Where to go on holiday in January
* Best time of year for bargain winter sun
* Safe 2021 destinations include Madeira and Caribbean
By Mark Hodson, Sunday Times Travel Writer
January is one of the best months to go on holiday – not just because the weather is so grim in the UK, but because there are so many cut-price deals to be found. Most people are paying off their Christmas credit card bills and tightening their belts, so for those with cash to spend there are great bargains to be found.
January 2021 won’t be like other years, however. If you want to avoid the threat of quarantine, your best options include Madeira, the Azores, the Caribbean and Cyprus. For details of travel restrictions and flexible booking policies, click on the links below to individual tour operators.
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Mid haul sunshine
If your priority is just to escape the grim weather at home and find a hot holiday in January, I recommend Tenerife or Madeira (now served by new direct flights with British Airways). Both are just four hours flying time from the UK. You can expect about six hours of daily sun and 20ºC.
It’s six hours flying time to The Gambia but this is a great option for a cheap holiday in January. A small friendly country on the West African coast, it has much-improved hotels and great weather: about 31°C and 9 hours of daily sun. I’ve stayed with my family in January at the Kombo Beach Hotel, which I highly recommend. Check out the January deals.
Another good-value option is the Cape Verde Islands, a diverse archipelago between West Africa and South America, but easily accessible by direct flights from the UK (also six hours). With temperatures of 24°C in January, superb beaches and excellent hotels, this is a real up-and-coming destination. View the latest offers here.
Beach holidays in January
It’s a seven-hour flight to the Arabian Gulf which offers temperatures of around 29°C, plus great beaches, buckets of sunshine and a dazzling array of attractions. For glitzy hotels, fine dining and amazing shopping, head to Abu Dhabi where the best places to stay include the five-star Fairmont Bab Al Bahr. See the latest offers.
If you want Caribbean beaches at low prices in January take a look at Mexico, particularly if you want to go all-inclusive. If you like an all-singing, all-dancing resort head to Cancun, while Puerto Vallarta has more local character.
Bali has stunning beaches and a fascinating and colourful Hindu culture, and is excellent value. You might get some tropical rain showers, but the temperature will be about 30ºC.
Thailand is a perennial favourite with low prices, although in January you should avoid the east coast beaches, such as Ko Samui, where it is rainy season. Phuket will be hot and sunny. It’s also a great time of year to tour Thailand as the temperatures and humidity are not too high. Check out Experience Travel Group which has a selection of tailor-made private tours focussing on jungles, temples and Thai cuisine.
If you want all-out luxury, check out the Eastern & Oriental Express, an opulent 1920s-style train journey that travels between Bangkok and Singapore in four days.
For something less expensive, head to Goa in India where white-sand beaches, great food and world-class sunsets can be had for bargain prices. Expect nine hours of daily sunshine and 28ºC. Choose between a beachfront hotel or a comfortable homestay such as Panjim Inn. Check out the latest offers.
Touring holidays in January
India offers almost endless possibilities. In the North, where temperatures are a very comfortable 25°C, I would opt for a private tour with TransIndus, taking in Delhi, Jaipur and the Taj Mahal in Agra.
For wildlife encounters, it has to be Africa. Head to Kenya to see the Big Five on game drives and walking safaris. It’s the middle of summer in the sunny Western Cape of South Africa where this two-week self drive holiday will take you to Cape Town, the Winelands and the Garden Route.
Africa isn’t all about game drives. Ethiopia – the cradle of human civilisation – will beguile you with its ancient churches, island monasteries, dramatic mountain ranges and delicious food (the coffee is good, too). Try one of these trekking holidays.
It’s dry season in Costa Rica, a thrilling and safe country with Caribbean and Pacific beaches, volcanoes, cloud forests, jungle and wildlife reserves. Look at all the things you can do on a 12-day private tour.
It’s also mid-summer in South America where Brazil and Argentina are two of the world’s most exciting and diverse nations. We recommend Dehouche, a locally-based tour company run by expat Brits. They know all the best places to stay and can put together an itinerary to fit your personal needs.
It’s the dry season in Colombia which has thrown off its negative image to emerge as one of South America’s most popular destinations. This two-week Classic Colombia tour includes mountains, beaches, nature reserves, colonial treasures and coffee plantations.
For the sort of unique wildlife encounters that make you stop in your tracks, take a small-ship cruise through the pristine waters of the Galapagos Islands. Another bucket list destination is the Himalayan mountain kingdom of Bhutan where you can design your own tailor-made private holiday.
For mind-blowing beaches, pristine reefs and lagoon resorts, how about the South Pacific.
Many people in January want to shrug off the excesses of the Christmas period and take a healthy break. If so, we can recommend some excellent specialist companies. We love in:spa‘s health and fitness retreats in Europe and Morocco, or you could take a fitness training break or go hiking in the Atlas Mountains.
It’s a great time to be in the Caribbean where The Bodyholiday is looking amazing after a $20million refurbishment. It offers an all-inclusive beach holiday with a programme of healthy activities and rejuvenating treatments included in the price.
Cool winter holidays
Holidays in January are not just about sun seeking. You could go north to discover natural wonders and wilderness. One of the most exciting winter trips is to see the Northern Lights. Find a great selection of Northern Lights trips here.
Every year in Sweden the Ice Hotel is rebuilt from huge slabs of ice. It’s a special place to stay and includes one night wrapped in reindeer skins on an ice bed (an amazing experience!). You can fortify yourself with vodka shots at the ice bar. Or watch the Northern Lights from one of these Glass Igloos in Finnish Lapland.
If downhill skiing isn’t your thing, check out this selection of winter breaks in the snow which includes cross-country skiing in Austria and snowshoeing in Switzerland. Or take a New Year foodie break in a gastro centre such as Bologna, Turin or Salamanca.
The city of St Petersburg in Russia is never more beautiful than when snow is piled high on the pavements and there is skating on frozen rivers. A romantic gem.
If you want sunshine at any cost and don’t want to fly long haul, see our guide to where’s hot in Europe in January.
Caribbean holidays in January
The Caribbean is one of the best holiday destinations in January, particularly if you love beaches. The weather is sublime and after the peak season of Christmas and New Year, prices dip a little. I particularly recommend Barbados if you like glitzy restaurants and social buzz. If you want a pure beach experience, check out Anguilla.
The Cayman Islands has stunning beaches and are particularly good for diving.
St Lucia is one of the most scenic – and friendly – islands of the Caribbean, with lush countryside, volcanic peaks and charming fishing villages. Best hotels include Windjammer Landing and the couples-only Rendezvous.
Cuba is good value and offers a unique combination of world-class beaches and fascinating culture and history. It’s a perfect multi-centre destination – you should stay for a few days in the capital, Havana, combined with the sleepy colonial city of Trinidad and the stunning beaches of Cayo Santa Maria.
Or set sail on a tall ship cruise of the Caribbean with Star Clippers. You’ll get your winter sun in January, and you’ll visit a selection of islands on an intimate vessel that can enter small harbours that are off bounds to larger ships.
For a family ski trip, I can personally recommend Esprit Ski for their exceptional childcare (I’ve travelled with them several times with my own kids), while Peak Retreats is an award-winning operator that specialises in budget ski holidays at top French resorts. Note: Esprit Ski has cancelled its 2020 winter programme but is taking bookings from December 2021.
Luxury skiing can be found at The Lodge, Verbier owned by Sir Richard Branson.
Last updated: 19 November 2020