5 places to visit in January

5 places to visit in January

(CNN) — Come January, most people are seeking relief from the holiday madness of November and December. For many, this comes in the form of a ski or beach trip. It’s an ideal time for either (depending on the hemisphere).

Because of this, it is also peak season at many destinations around the globe, so make sure to book your flights and lodging as early as possible.
Whether you prefer a winter wonderland, a pristine white sand beach, or, perhaps, just some adventure, we have travel suggestions for you. Here are five great places to visit in January:

1. Colorado

It’s no secret that Colorado has some of the best skiing and snowboarding in the United States. While places such as Aspen and Vail are favorites for a reason, there are many other great ski destinations in the state.

Don’t ski or snowboard? You can partake in plenty of other winter recreational activities. Whether you ski or snowboard, or you excel at eating, drinking and (hot springs) soaking, Colorado is an excellent choice for a January trip.

Don’t want to drive at all? Take the Winter Park Express directly from Denver’s Union Station to the Winter Park Resort. It’s Colorado’s longest continually operated ski resort and the only lifts in the country with direct rail access.
Vail is a bit farther. If you don’t want to rent a car, you can take a shuttle, bus or fly into the nearby Eagle County Regional Airport. It’s one of the largest ski resorts in the world and has suitable runs for every expertise level. The village’s winter light displays this time of year are an added bonus.
Glenwood Springs is about 50 miles farther west of Vail and is also accessible by Amtrak’s California Zephyr, one of the most scenic train rides in the country. It is home to the resting place of dentist turned gunslinger Doc Holliday, restorative hot springs and Sunlight Ski Area. This low-key resort boasts over 700 skiable acres and a 2,000 foot vertical drop. More than half the terrain is rated beginner to intermediate, making it a relaxed and affordable alternative to nearby Aspen Snowmass.
Aspen is about an hour’s drive from Glenwood Springs and can also be reached via the Aspen/Pitkin County Airport. The Aspen Snowmass Ski Resort includes 371 acres of terrain and four mountains: Snowmass, Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands and Buttermilk. Tickets and passes are valid for all four mountains, which means you can ski all day without having to repeat a run.
If you’re in town January 25-28, check out ESPN’s X Games held on Buttermilk Mountain. A quintessential Colorado winter event, the annual extreme sports and music festival features skiing, snowboarding and snowmobiling competitions and includes headliners such as LCD Soundsystem and Method Man & Redman.
The Hotel Jerome and St. Regis Aspen provide luxury digs, but you can find more affordable accommodation within Aspen. Or, you might want to consider saving some money by staying in nearby Snowmass, Basalt, Carbondale or Redstone.
The Redstone Inn, a historic Tudor revival hotel in Redstone, was built by coal magnate John Cleveland Osgood in 1902 as a dormitory for unmarried miners. Now a cozy hotel, it’s an hour away from Aspen and a world apart. Winter is mostly considered off season here, and there is no cellphone service. It’s a great escape for peace and quiet. Guests can warm up with a cocktail or hot cocoa in front of the large fireplace, enjoy dinner in one of the property’s two restaurants or soak in the hot springs down the road at Avalanche Ranch.

2. Thailand

The rainy season has ended and the “cold” season has been in full swing for a couple of months in Thailand. Don’t worry, that doesn’t mean you need to leave your swimsuits at home.

The average beach temperature is 81 degrees Fahrenheit (27 degrees Celsius). Since the weather is what some may refer to as “perfect” this time of year, it also happens to be peak tourist season. Make sure to book accommodation early.

Thailand has 77 provinces and is twice the size of the United Kingdom. There’s a lot to see in this country and it’s nearly impossible to cram it all into a one- or even two-week vacation. Here are a few places to consider if you don’t have a ton of time:
Chiang Mai: Chiang Mai means “new city” and was the capital of the Lanna kingdom from 1296-1558. The largest city in northern Thailand is not as bustling as Bangkok, but there’s still plenty to do. Temperatures tend to stay in the 60s Fahrenheit for the whole of January. Pack a jacket to make sure you’re comfortable strolling the streets at night markets or exploring the Shan Hills mountain range.

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is a Buddhist temple located on Doi Suthep Mountain just outside Chiang Mai and is considered one of the most sacred places in the region.

Don’t ride the elephants! Pay a visit to the Elephant Nature Park instead. ENP is a rescue and rehabilitation center for elephants, dogs, cats and water buffaloes. The organization helps break the cycle of animal abuse through education and volunteerism. You can feed and bathe rescued elephants and learn about the consequences of wildlife tourism.

Chiang Rai: Near the border of Laos and Myanmar and about three hours from Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai has trekking, day trips to visit local hill tribes and Golden Triangle tours. But what it is perhaps best known for is Wat Rong Khun, or the White Temple.

In contrast to Thailand’s many centuries-old sacred wats, this art installation’s construction began in 1997. Designed by a Thai artist and architect, the all-white temple seems to sparkle from a distance (because of pieces of mirrored glass) and is said to signify the purity and wisdom of the Buddha.

Koh Chang: Located in eastern Thailand in Trat Province, Koh Chang is one of the biggest islands in the Gulf of Thailand. There’s a variety of accommodation options, including resorts, hotels, guest houses and hostels, but it’s still possible to find some quiet beaches if that’s your thing.

The island’s interior is filled with dense jungle and waterfalls, making it perfect for a trek. Jungle hikes can be dangerous, so it is necessary to go with an experienced guide. The website iamkohchang.com has some great guided trek recommendations.
Koh Tao: Meaning “turtle island,” Koh Tao is on the western shore of the Gulf of Thailand. It has some of the best diving and snorkeling in the world (often for a fraction of the price of many places). Check out Big Blue Diving for affordable courses and packages.

Koh Phangan: Like neighboring Koh Tao, Koh Phangan is in the Surat Thani Province. The island also has some great diving, but most folks head here for the infamous Full Moon Party. If you plan on visiting on New Year’s Eve or January 2, make sure you book lodging well in advance.

3. Montreal

Not feeling so beachy? How does a wintry destination with some European flair, but without the long, trans-Atlantic flight sound? Montreal might be a perfect pick for your January getaway.

What should you know before you go? It’s going to be cold. Very cold. Pack accordingly. January is typically the most frigid month of the year, with temperatures averaging around 16 degrees Fahrenheit (-9 Celsius).

These Canadian winter wardrobe tips should keep you comfortable:

— First and foremost, dress in layers, even your legs. Your base layer should be thin and made from either synthetic fibers or silk (never cotton). This wicking layer will keep perspiration from your body.

— The next insulating layer can be fleece, wool or polyester.

— Finally, you’ll want a good down or synthetic down coat that is impermeable. Warm, waterproof boots are also a must. Don’t forget about a decent hat and gloves and make sure to pack snow pants if you’re planning on partaking in any winter sports.

The Fairmont Queen Elizabeth has been hosting monarchs, heads of state and celebrities since 1958. John Lennon and Yoko Ono famously held their 1969 Bed-In for Peace from one of its rooms. It’s the largest hotel in Montreal and it’s connected to Underground City, a subterranean, 20 mile network of pedestrian walkways. It connects you to banks, metro stations, museums, restaurants and tons of shopping without having to brave the cold.
Check out La Petite Floride for a taste of the tropical on a chilly evening out. This school bus turned bar and café in the hip Mile End neighborhood aims to bring folks together on long winter nights. Patrons can enjoy a drink and snack inside or cozy up around the illuminated ice skating rink and heaters out front.
If you’re feeling adventurous, you can snowshoe or cross-country ski in Bois de Liesse Nature Park. The 100-year-old park is on the northwestern part of the Island of Montreal and has approximately 6 miles of trail to explore. What’s even better? There are two lodges with fireplaces.
There are plenty of festivals and events happening in Montreal in January. Here are a few you might want to check out:
— The Barbegazi winter action sports festival is held January 13, 14, 20 and 21. Barbegazi comes from the French “barbe-glacée” which means “frozen beard.” Enough said.
— The Fête des Neiges de Montréal, a family outdoor winter celebration, is held at Parc Jean-Drapeau weekends starting on January 20 and has plenty of activities to keep the kids busy.
Igloofest is a popular annual outdoor electronic music festival. It kicks off January 18 at the Old Port of Montreal.

If you find yourself ringing in the new year here, check out the free fireworks at Jacques-Cartier Pier in Old Montreal. The event usually draws a crowd of 70,000, so it’s best to get there via the Champ-de-Mars metro station.

Expect the city to be pretty quiet on January 1, with most businesses closing their doors in observance of the holiday.

4. Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

Puerto Vallarta is a lovely resort town on the Pacific coast of Mexico. With an average high of 80 degrees Fahrenheit (26 degrees Celsius) and an average low of 62 degrees Fahrenheit (16 degrees Celsius), the weather is dry and mild in January.

While winter is considered peak season, you may still encounter lighter crowds than popular Caribbean spots this time of the year. Known for its beaches, Puerto Vallarta’s section of Bahía de Banderas doesn’t disappoint. There are many opportunities for short day trips, if you want to get out of the city and explore the Riviera Nayarit or Sierra Madre Occidental Mountains.

On the southern end of the city, Los Arcos and El Malecón often have free cultural events on the weekends, but walking along the oceanfront arches and boardwalk among vendors and artists makes for a pleasant weekday as well.

Zona Romantica is a laid-back, colorful neighborhood with cobblestone streets and plenty of bars and restaurants, many along Playa Los Muertos, the most popular beach in the city. Check out La Palapa Restaurant for relaxed dining and stellar ocean views. Zona Romantica is also considered the epicenter of the city’s gay culture and boasts several gay beaches and clubs.
Take a stroll through the city center and take in the architecture of La Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe (The Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe). One of PV’s most recognizable landmarks, it is open seven days a week and English services are available on Saturdays and Sundays. Once you’ve worked up an appetite, head to local favorite Barrio Bistro in the Versalles neighborhood 10 minutes from downtown.
Humpback whales have just given birth come January, making a great time for whale watching. Book a bilingual marine biologist-led trip with Ocean Friendly Tours and learn about the formation of the Bahía de Banderas, Islas Marietas and the complex ecosystems that they support.

Ready for a trip? Head north to Bucerías for excellent diving. Punta Mita, Lo de Marcos, Sayulita and Punta de Burros offer less-crowded beaches and a variety of surfing options.

5. Kenya

Sandwiched between a long and a short rainy period, January is a relatively dry month in Kenya filled with mostly warm and sunny days. It’s technically summer here, but because the equator nearly divides the country in half, it doesn’t truly have distinct seasons like summer or winter.

The average temperature in Nairobi is 68 degrees Fahrenheit (20 degrees Celsius), while the coast tends to always be hot and humid with an average January temperature of 81 degrees Fahrenheit (27 degrees Celsius).

Many visitors use Nairobi as a launching point for safaris. It being Kenya’s capital and largest city, there are also many museums, galleries and parks to keep you busy during your stay. The Nairobi National Museum and the National Gallery are worth checking out.
Nairobi National Park was Kenya’s first national park. It houses a diverse array of wildlife including the endangered black rhino, giraffes, cheetahs, lions, hyenas, leopards and buffalo. With a skyscraper backdrop and an electric fence separating animals and city, it makes for a one-of-a-kind experience.
Take a day trip to Amboseli National Park and soak up the views of Tanazania’s Mount Kilimanjaro. The Maasai Mara National Reserve is about five to six hours from Nairobi and this time of the year is excellent for viewing big cats, hippos, crocodiles and many newborn animals.

Mombasa is Kenya’s second-largest city and is on the Indian Ocean. With an estimated population of 1.2 million and a long history as an important trading post and port, Mombasa has all the culture you expect from a bigger city but also has some fantastic beaches.

Diani Beach is probably the most popular in the area, and many argue the most beautiful. It has coral reefs, a relaxed atmosphere and about 6 miles of coastline. If you’re interested in staying at a resort, Nyali Beach has many higher end accommodations and dining.

If you’re visting on January 1, take a trip to Lamu Island to watch a traditional Swahili dhow sailing race.