For some people, winter is a dead zone that is more likely to be endured than enjoyed. But there’s another word that begins with the letter “e” that offers much more promise than even enjoy: escape. Included here, for your consideration are seven winter escapes that would provide memories satisfying enough to propel you through the dark days of three more winters to come.
Antartica: An arctic summer break
Forget the frigid temperatures and isolation that Antarctica scientists and military personnel live through. Most tourists only go as far as the Antarctic Peninsula via cruise ships out of Chile or Argentina which provide quality accommodations and customized itineraries. Because the number of people allowed to land at wildlife observation locations and historical sites is limited, Antarctic cruise ships are smaller with fewer passengers. Everything from dining to land-based activities is much more intimate than on a typical cruise ship, including the up-close-and-personal experiences with several varieties of penguins, migrating whales and, if you’re lucky, leopard seals. While the temperatures are still cool (between 30-50 degrees F), being in a land that few have experienced will fuel your inner fire.
Iceland: More than ice, ice, baby
The lure of Iceland’s northern lights is different for every traveler. For the active traveler, chasing the weather that will provide the best light show is exciting, especially when you meet other chasers. For the traveler who wants a once-in-a-lifetime experience, the phenomena of the Aurora Borealis viewed from a location so far away from industrial pollution and so close to the North Pole is breathtaking. Don’t book accommodations ahead of time because you need to be unencumbered to chase the lights (and that’s what everyone is doing in Iceland in the winter). But you can easily fit in a trip to one of Iceland’s many wilderness areas for supervised wildlife viewing. Very few people know how to warm you up as thoroughly as Icelanders, so also be sure to plan a trip to a spa.
Alaska: Too busy to feel the cold
If Icelanders know how to warm you up in the winter, Alaskans know how to keep you entertained. Because Alaskans need to keep busy through a winter that lasts from September through at least April, anywhere you visit will provide plenty of activity. Alaska has excellent northern lights viewing outside of the major cities, but be prepared for your reverie to be interrupted by the real reason you should be visiting Alaska in the winter: non-stop winter sports. All hours snowmobile (the Alaskans call them snow machines) and dog-sledding outings offer exhilarating tours of these Alaskan wilderness. For the daredevil, consider snow-kiting, ice climbing, snow biking or skijoring (cross-country skiing while being pulled by a dog).
Park City, Utah: See and be seen
Rumor has it that Robert Redford initially had to call in every favor with film industry insiders to boost attendance at the first few Sundance Film Festivals. Now you’re lucky to book a hotel room within a two-hour drive of the festival’s home base of Park City, Utah. Sure, there’s beautiful scenery and skiing in the Park City area, but you’re there for the movie premiers, celebrity sightings and the swag. As the festival has matured, a musical component has become part of the excitement. Established musicians, indie darlings and up-and-comers are performing in every spare inch, with stage space turning over every half hour non-stop. The Sundance Film Festival will provide you with social media and actual conversation fodder until summer.
Harbin, China: It’s all about the ice
If you are undaunted by ice and Siberian winds, then the month-long Harbin Ice and Snow Festival in northeast China is where you will find winter fulfillment. Temperatures near the zero degree F level are the norm, but nowhere else will you find an entire city made of snow and blocks of ice chopped from the Songhua River. Artists from all over the world plan their designs for months and then create their masterpieces upon arrival. Dramatic ice architecture fills every park in the city and is impressive by day, but when lighted at night, it’s a magical world that inspires hushed tones and plenty of photo opps.
Kenya: The Great Migration
African safari tours that specialize in the Great Migration offer the opportunity to experience the circle of life firsthand. Millions of wildebeest travel in perpetual migration from the plains of the Serengeti to the Masai Mara, Kenya, and back, following the rains which grow the grasses they eat. “The Birthing” cycle of the migration occurs in January and February on the Serengeti and up to 400,000 wildebeest calves are born. Although the calves can run with their herd within five minutes of birth, they are easily separated from their mothers in the confusion of the migration which make them easy prey for lions, cheetahs and hyenas, so early winter offers a guarantee for premium wildlife viewing. Luxury safari camps and lodges provide accommodations that rival five-star hotels so there’s no roughing it for humans experiencing the Great Migration.
February is Australia’s sweet spot for international travelers. That month still offers Australia’s summer temperatures, but children are back in school after a two month summer break so the national travel season is over. Northern Australia’s rainy season begins in February, which is reason enough to stick to the southern beaches like New South Wales’ Jervis Bay. Luxury seaside cabin rentals on Hyam Beach, which are a far cry from the fishermen’s cabins they used to be, offer privacy and stunning views of the crystal blue waters. Whale and dolphin watching tours; kayaking; sailing charters; and diving expeditions are options when you’ve reached your fill of being lulled to sleep by the waves and ocean breezes rustling through the trees.
Winter is finally the right time
Winter can be a time of contemplation and introspection, but it doesn’t have to be. Thrilling adventures that are only possible in winter await. Don’t put your bucket list on ice. Use this time to cross off an amazing vacation.