The holiday season may be over, but there’s still time to take advantage of winter travel prices before spring break rolls around. Not sure what to do with some of the cash left over from your Christmas stocking? Instead of blowing it all on Starbucks to help get you through February, take a trip and trade your Caramel Macchiato for some Moroccan mint tea. Here are some ideas to help you capitalize on your winter travel options, whether you’re looking for sun, snow, or a little bit of both.
SOME LIKE IT HOT
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
We get it—it was a long December. You spent too much time writing term papers, shoveling driveways, and trying to find presents for all the cousins you don’t really care about. You deserve some quality time with the sand and the sun; fortunately, Rio de Janeiro has some of the best beaches and bluest skies in the world. Just remember: what’s inappropriate in South Beach is normal in the south of France, and what’s inappropriate in the south of France is normal in South America (so don’t be afraid to get a little freaky). After your day on the beach, prepare for a long night living up the best of Rio’s restaurants, clubs, and live music venues; locals and tourists alike take their nightlife seriously. The city is also known for its not-insignificant crime rate, so use the buddy system and stick to the beaten path. If, for some inexplicable reason, you begin to tire of all the tanning and partying, Rio is also home to plenty of museums, parks, and hiking trails, as well as one of the new Seven Wonders of the World (the statue of Christ the Redeemer that you’ve probably seen in many a brochure).
If your beach body took on a few too many holiday cookies this winter, Marrakech is a perfect travel destination that doesn’t require a bikini. Temperatures stay fairly high at this time of year, but the inland city is better known for its well-preserved medieval remnants and Berber culture than it is for local sunbathing. You should set aside plenty time to explore the fortified medieval part of the city, which contains enough 12th-century gardens, elaborate mosques, courtyard palaces, and ancient tombs to keep any history buff occupied for days. Marrakech is also home to Morocco’s largest traditional Berber market, complete with acrobats, musicians, and snake charmers. Come prepared to haggle and bring a map—the sellers are stubborn, and it’s easy to get lost in the labyrinth of stalls.
BABY IT’S COLD OUTSIDE
If you sympathize with Buddy the Elf and aren’t satisfied with only one day of Christmas, consider a trip to Lapland, which is home to the official hometown of Santa Claus and is known for its large reindeer population (alas, none with red noses). The days here are short and seriously cold, but nowhere will you find a higher concentration holiday spirit. If you think candy canes are a food group and you remain young at heart in your travel interests, head to the Santa Claus Village at Rovaniemi. Here, you can bother a bunch of people dressed as elves while they work the Post Office and Workshop and take a reindeer sleigh ride, which range from 0.5km to 10km for the hard-core enthusiasts. Travel to Kemi to see the world’s largest snow castle, which is rebuilt every year at the start of the season. Finnish Lapland is also one of the best places to see the Northern Lights, for those who are looking to get high on something other than holiday spirit.
So you’re too cool to ski in the US and too broke to ski in Europe? Head to Sapporo, the largest city on Japan’s northernmost island of Hokkaido. You may have never heard of it, but it hosted the 1972 Winter Olympics, and the skiing opportunities here are no joke. The city offers public transportation to numerous mountains, many of which were featured in the Olympics. And if you’re starting to miss college life by the end of your vacation, Sapporo is also known for its beer and ramen. Sapporo is a relatively young city, so while it’s not known for traditional Japanese architecture, its modern grid pattern is easily navigable, which will come in handy if you’ve really enjoyed that beer.
Grand Canyon, US
Wikimedia Commons, Tomas Castelazo
Yes, the Grand Canyon is essentially a big crack in the ground, but it’s a really beautiful crack in the ground. What’s more, visiting this natural wonder during the off-season is decidedly cheaper, and the climate at this time of year is perfect for the indecisive—the rims of the canyon often see snow during the winter, while the inner gorge stays warm. For the adventurous, the canyon offers white-water rafting; for the ambitious, it offers plenty of hiking; and for the lazy, it offers mule rides. If you can access a car and aren’t really feeling the footpaths or mules, the area surrounding the canyon is also perfect for a road trip—there are plenty of other national parks within reasonable driving distance, and you can see quite a bit from your vehicle.