Despite popular belief, traveling during the off-season (or low season) has its advantages. To travel to places when tourism numbers are typically at their lowest of the year can save money on transportation (not just planes and trains, but also car rentals) and accommodations. During a lull in bookings, hotels cut their rates by as much as half, but they’re also more generous with things like complimentary amenities and suite upgrades.
In terms of the destinations themselves, the absence of other travelers allows you easier access to attractions and sites that would otherwise be overcrowded during busier times of the year. After all, most experiences aren’t enhanced when you’re crammed into a sardine can—especially during a pandemic.
Traveling when cities and resorts are less crowded not only saves money for you but also benefits local hospitality businesses. Hotels, restaurants, and tour operators can employ staff for a longer period of time throughout the year rather than just during the five-month summer season. You can also help to relieve some of the strain on a destination’s tourism infrastructure by avoiding it when it’s close to capacity. Off-season travel is a win-win situation in many ways.
Try not to think of the weather as a deterrent. Some destinations have high seasons tied to good weather; visit them during months when the weather isn’t the main draw, and you’ll have an unforgettable experience. The Amalfi Coast in November, for example, is no longer about the beaches, but rather a chance to see Baroque architecture and wineries. And Kenya’s off-season (also known as the green season) brings lush vegetation that attracts a variety of animals.
Low-season travel is akin to visiting a completely new location, even if you’ve been there before. Find out where to go in the off-season and why in the sections below.
The months of January to March
Although you won’t be able to see the Great Migration (which takes place from July to October), an East Africa safari early in the year often results in miraculous sightings of a different kind: Calving season has arrived, which means that wildebeests, zebras, and antelopes will be giving birth to their young.
March also marks the start of Kenya’s rainy season, which means fewer tourists will visit the country’s other tourist-heavy attractions, such as Mount Kenya trekking and sunbathing on the island of Lamu. This is also an excellent time to book a honeymoon in Sir Richard Branson’s Mahali Mzuri and enjoy a more intimate safari experience.
Although the world-famous wine regions of NorCal aren’t quite ready for harvest yet, there’s still plenty to do in this region to satisfy your sense of adventure. Crawl through Lava Beds National Monument in the northeast, right on the Oregon border, to see hundreds of caves and countless Native American rock art sites. Even ice caves that are only accessible during the winter are available.
The first quarter of the year is ideal for whale watching along Mendocino County’s coast. Stay at the brand-new Montage Healdsburg, which is within walking distance of Sonoma wineries’ tasting rooms. During the months of January and February, however, the hotel hosts free weekly meet-the-maker wine events for guests of legal drinking age.
Although Sahara sunrises appear to be better suited to summer travel, the cooler months in the desert make for a much more pleasant (read: less sweltering) experience. Consistent swells from the Atlantic Ocean provide plenty of waves for both experienced and novice surfers off the coasts of Essaouira and Taghazout. As the city takes on a quieter allure, the treasures of Marrakech’s medina become much easier to mine through. The recently upgraded hotel grounds of the iconic, historic La Mamounia—which now include a pan-Asian Jean-Georges restaurant, an underground wine library, and a 21-seat cinema—are ripe for exploration.
From April to June
It’s all about getting away from it all in the picture-perfect Maldives. Jetsetters typically avoid the islands during the rainy season in the spring, but if you visit during these months, you’ll feel like you have full control of some of the world’s most coveted hotels. What harm can a little afternoon shower do with such a unique experience?
A vacation for many of us isn’t complete without plenty of time to read. This May, luxury resort Soneva Fushi will elevate that literary concept by hosting an on-property satellite of the Jaipur Literary Festival. André Aciman (of Call Me by Your Name fame) will be leading keynote sessions and rousing discussions around the hotel, bringing a bit of intellectual activity to the Maldives’ wet season.
During the winter and summer, this popular Arctic destination sees a lot of visitors. Springtime is not only less crowded, but it also offers the best of both summer and winter activities, with both warm and cool-weather activities. When the ice has melted but the tourists haven’t arrived, it’s much easier to hike Iceland’s dramatic terrain (like the volcanic range of Mount Esja just outside Reykjavik). If you’re lucky, you might even see the Northern Lights as late as early spring. How amazing would it be to witness the phenomenon while taking a nighttime dip in The Retreat at Blue Lagoon’s exclusive guests-only pools?
Are you not a fan of the great outdoors? It’s not an issue. DesignMarch (May 4–8, 2022), a 14-year-old festival that celebrates the country’s lauded architecture, fashion, interior design, and more, is a must-attend for fans of all things manmade.
Okinawa, Japanese Island
Take advantage of Okinawa’s idyllic (and crowd-free) islands this April while most tourists are busy looking for cherry blossoms in Japan’s major destinations. Due to a lack of tourists, resort prices are still low, including at the brand-new Hoshinoya Okinawa, which is surrounded by cherry trees and bougainvillea and has martial arts chanting playing in the background. Although there are a few hot days in southern Japan, the weather is generally mild, making it ideal for active water sports such as surfing, parasailing, and flyboarding.
The months of July to September
It may not seem like a dream vacation to visit Jamaica during the rainy season. If you’re going to be rained out for a while, there’s no better place to stay than a discounted suite at Montego Bay’s painfully hip S Hotel, which offers fresh seafood and an underground bath system inspired by the island’s healing pools. When the sun shines, it’s a great time to visit the lush, less-traveled south coast, which is known for its abundant farmlands and coral-hued beaches. Learn more about Jamaica’s sustainable agricultural operations by taking a bike tour of some of the region’s best farming and fishing teams.
Tucson, city in Arizona
The Sonoran Desert is beautiful in the winter, but the summer heat in Tucson can be oppressive. Take it easy at the iconic Miraval Arizona Resort & Spa, where you can soak in the pool and indulge in spa treatments for nearly half the price of high-season rates. After the sun sets, you can participate in their evening programming, which includes night hikes and yoga under the stars.
If you can stand the heat, a guided tour of Willcox wine country, an hour east of the city, is a great way to learn about Southern Arizona’s winemaking scene. Alternatively, make an appointment with Sand Reckoner, one of the state’s best brands, which has a tasting room in downtown Tucson.
Queensland, a state in Australia
Lower humidity makes seeing Queensland’s unforgettable natural landscapes much easier—and a lot more comfortable—during the southern hemisphere’s winter. On a four-wheel-drive adventure, you can get lost in the vastness of the Outback. You can explore as much as you want of the Wet Tropics of Queensland’s 894,420 hectares of rainforests, which are home to the world’s highest concentration of unique plant life, including 90 orchid species. You can also pay a special visit to the Great Barrier Reef, which is open for diving and snorkeling. The eco-friendly, rustic-chic Elysian Retreat (the area’s first solar-powered resort) is an excellent base for exploring the GBR’s 600 islands. However, because only 20 guests are allowed at any given time, this is also a place where you can get away from it all.
The months of October to December
South Africa is just emerging from winter’s grip at the end of the calendar year—not it’s quite warm enough to hit the beaches yet, but the bush is already teeming with activity. Because there isn’t much vegetation for animals to hide in October, a walking safari at Singita Lebombo in Kruger National Park is an excellent way to see wildlife. You can even see them from the resort’s relaxing pools due to the property’s proximity to the river.
In other parts of the country, jacaranda trees are blooming in the city streets of Johannesburg. And staying at the art-meets-nature grounds of Delaire Graff Estate in picturesque Stellenbosch allows you to get up close and personal with the Cape Winelands’ lush beauty and juicy fruits.
Coast of the Amalfi
From mid-October to early November, a leaf-peeping trip opens up this storied Italian destination, when many tourists have left but the region hasn’t completely shut down. It’s a fantastic time to visit Marisa Cuomo Winery, which specializes in late-harvest white wines and is located on a cliff. It’s also a great time to go shopping for ceramics in Vietri sul Mare, eat your weight in pasta in Nerano, hike the hills of Positano, and admire the architecture in Amalfi. Make the most of Borgo Santandrea, Amalfi’s newest gem, a luxury hideaway with a mosaic of striking tiles and lush Mediterranean-style gardens.
Visiting tropical destinations during their green seasons, when precipitation is at its highest, is generally discouraged—but that’s the tropics for you. A visit to Costa Rica in late November or early December would most likely mean that the worst of the rain has passed, leaving behind a lush, verdant, and glorious country. Nayara Springs, a luxury lodge tucked deep in Arenal Volcano National Park, where yoga sessions are staged to singing birds and jungle walks are accompanied by friendly sloths, epitomizes Costa Rica’s post-rain splendor. With fewer visitors, there are more opportunities to appreciate the iconic cone-shaped volcano’s beauty.