ADVENTURERS, BEACH GETAWAY, CITY BREAKS, FAMILY FRIENDLY TRAVEL, FOOD & WINE, NATURE, ROMANTIC
Deciding on when and where to travel next is never an easy feat. Most of us start with a specific travel theme and loosely know what we want to do whilst on vacation. It could be spending days lazing around the pool on a secluded island with a loved one or taking the kids on an action packed adventure through an entire country or region. Yet, knowing where you want to go or what you want to get out of your trip is only part of the travel planning equation. Factors such as the weather, seasonality (how busy a destination is) and prices (how cheap a destination can be) all play a role in us deciding on our final holiday spot.
As one the most frequently searched online question starts with something along the lines of ‘Best time to travel to…’., we’ve broken the world down into its six climate zones where we discuss the best times to visit each zone based on specific travelling themes or goals. We hope it helps!
This area covers nearly all the United States, Europe, Southern Canada and parts of South America, South Africa, East Asia and Australia. Here summers can be hot but are usually comfortable. For anything other than snowsports summer and the end of autumn and start of spring are the ideal times to visit as temperatures are warm, rain is less common, but it remains cool enough to participate in physical activities. Beach and coastal destinations in pretty much all the temperate zones experience their low seasons in winter, with the shoulder season occurring in autumn and spring.
Spring and Summer in Europe
Summer is the peak season in all major European countries. Watersports such as surfing can be done in thinner wetsuits, and possibly just swimming costumes in more southern areas. (Bear in mind of course sea temperatures don’t always reflect air temperatures.) Destinations such as France, Germany, Spain, and Italy can become especially crowded in both the cities (Madrid; Barcelona), countryside (Southern France and Germany) and highland areas as the accommodating temperatures make most urban and rural activities a pleasure. During the summer school holidays (mid July to the end of August), many large inland cities such as Paris, Madrid and Zurich become deserted as swarms of locals travel to coastal destinations for sun, sand and sea. The French, Italian and Swiss Alps attract many mountain bikers and hikers, as do the Pyrenees in Spain. Some care should be taken in more southern, Mediterranean areas of Europe, such as Spain, Greece and Italy, where mid-afternoon summer temperatures can be stiflingly uncomfortable, particularly in cities. Bear in mind though that a late night spent sipping wine in a southern European “plaza” is one of the real attractions of the area, especially considering many of Europe’s wine regions are in these latitudes.
Autumn and Winter in Europe
During winter, certain European towns remain crowded due to their reputations for their festive traditions and atmospheres – German Christmas markets for instance; Paris; London – anywhere that can create a romantic yuletide vibe. Well-known retail areas (again, London) are crowded at this time. Elevated areas such as the Alps become focal points for snow sports such as skiing and snowboarding. Most resorts can rely on snow until the early weeks of Spring. Beach areas experience their shoulder season in Autumn, low season in winter before picking up again usually from May onwards.
Spring and Summer in North America
Outside of heatwaves, the Northern states of the US and South Canada have warm but bearable summers. New York becomes an outdoors city, with its green spaces such as Central Park and urban rooftop bars drawing in the crowds. Many people in these areas head out of the cities to enjoy the countryside, forests, and national parks. On the West Coast San Francisco and the Bay Area becomes very liveable with its fresh Pacific ocean breezes cooling urban areas. The Pacific North-West region of Washington, Oregon and British Columbia in Canada are particularly stunning in summer, with lush, green woodland and parklands running up against beaches and blue waters. Southern California – Los Angeles for instance – can become uncomfortably hot for those not used to it as can many Southern States that border the subtropical zones including Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.
Fall and Winter in North America
The fall in the New England region of Northeast United States is a kaleidoscope of rich autumnal colours and attracts many visitors looking to enjoy the famous fall foliage. Many areas can experience cold but manageable winters with heavy snow and temperatures many people from the southern European areas of this climate zone would find punishingly cold – think the Northern states of the US New York, Massachusetts, Michigan, Illinois and all Southern Canada. Snow sports become central to much of people’s recreational plans for many states minus those Southern US states which fall into the sub-tropical zone such as Florid, with The American and Canadian Rockies attracting hundreds of thousands of skiers and snowboarders. Similar to Europe, many urban centres attract visitors looking for that Yuletide festive glow, with the shopping areas of New York being particularly popular, as well as the prettier parts of Chicago, Boston and other areas of New England.
And the Southern Hemisphere…
Large parts of Chile also experience temperate climates, as does South Africa, Southern Australia and New Zealand. Notice how all these locations are wine producing regions, making any of them worthwhile places to visit in that regard. Japan too is neither punishingly hot or cold, making Tokyo and its other fascinating cities ripe for exploration for much of the year.
This area covers northern and central Mexico, the southerly states of the United States, large parts of north, east and southern Africa, the northeast of Australia and nearly all the Middle East. Parts of India and Northern Vietnam and Thailand are also in this band. This zone often experiences hot and humid summers and mild, often wet winters with large parts subject to heavy rain or monsoons.
The United States and Mexico
Florida is the state most associated with the tropical monsoon climate common to the subtropics. Here expect a daily downpour or thunderstorm from about May until October. Be prepared for high levels of humidity. Visitors heading to Miami should aim for mid to late Spring when the temperatures remain warm but not oppressively hot and the humidity eases. In high-altitude Mexico City a highland subtropical temperature prevails, meaning warm but not uncomfortable highs peaking in May or June and mild winters. While its western coast of Baja California enjoys a Mediterranean climate Mexico’s east coast is more subtropical, humid, and prone to aggressive thunderstorms and hurricanes. Plan accordingly. Hurricane season in the Gulf of Mexico is roughly June until November.
Monsoon season in North Vietnam, including capital Hanoi and popular destinations Halong Bay and Sapa is May to October. Summer temperatures are high as is the humidity. Winter is mild with lows not often below 13C (55F) in the day but dropping to single figures at night. The best months to visit North Vietnam are outside of high summer or winter, but also avoiding the monsoon season – spring or early autumn are probably your best options. Northern Thailand also lies within the subtropical zones. The hot season (March to May) is most pronounced in the north, in places like Chiang Mai for instance, with temperatures in the 30’s C (high 80s and even 100F). Between November and February both the temperature and humidity drop making this time the most apt for travellers visiting North Thailand.
Australia and South Africa
Australia’s subtropical zone comprises most of the north-eastern coast, including most notably Queensland, home of the Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast. Brisbane is the state capital in this region. There are distinctive wet and dry seasons. Summers are hot and humid with temperatures usually peaking in January at an average of 29C (84F). Temperatures never drop dramatically, with a July average of about 21C (70F). Its wettest period is the summer months with heavy, thundering downpours. Being both drier and cooler, winter and spring are the best time for visiting Queensland, particularly the northern peaks of the zone. Take care though; tropical cyclones do occasionally hit this area and can be potentially dangerous. Much like Australia, South Africa’s climate is something of a patchwork of variations. The subtropical area is located mainly in the east comprising large areas of grassland and bushland. Both Johannesburg and Durban are in this band and experience mild, dry winters and hot, wet summers. Johannesburg, with its higher altitude is technically a highland subtropical climate but rarely gets uncomfortably cold. Kruger National Park is also in this zone, and hosts some of the best safari tours in the country. The best time for safaris in this area is the dry season between May and October when vegetation is less dense and wildlife spotting is easier. Temperatures are cooler and more comfortable, but nights can get cold. Perhaps most importantly, the beginning of this season is when elephants begin to migrate back to Kruger Park to their winter grazing spots.
Large parts of Brazil and Argentina lie in the subtropical band. Notable destinations in this area include São Paulo and Buenos Aires. São Paulo, situated as it is on a plateau, has hot, not uncomfortable temperatures with highs on of about 30C (86F). It can get muggy and humid though given summer is also the wettest season. The winter is cool – but rarely cold – and dry. Day to day temperatures can vary due to São Paulo receiving both cold air from the Atlantic Ocean and warm air from inland. Air even reaches here from Antarctica, meaning some winter days can fall as far as the 15C (60F) in the region. The best times to visit are the shoulder season of spring and autumn – when the temperatures are still warm or warming up but the decreased rainfall reduces humidity. Buenos Aires in Argentina on the other hand experiences hot and humid summers, with most of the rain falling in the colder winter period. Like São Paulo the best times to visit are Spring (March to May) and Autumn (September to November) when temperatures are less oppressive than high summer and rain is less likely. One notable South American destination that also experiences a subtropical climate is Easter Island. Here it’s hot and humid in the summer with mild winters. There is no distinctive rainy season though, with rainfall distributed throughout the year. Be aware that oceanic winds can vastly reduce real temperatures here.
Tropical zones are hot all year, rarely dropping below an average low of 25C (77F), and have little seasonal temperature variations due to their proximity to the equator. Rainfall and thus humidity is usually high, with monthly variations standing in for what might normally constitute seasons. Places in the tropical climate belt include all Central America, large parts of Brazil, large parts of Africa, swathes of India, and areas of south and south-eastern Asia.
Thailand has a distinct monsoon season, the Indian Ocean bringing rain from the southwest consistently between June and October. These are not the hottest months, but the high humidity can make them uncomfortable, and the rain can be torrential and potentially dangerous in some parts. The hot season is between April and June and can be oppressive, particularly in cities and inland. The average temperature in Bangkok reaches highs of 30C (86F). Between November and February both the temperature and humidity drop making this arguably the best time for visiting Thailand, particularly the Western coastal areas and islands. Bear in mind though, it gets both expensive and crowded. It should also be noted that during the cool season the eastern coast has its own monsoon season, with rains arriving from the northeast, hitting places such as the island of Koh Chang. In South Vietnam – think Ho Chi Minh City and the Mekong Delta – temperatures are high year-round, with the rainy season running from June to November and the dry season December to May. March to May can be particularly hot to the point of being uncomfortable for many. This leaves December to February as perhaps the best time to visit South Vietnam, however the monsoons in this area shouldn’t disrupt plans too much, so the rainy season shouldn’t be completely excluded as a possibility. Given India’s size it’s no wonder the country experiences a swath of differing climates. Areas in the tropical latitudes include almost all the west coast – Mumbai, Goa and Kerala experience a tropical monsoon climate. The best time to visit these areas is outside both the monsoon season and the hotter months between April and July. That leaves the winter period between October and March.
Large areas of Brazil lie in the tropical latitudes, including predictably the Amazon rainforest. Rio de Janeiro is humid and hot all year but temperatures peak in December, January and February. Meanwhile, June and July are the city’s rainiest months. Given Rio is all about the sun and famous beaches, the best time to visit would be the summer months however the spring and autumn months, (late March until May and August to October) are also excellent times to visit to avoid the peak ‘Carnival’ period. Speaking of which, Brazil’s famous carnival happens in February so if you’re keen to participate you’ll have to sweat it out in the summer heat! As for the Amazon Rainforest, it has two distinct seasons: low-water season (July – December) and high-water season (January – June). The latter is slightly cooler with temperatures of between about 22 to 30C (73 – 86F) but bear in mind the forest’s general all-year climate is very hot and very humid. The two seasons dictate the viability of certain activities. For instance, low-water season sees lower river levels to the point where some are not navigable, but hiking trails are, allowing more exploration by foot. High-water season things are of course reversed. It’s worth checking what specific activities are best in which season.
Temperatures in Bali don’t vary radically, ranging between highs of 35C and lows of 27C (80 – 95F) but the amount of rainfall certainly does. Between November and March the area receives a significant amount of rainfall, often falling for a few hours at a time before clearing. Rain generally falls in the afternoons and as the sun rises before 6am, be sure to set your alarm early to enjoy a few hours tanning by the pool. Between April and October, the rains lessens and temperatures drop slightly, making these months the most popular for visiting Bali. To avoid the crowds, visit Bali during the shoulder seasons outside of the July and August rush, think March to May and late September to late October.
Costa Rica is another destination where the purpose of your trip might dictate the best time to go. For beach based and outdoor activity themed holidays the dry season from mid-December to April is the best time to visit Costa Rica. To avoid large crowds, try later in the season, April or May for instance. Bear in mind that even in the wet season (May to November) mornings are usually sunny and bright and Pacific storms in this period bring satisfying and surfable swells to Costa Rica’s Western coast. The foliage and forests are also particularly spectacular in the rainy season.
Although large parts remain inaccessible and unattractive to many there are areas towards the Arctic and Antarctic that are reachable and offer a worthwhile travel experience. Northern Canada and Scandinavia fall into these zones, as well as the Tierra del Fuego archipelago of Argentina. Tierra del Fuego, for instance, offers hiking on Martial Glacier as well as kayaking, climbing, and fishing. The most popular time to visit Tierra del Fuego is summer (December to February), although it can become busy at this time. The shoulder seasons in spring and autumn offer less crowds but manageable temperatures. In fact, despite its polar location, Tierra de Fuego can be enjoyed even during winter as temperatures don’t plummet quite as low as in, for instance, the central mainland of Patagonia. Snow sports are available during the winter but be prepared for potentially chilly winds and blizzards.
Northern Scandinavia remains the best place to view The Northern Lights, with Finland, Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Greenland, Canada and Alaska all providing great locations to gaze on the Aurora Borealis. In terms of season the best time to see the Northern lights in Scandinavia is between September and April, when skies are darkest and clear. Various websites offer a KP Index forecast (the units used to measure disturbances in the earth’s magnetic field; the higher the KP value the more spectacular the show) to make planning a trip easier.
Speaking of Norway, the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard is an ideal place to see polar bears and other Arctic wildlife. The best time to see polar bears in Svalbard is between April and September with temperatures in July reaching a balmy 10C (50F). In the Western hemisphere Arctic Greenland and Canada is ideal for wildlife spotting, in particular Baffin Bay between the two countries. The Northwest Passage is only accessible by boat in the summer months between July and September when the sea ice has melted sufficiently. Luckily, this is also peak season for wildlife in places such as Beechy and Devon Island, when polar bears spend the long summer daylight hours hunting for whales and seals.
Hot, wet, humid and seasonless; countries lying on the equator might seem inhospitable, but many are still well worth a visit provided one travels to the right area at the correct time. The Maldives, for instance, has consistently warm temperatures throughout the year but is best outside the monsoon periods i.e., November to April. The shoulder season after Easter is perhaps the best time overall, when the crowds are less, prices are moderate but the rains haven’t yet set in. For surfers, the season stretches from late February to November, with conditions peaking from March until May, then again from September to November depending on location and swell direction.
The equator also bisects part of the Amazon within Colombia’s, Peru’s and Brazil’s borders and represents some of the best nature and wildlife tourism in the world. The Natural Cahuinarí National Park and the Amacayacu National Park are extraordinarily rich in wildlife, plant species and riverways. The former is also not far from La Isla Los Micos, or Monkey Island, home to various species of primate. As with the Brazilian Amazon in Colombia temperatures are consistent throughout the year, ranging from about 77F to 86F. The best time to go to the Amazon depends on the type of activities visitors would like to participate in; low water season gives better hiking trail access, but some rivers dry up, whereas high water season sees those same rivers swell, giving access to more areas. Low water season is between July and December, the latter January to June.
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