An island for every month of the year
For many of us, an island holiday is the ultimate in escapism. There’s something about it which engenders a kind of “pull up the drawbridge” mindset perfect for recharging the batteries. What follows puts together those islands that for one reason or another have made a lasting impression on me, with a suggestion for a good time to visit weather-wise.
Gorée – January
Senegal’s Île de Gorée is at once a melancholy and vibrant place. The focus for the country’s remembrance of those lost to the slave trade even though few were ever shipped from its shores, it’s also colourful and charismatic, a favourite of artists and craftsmen. It’s an easy day trip from the Senegalese capital Dakar. In January the weather is sunny and mild, making this the perfect winter escape.
Roatan – February
Honduras might have a hellish reputation in terms of safety and security – its largest city San Pedro Sula is considered to be the murder capital of the world – but the languid island of Roatan off its northern coast is about as far from trouble as you can get. It has all the characteristics you’d expect from a Caribbean island: a laid back welcome, turquoise warm waters and fresh fish dinners. In February, it’s busy enough to feel buzzing, yet you’ll have no problem finding space on the beach to soak up those tropical rays.
La Digue – March
The Seychelles has a reputation for luxury – and all the costs that come with achieving it. The good news is that La Digue manages to offer accommodation for all budgets. Better still, it’s one of the prettiest islands on the planet and compact enough that you can explore it by bike in a few days. In March, the weather’s on the turn, but unless you’re really unlucky, visiting La Digue in the shoulder season means you’ll dodge the worst of the crowds as well as the rain.
St Lucia – April
One of the lushest islands in the Caribbean, St Lucia is also one of the prettiest. But that verdant setting has only been achieved with rainfall totals higher than many in the region. April is statistically the driest month, so time your visit to the island’s cocoa plantations, hot springs, iconic peaks and of course fabulous beaches to hit the best of the weather.
Gozo – May
Malta’s firmly on the beaten track when it comes to Mediterranean escapes, but visit Gozo before the main tourist season kicks into gear and you’ll be impressed. This rural and characterful island combines fascinating historic attractions with impressive coastal scenery.
Lanzarote – June
If you’ve ruled out Lanzarote on account of its nickname, Lanzagrotty, then you need to have a rethink: this place is seriously cool. Avoid the crowds of tourists tied to school holidays and get in ahead of the crowds to explore Cesar Manrique’s fabulous architectural legacy and some of the hottest volcanic scenery on the planet.
Zanzibar – July
There are few islands with names that conjure up as exotic an image as that of Zanzibar. The reality is as satisfying: the narrow alleyways of the capital Stone Town are lined with mansions made from coral stones held together with lime mortar, built by merchants who traded spices, silks and slaves. To the north of the island, you’ll find plenty of excellent beaches where you can enjoy the dry, hot July weather.
Tanna – August
Faraway in the South Pacific lies the archipelago of Vanuatu. Its most fascinating island is without a doubt Tanna. Dominated by one of the most accessible active volcanoes on the planet, visitor interest is piqued by the John Frum cargo cult, and in particular the offshoot Prince Philip movement that think our Queen’s husband is a god. Toast him with kava, the local firewater which numbs your mouth and sedates your brain.
Bali – September
Well on the beaten tourist track, Bali offers a winning combination of culture and relaxation in one neat and tiny package. Its resorts make the best of the sandy beaches and September sees the crowds thin ahead of the October to March wet season. Watch the sunset over the ocean at Uluwatu temple or head inland to the green rice terraces that encircle the pretty town of Ubud.
Kyushu – October
The most southerly of Japan’s big four, Kyushu packs a punch. It’s a good choice for those wishing to get up close to the country’s tectonic action, with mud pools, hells and hot sand baths at Beppu and the active volcano Sakurajima an easy ferry ride from the city of Kagoshima. By October, the humidity that plagues the summer months is long gone, but temperatures are still high enough to make sightseeing a pleasure.
Easter – November
Despite its isolation, remote Rapa Nui is recognisable the world over for its moai, the oversized stone heads that gaze out over the Pacific from all parts of this mountainous island. The five hour flight from the Chilean capital just to get there is arduous, but when you do, you’ll agree it’s well worth the effort. Its history is fascinating, but it’s the location that blows your mind.
Cuba – December
Go there before it changes, they said. So I did. But that was well over a decade ago and the tour companies are still saying it. Nevertheless, I haven’t yet met a visitor who was disappointed. Cuba’s one of those places that gets under your skin, from the old ladies in Havana who’ll puff on their cigars for a dollar to the horses that you’ll still see trotting down the cobbles of backstreet Trinidad. Forget generic Caribbean, this place is unique and special because of it.
So there you have it, my favourites. What are yours?
Weather to travel: New York City
For a first time visitor wanting to maximise sightseeing time, good weather is a must, but when’s the best time to visit New York City? I’ve visited in all seasons, so here are some observations and tips based on my experience.
Avoid summer if you can
Summer in the city, with its long sunny days and picnics in the park, sounds like the perfect recipe for a great trip, right? Wrong! New York in summer is humid and hot. Typical temperatures push 30°C which in my opinion is too hot for sightseeing. Add to that average humidity which peaks in August at around 70% and conditions are often unpleasant. It’s sweltering if there’s a storm brewing and when the rain does fall, it’ll be heavy and you can expect localised flooding.
It’s beach weather, sure, and there are some fun places to go close to the city like Coney Island, but if you’re planning to visit the Big Apple’s iconic sights like the Empire State and the Statue of Liberty, then you’ll be standing in line until you’re good and sweaty. If you have booked to travel between June and August, then take a ferry to Governor’s Island to catch a breeze, rent a boat from Central Park’s Loeb Boathouse or head out of Manhattan to the Botanical Gardens in the Bronx.
Don’t write off winter
Travelling to New York in winter is not without its risks. If your holiday coincides with a big winter storm, then you can find yourself stranded if the subway system shuts down and the buses can’t get through. That said, there’s a lot of fun to be had snowballing in Central Park and seeing the rooftops dusted with powder. Overnight temperatures can plunge to -10°C or below, but in the daytime, it usually hovers around zero. Wind may well be your biggest problem, but an advantage of a grid pattern street network is that if you turn a corner, you’ll come out of the icy blast and warm up. Make sure you pack accordingly, and don’t skimp on the hats, scarves and windproof down jacket.
The main advantage of travelling in winter is the lack of crowds – those who venture to the Big Apple in winter are rewarded handsomely. First-timers can pack more into an itinerary and reduce the need for pre-booking popular attractions such as the Freedom Tower. It’ll also be easier to pick up tickets for popular Broadway shows. Restaurant week takes place in late January or early February, with lots of establishments offering special menus and good deals.
Spring and autumn might just be the best compromise
Temperatures by April are on the rise, and it can be warm and sunny through into October, so travelling in the shoulder seasons is a good option. You’re looking at an average of around 17°C in May which in my book is perfect for sightseeing. Statistically, October is the driest month, though that was also the month in 2012 that Storm Sandy wreaked havoc, so it’s not a dead cert. April is the wettest, but rainfall averages are fairly constant through the year so that’s not a deal breaker. Markets reemerge from their winter hibernation, blossom enhances the High Line and stepping out is a pleasure.
Book your hotel well ahead, however, because late spring and early autumn are when you’ll see accommodation prices spike – it makes sense, of course, as you would expect demand to drive up rates. May sees temperatures climb and after Memorial Day weekend, summer has officially started; try earlier in the month if you prefer it less busy. You’re more likely to find a deal in November, and maybe even plan a trip to coincide with Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, and the leaves will be on the turn in the city’s parks to boot.
What I have learned over the years and through numerous visits, is that there’s really never a bad time to go. My personal preference is for a winter trip, but I’ve never had a bad holiday in New York yet.
Tempted to book? Don’t miss these earlier posts from Julia’s Travels:
Weather to travel: London
Mention weather and Britain in the same breath and cue much eye rolling and sighing. You don’t go to the UK for the weather, sure, but it’s not as bad as the naysayers would have you believe, and you certainly shouldn’t be put off visiting.
The UK is influenced by a maritime rather than a continental climate and when it comes to the rain, that means our hills give a north west/south east split. So don’t panic if you’re headed to the UK capital and your news feed is full of flood pictures. Whilst the disruption is dreadful for those affected, London, in the drier half of the country, has had an average rainfall over the last three decades of just 557mm. 400mm or below would qualify it as a desert. If we compare that rainfall total to some of the major US cities, it’s less than half that which falls on Boston or New York City, and only a couple of hundred millimetres more than Los Angeles.
Clearly, at 50°N of the Equator, no one’s going to come to Britain in search of the scorching temperatures you’ll find in the Med, but sightseeing in big cities is no fun in sweltering heat. Here in the UK, we don’t see really hot temperatures often enough to warrant the expense of air conditioning, so if the mercury rises, London isn’t the best. If you do find yourself here in those circumstances (and you’ll know about it, believe me, because the newspapers will splash it all over the front pages), then avoid the Tube, grab a couple of cold drinks and head for one of London’s many green spaces.
Fortunately, average temperatures even in the warmest month, July, rise only to about the mid-twenties (that’s Celsius and not Fahrenheit!). In the shoulder seasons of spring and autumn, it’s a comfortable 15-18°C and even in winter, the temperature rarely dips below about 5°C. Not for us those biting Arctic winds or toe-numbing blizzards. This year, it was a balmy 19°C the week before Christmas – exceptional but not a record.
So, remember what they say: there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad preparation. Timing your London visit to miss the summer season gives you a chance of avoiding the worst of the crowds, so why not take a chance on the weather and come out of season. Enjoy your stay!