With the start of the New Year, you’re bound to be making resolutions and trying to change patterns. Didn’t travel much last year? Didn’t take a vacation at all? Make a positive change right now by planning a trip in the next few months! With must-see spots for the next three months in mind, the members and editors of Virtual Tourist.com were polled, and here are their “5 Spots to Hit in the Next 3 Months."
• See the northern lights in Norway
NASA has predicted that the winter season in the Northern Hemisphere (October 2012-April 2013) will have the brightest northern lights display in 50 years. Aurora borealis, the scientific term for the northern lights, occurs when energetic particles are flung out from the sun and hit the magnetic field around Earth, and this year’s conditions suggest some of the best sightings since 1958. As the phenomena’s name suggests, the display is most commonly seen in a zone within a certain radius of the North Pole, in an area including Iceland, northern Scandinavia, northern Canada, Alaska, and some parts of Siberia. TromsÝ and Finnmark in Norway are located above the Arctic Circle, with relatively mild winters and long winter nights, so both are ideal locations for viewing the northern lights. However, a lack of storms does not mean you should pack light — the average temperature in TromsÝ in January is 24 degrees, so remember your gloves or mittens. Also, make sure to avoid the full moon and places with lots of lights, as these will interfere with your viewing.
• Valapariso, Chile & Chilean Patagonia
Stretching 2,653 miles along the Pacific Ocean, Chile’s length and range of latitudes (from subtropical to subantarctic) create incredible biodiversity and a variety of natural settings to see and enjoy. The next three months are Chile’s summer, so the climate is the most temperate it will be all year — the average high in Valapariso is 71 degrees in January. It is also the best time of the year to visit Chilean Patagonia, with Torres del Paine National Park in splendid form and the region’s famous winds the most manageable they will be all year. While the obvious motivation to visit Chile in the next few months is its mild season, there are more pressing reasons for visiting its natural setting as soon as you can. Due to Chile’s energy needs, the country has approved projects to build and operate five dams in Chilean Patagonia, as well as resurrecting power lines that will cause the longest clear-cut in history. Since both the President and Chilean Supreme Court have approved the decision, it seems inevitable that the building will commence and large areas of Patagonian forest area will be flooded for the operation of the dams. In addition to seeing the nation’s Southern regions while they remain intact, in the Patagonian region, the Teatro del Lago in Frutillar, the largest theater in the country, will be hosting its “Festivales Musicales" from Jan. 27 through Feb. 5.
• San Juan, Puerto Rico
For those members trying to escape the season’s cold weather, San Juan, Puerto Rico, is hot on their list. With all the sun of the Caribbean, but none of the hassle, Puerto Rico is only two hours and thirty minutes from Miami. Since it’s a U.S. territory, visiting Puerto Rico does not require a passport for U.S. citizens or a change of currency. While Havana may be at the top of some travel lists, San Juan offers similar colonial architecture, colorful building facades, and cobblestoned streets, but a much cleaner and more modernized atmosphere. In addition to the balmy weather and beaches, there are many activities for visitors in the next few months. First, the Christmas season extends much longer in Puerto Rico than in other countries — many households don’t exchange presents until Three Kings Day, or Jan. 6 — so there are parades and festivals celebrating the holidays long into January. The Fiestas de la Calle San SebastiŠn, occurring a week after Three Kings Day in the third week of January, is often compared to Mardi Gras. Located along San SebastiŠn Street in Old San Juan, the street becomes filled with stalls selling a variety of local foods and rum drinks, in addition to music, arts and crafts shows, and crowds of fun-lovers. For those who love to watch athletics, the Puerto Rico Open is held the first week of March; it’s the only official PGA stop in the Caribbean. For those who will miss the event, you can try the Trump International course yourself at the Gran Melia.
• Rome and Pompeii, Italy
Members also mentioned that this period of the year is a great time to visit landmarks that are typically swarmed with tourists in the summer months. Few destinations in the world see as many visitors as Rome and Pompeii, so it makes sense this “off-season" is an ideal time to visit these popular landmarks. With average temperatures in January around 50 degrees, it’s still quite temperate and great for walking and exploring Rome’s sights. If visiting the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel are on your agenda, VirtualTourist members strongly suggest getting your timed tickets online before your trip, which allows you to go straight to the security check line. Another tip: the Vatican website also offers tours, and many members recommend this for first-time visitors, since the numerous one-way routes through the museum can be frustrating and confusing.
Further to the south, Pompeii is a site that must be seen to be believed, but is accordingly filled with visitors during the summer months. In our poll, one VirtualTourist member recalled her “blissful" visit to Pompeii in February, when she had the ruins more or less to herself for a whole hour. Visits to these sites are usually crammed and stressful, so the word “blissful" is proof enough this is a great time to visit! From November 1 to March 31, the site is opens at the same time, 8:30 a.m., but closes two hours earlier than during the summer months, at 5 p.m.
• Sri Lanka
Located just off the coast of India, the island of Sri Lanka has been a fly-over country for most travelers, due to its extensive history of civil unrest. However, the country has been stable for the last four years, and has become a popular destination for budget-conscious travelers.
For travelers looking for a safari experience, Sri Lanka offers just as much amazing wildlife as Africa, but is more budget-friendly. Wild elephants, leopards, and spotted deer are just a sample of the mammals you can see in one of the island’s fourteen national parks. Along with the ecological diversity and lush landscape, the country also has six archaeological UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
The capital of Colombo is an interesting mix of colonial architecture, Buddhist and Hindu temples, and friendly locals. Colombo is a great spot to visit in the next three months, as the city hosts some unique upcoming festivals.
Duruthu Perahera, the Buddhist event celebrating the day the Buddha visited Sri Lanka, will be a great day in January to witness rituals and celebrations at the Buddhist temples in Colombo.
In March, the Sri Lankan Balloon Festival draws participants from all around the world to fly hot-air balloons around Colombo, creating a great spectacle and fun festivities.