: it’s a community gathering of singing, dancing and feasting that includes water blessings and processions of the Ark of the Covenant. Most vacations include it on a two-week adventure, so you also get to explore the 42m-high Blue Nile Falls, trek the Simien Mountains, and check out the obelisks of the pre-Christian Aksumite kingdom.

Our top selling trip: Tailor made Ethiopia vacation
See all our trips: Ethiopia vacations
Read more: Ethiopia travel guide

5. Set off for the Antarctic Peninsula

Take two weeks out to set out for the White Continent. You'll usually get the infamously choppy Drake Passage over and done with first, before stopping off at the South Shetland Islands en route to the Antarctic Peninsula. Vast colonies of penguins rule the roost here, along with vanishing albatrosses and petrels. Best of all, naturalists and scientists are your guides.

Our top selling trip: Antarctica expedition cruise
See all our trips: Antarctica vacations
Read more: Antarctica travel guide and expedition cruising travel guide

6. See Cuba your way

January sunshine and cooler temperatures whip up excellent conditions for a Cuban adventure. Take your pick: self drive vacations, small group adventures, road trip the local way by bus, or travel with a vacation company that’ll match you up with a local driver (classic car optional). Along the way, you’ll meet the tobacco farmers of Vinale Valley and get the chance to dance the night away in Old Town Havana.

Our top selling trip: Cuba tour
See all our trips: Cuba vacations
Read more: Cuba travel guide

7. Visit temples, elephants & rock fortresses in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka packs a lot into a little package – which is great news for travelers. You could get lost in Portuguese port cities like Galle one day and seek out elephants in Udawalawe National Park the next. Bright blue trains run up to the mountainous Highlands, where you can meet the people behind your morning cuppa or hike mystical (and misty) Adam’s Peak.

Our top selling trip: Tailor made Sri Lanka vacation
See all our trips: Sri Lanka vacations
Read more: Sri Lanka travel guide

8. Practice your ommmm in Valencia

Valencia in winter can be better than Valencia in summer – especially if you sign up to a January yoga retreat. The rain showers and chilly evenings won’t bother you when you’re busy practising Hatha and Vinyasa poses among the Valencian Mountains. Yoga studios are usually in centuries-old farmhouses with olive gardens.

Our top selling trip: Yoga retreat in Valencia, Spain
See all our trips: Wellness vacations in Spain
Read more: Spain wellness travel guide and Valencia travel guide

9. Swoop along the Garden Route

January is summer on the south coast of South Africa, which means sunshine in the south and not-to-be-missed bird migrations in the north. The Garden Route is particularly lovely (although busier) in January; take your time hiking coastal Tsitsikamma National Park and keeping an eye out for whales belly-flopping on the ocean.

Our top selling trip: Cape Town and the Garden Route tour
See all our trips: South Africa vacations
Read more: Garden Route travel guide and South Africa travel guide

10. Cruise sloth, toucan & turtle country in Costa Rica

There’s no choice but to go all-in when watching for wildlife in Costa Rica. You can sail through Tortuguero National Park, where toucan calls and tree frog croaks echo through the rainforest canopies. High-altitude cloud forests shelter sloths and sea turtles nest on the sandy double coastline. January is sea turtle hatchling time, to it’s a good time for volunteering at a sanctuary.

Our top selling trip: Costa Rica wildlife vacation
See all our trips: Costa Rica wildlife vacations
Read more: Costa Rica wildlife travel guide and Costa Rica travel guide
Photo credits: [Page banner: Jakob Owens] [1. Chase the Northern Lights in Finland: BeHappyTravel] [4. Celebrate the Timkat Festival in Ethiopia: Jean Rebiffe] [7. Visit temples, elephants & rock fortresses in Sri Lanka: Wimukthi Bandara] [9. Swoop along the Garden Route: South African Tourism]