Now is a great time to start thinking about where you’re headed for the major holidays of 2017: Spring break in Peru? New Year’s Eve Down Under? To stake your spot at the head of the line, plan early. Here are a few ideas for trips that are best booked now, in January.
(Don’t miss the rest of our series on what trips to book in each month of the year. If you prefer to know which destinations are ideal for traveling to in any given month, see our Where to Go When series, and don’t miss our comprehensive guide to the benefits of booking early.)
Cuba in Spring
For: March and April
Spring is delightful in Cuba: The weather is perfect—relatively dry and not too hot—and the tobacco is in full bloom, making it a great time to visit Vinales Valley on a day trip from Havana.
Why book in January? The recent launch of nonstop commercial flights between the U.S. and Cuba has many travelers trying to arrange last-minute trips—but you really need to plan at least three months in advance in order to find the appropriate accommodations and tours. (It’s not too early to start planning Christmas and New Year’s travel to Cuba, either.)
Cusco for Easter
In Cusco, Easter celebrations last for an entire week—known as Semana Santa—starting with Palm Sunday and followed by the Señor de los Temblores festival on Holy Monday, when Cusco’s most venerated image of Christ is taken out in procession and the entire city participates. (Booking through Marisol Mosquera means that you’ll watch the festivities from one of the coveted balconies overlooking the main square.) April is also a beautiful time to visit Machu Picchu, since the rains have just departed and left the hillsides at their greenest.
Why book in January? Easter is high season in any Catholic country, so this is your last chance to find availability at hotels and on flights.
For: May and June
Summer in Croatia is to be avoided, due to heavy crowds and the highest prices of the year. But in May and June, you’ll find more attractive hotel rates, great weather, and significantly fewer tourists.
Why book in January? Now is the time to reserve rooms at the best boutique hotels, some of which have only eight rooms.
Ancient Greek Drama in Situ (Sicily)
For: May and June
Every year from the middle of May through the end of June, Sicily’s ancient Greek Theatre of Siracusa—which was first built in the 5th century B.C.—hosts modern performances of the ancient Greek tragedies. The theater is part of an archaeological park that is a UNESCO World Heritage Site; you can explore its ancient limestone quarries, temples, and orange and olive groves before the performance.
Why book in January? Four months out, you’ll still have access to the prime tickets (those closer to the stage and in more shaded areas of this outdoor theater) and to the cultural guides best equipped to help you contextualize the plays in their proper time and place. You’ll also have your choice of accommodations in nearby Ortigia’s historical center.
Summer in Austria
For: July and August
Sure, it will be crowded, but come summer the days are long and the weather is great, and there are music festivals—especially opera—all over Austria. You can usually find good hotel deals, except in Salzburg during its six-week classical music festival (one of the biggest in Europe).
Why book in January? Six months out, you can still lock in the most charming hotels and the guides with special insider access; delay longer and you’ll be stuck with mediocre options for both.
Hawaii for Fall
September is one of the smartest times to visit Oahu because airfare and car rental are less expensive, and the crowds are down (the weather is consistently pleasant year-round). Whether you’re interested in Pearl Harbor’s World War II history, the North Shore’s epic surfing, or snorkeling in Keneohe Bay’s reef habitats (or all three), this single island offers a wide range of experiences.
Why book in January? You can often find specials around the New Year, helping you save even more; airfares are unlikely to get cheaper as your departure approaches.
Taoist Rituals in the Wudang Mountains
The birthplace of tai chi and the center of Chinese martial arts, China’s Wudang mountain range has drawn Taoist philosophers to its peaks for centuries. On September 9 each year, many Taoist priests converge there for worship rituals of fasting and offering, praying for national prosperity and peace. Wake up early and watch robed priests flow through the tai chi movements that have been performed in these mountains for centuries; you can also join in the rituals, making your own offering for peace and prosperity. In addition, autumn sees the best temperate weather for hiking among the sacred peaks.
Why book in January? This off-the-beaten-path destination has only a couple of hotels, so you’ll have to make your reservations early in order to be part of this ancient practice.
A Boat Charter in French Polynesia
For: September and October
Chartering your own yacht in French Polynesia is like staying in a moveable overwater bungalow—with a staff devoted entirely to you. You can go shelling at deserted beaches, snorkel in remote locations, stop in local villages, stargaze from a blanket laid out in the netting of your catamaran, even catch your own fish for dinner. September and October, when the trade winds aren’t too strong, are the best months to do this.
Why book in January? While there are many crewed boats to choose from in the Mediterranean and the Caribbean, there are only about 50 available to charter throughout all of French Polynesia; that means you need to plan well in advance to get just the right boat for you.
Christmas in Mexico
Christmas may have just passed, but it’s now or never for planning this year’s holiday escape to Tulum, the hippie-chic beach town on Mexico’s Caribbean coast. There are plenty of flights into Cancun’s airport, which is about an hour and a half away, and nearby you’ll find Mayan ruins and Sian Ka’an, named a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its rich biodiversity.
Why book in January? As each week goes by, the boutique hotels here rapidly fill up for their busiest time of the year, and by February you may well have to settle for the waiting list at your favorite property. Not only that, but the most experienced guides get reserved far in advance too.
Cruising the Indian Ocean for Christmas
Pristine natural environments are the theme of a December 22 cruise aboard Silversea’s Silver Discoverer; spot hawksbill turtles, manta rays, whale sharks, frigatebirds, and tropical fish as you set off from Sri Lanka, traveling to the Maldives and Seychelles on your way to Zanzibar. The ecosystems you’ll visit range from coral reefs to dense tropical forest, and there is a marine biologist, a botanist, and an ornithologist on board to help you make sense of it all.
Why book in January? This luxury expedition ship’s 64 cabins will go fast as travelers start making their 2017 holiday plans.
Cruising the South Pacific for Christmas
Expedition ship L’Austral will be setting off for New Zealand come Christmas, embarking from the South Pacific island of New Caledonia on December 23. Those onboard will get to explore that country’s incredible marine reserve before celebrating Christmas at sea on their way to New Zealand, where the ship goes to the Bay of Islands, Auckland, Wellington, and the spectacular Fjordland National Park, with its glacial-carved sounds.
Why book in January? This voyage is bound to sell out quickly—it has an unusual iterinary and spots for only 264 travelers. Book in January for the best choice of cabins.
New Year’s Eve Down Under
Sydney is the first major city to ring in the New Year—and one of the most popular places to celebrate it anywhere on the globe. A massive fireworks display goes off over the Harbour Bridge not once but twice, the first at 9 p.m. for families.
Why book in January? Accommodations and special-event tickets (for harbor cruises, opera house performances, and the like) generally go on sale a year in advance and disappear quickly. Get those major items in place now, and you can reserve tables at harborside restaurants or other fireworks vantage points as they become available later in the year.