After the holiday high subsides, January comes along and hits us with a serious reality check — all that merrymaking has come to an abrupt end. And with it, a tough forecast: many more dark, cold, gloomy days of winter until the first signs of spring.
One of the best ways to cure the winter blues is to escape to a sun-drenched beach. With the sand between your toes, turquoise water lapping at the shore, and a fruity cocktail in hand, your stress will melt away as quickly as the ice in your drink under the hot tropical sun.
Because the holidays (and their crowds) have come and gone, January is actually a great time to score deals on airfare and hotels. You can find steep discounts on travel — especially in the first few weeks after the New Year — making that dreamy beach getaway even more appealing than it would be during peak summer.
We've done the legwork and searched the globe for beach destinations with the best chance for ideal weather in January — think sunny, dry, and comfortable days. Get your Kindle loaded up with some good beach reads (you'll need them for hours of doing nothing but lazing in the sand) and prepare to slip into a deep state of bliss. From the luxurious atolls of the Maldives to the castaway islands of Nicaragua, here are our top picks for the best beaches in January.
Koh Lanta, Thailand
January is the ideal time to visit Thailand, especially the islands on the Andaman Sea. Right in the middle of dry season, temperatures are comfortable in the mid-80s (before they soar in spring and summer). With a number of dreamy islands, all with pure white sand and crystalline water, you really can't go wrong. But Koh Lanta has somehow managed to fly under the radar while still having it all: swanky, romantic retreats, family-friendly hotels, beaches with calm surf, world-renowned dive sites, lavish spas, and a sleepy Old Town with traditional wooden guesthouses. Go now before the secret gets out.
El Nido, Palawan, Philippines
Voted one of the world's best islands by Travel + Leisure readers, Palawan offers the same stunningly beautiful scenery as other popular Southeast Asia destinations, with just a fraction of the crowds. Join a boat tour in El Nido to hop around the Bacuit archipelago. You'll sail through crystal-clear blue lagoons flanked by emerald karst cliffs, then kayak to secluded, powdery white beaches. In January, the seas are clear and calm: perfect for snorkeling and diving around coral reefs.
The secret's been out about Tulum for a while now, but we're still pretty enamored with this boho-chic beach town. Here, ancient Mayan ruins crown seaside cliffs, and there are miles of soft white beaches backed by Instagram-perfect resorts and boutique hotels. With a strenuous schedule of morning yoga followed by afternoon margaritas and ceviche under palapas, it's easy to see why people continue to come back for second, third, and fourth visits. Tulum's after-dark scene is arguably as much a draw as its beaches: The main road is a hit parade of stylish restaurants, including the much-lauded Hartwood (keep an eye out for celebrities). Finish the night by bar hopping to fabulous watering holes like Gitano and Todos Santos, which specialize in Mexico's smoky spirit, mezcal.
San Blas, Panama
If you want to unplug — and we mean seriously disconnect — Panama's archipelago of 365 tiny islands is the perfect destination. With no roads and no chain hotels, restaurants, or bars, the San Blas islands offer a castaway experience in one of the most picturesque settings you could imagine. Of the 50 inhabited islands, most house only a handful of small huts best for intrepid travelers (many of these modest accommodations have limited electricity). Your days will look something like this: Boat from island to island to snorkel in the bright azure water, pick a new palm tree to lay your towel under, or swim along sandbars strewn with starfish. At night, there won't be much else for you to do but enjoy a beer while stargazing and listening to the sound of rolling waves.
There's really no bad time to visit Hawaii, so why not go when the forecast back home is snow with a side of slush? As far as beach destinations go, Maui caters to any type of vacation you desire, from lazy to adventurous. After all, the islands are famous for wide, golden crescents of beach, calm snorkeling reefs, star-studded resorts with opulent spas, trails that lead to hidden coves, dive sites brimming with sea life, and some of the biggest surfable waves on the planet. When you're ready to get off the beach, take in the epic views along one of the world's most beautiful drives, the Road to Hana, which winds through lush forests, waterfalls, and black sand coves. And if you're interested in spotting marine life, you're in luck: January is one of the best times to visit Hawaii for whale-watching.
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Rio's rare combination of beaches, rainforest, and mountains — all within a busy urban setting — must be seen to be appreciated. January is a great time to go, as the weather will be hot and the beaches bustling, but it's before the madness of Carnival when the city turns into a month-long debaucherous party. (Or, if that's your thing, visit during the festivities in February for a once-in-a-lifetime experience.) Just don't expect seclusion. Copacabana, Ipanema, and Leblon will all be packed with tanned and toned locals sunning themselves in barely-there swimwear, vendors peddling fresh coconuts, and tourists nursing their caipirinhas. It's a scene — but that's just what makes Rio one of the best beach destinations in the world.
till totally under the radar, Oman makes for a spectacular introduction to the Middle East. It's politically stable, the people are gracious, and it boasts an impressive range of landscapes, from modern city to desert to mountains to — you guessed it — beaches. The country's massive coastline has unspoiled sands and amazing weather in January (think balmy temps in the 80s). Even the beaches right in the country's capital, Muscat, are beautiful and serene, and you can go diving just south of the city, where the popular Al Munassir shipwreck lies. But for the most spectacular beaches, head to Musandam peninsula in the northernmost part of the country. Zighy Bay has clear, aquamarine waters and white sand that rival the Caribbean, with mountains rising straight from the shoreline.
This famously laid-back island is a great place to de-stress — especially in January, when the weather is warm and breezy and there's no threat of hurricanes. Head to Negril, where seven miles of soft golden sand beckon; rent kayaks and sailboats to explore the turquoise waters further. The sounds of live reggae and the ocean vistas will lull you into the "don't worry, be happy" mindset as you sip rum punch (or a Red Stripe, if you prefer) and chat up the friendly locals. Stay at the legendary Rockhouse Hotel & Spa, which boasts cabanas with private plunge pools built right into seaside cliffs.
If what you seek is total relaxation in the lap of luxury, look no further than the Maldives. This low-lying nation is famous for its overwater villas and sparkling turquoise waters. As January is one of the driest months, you're almost guaranteed blue skies and bath-warm seas without a drop of rain. Made of about 1,200 islands, you can take your pick of powdery white beaches. But the Maldives are especially perfect for lovers of the sea, as the crystal clear waters and abundant coral reefs offer incredible snorkeling and diving, as well as boating excursions and surf safaris.
Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
Looking for a great deal? Punta Cana is rife with all-inclusive resorts that offer great value, if you're not keen on having to do a lot of planning before planting yourself at the swim-up bar. January sees dry, warm days hovering in the 80s and sits nicely between the holiday crowds and the Carnival revelers in February. With the most beaches of any Caribbean island designated by the Blue Flag program for meeting high environmental standards, you'll find beautiful, clean, sandy stretches all along its 20-mile Coconut Coast. But Punta Cana's not short on activities for when you're ready to leave the sun lounger, either. Travelers can go kayaking, ziplining, sailing, and windsurfing.
Corn Islands, Nicaragua
While it does take a bit of effort to get there, the Corn Islands off Nicaragua's east coast may be the country's best-kept secret, with crystal-clear blue waters, swaying palms, and soft sands. While life is slow on both islands, Big Corn has a bit more traffic (literally — one road circles the island from which you can hail taxis or golf carts) and is the only island of the two that has 24-hour electricity. On Little Corn — aptly named, as you can cross the entire island from east to west on foot in about 15 minutes — you'll find a true deserted island experience. Your agenda for the day: snorkel or relax on the sand.
Sunshine Coast, Australia
With a name like Sunshine Coast, it should come as no surprise that this stretch of Queensland is decorated with beautiful golden beaches and frequented by happy, laidback locals. At the heart of the Sunny Coast is Noosa, a chic beach village with excellent boutique shopping and trendy eateries. Noosa's Main Beach is often touted as one of Australia's best, as it's protected by a reef and offers gentle, calm waters year-round.
Less than an hour north of the mega resorts of Puerto Vallarta lies the chilled-out, bohemian town of Sayulita. In addition to boasting one of the most beautiful beaches in Mexico, you'll find plenty to do to keep busy. Hike the lush jungle surrounding the town, surf the legendary Pacific breaks, practice yoga with an ocean view, and eat your fill of amazingly fresh seafood (go for a ride with a fishing boat, and they'll make you ceviche from your catch). You won't find big-box tourism here, either. Instead, stay in a bungalow right on the beach. Best of all, Festival Sayulita, at the end of January, celebrates Mexican culture with five days of film, music, spirits, and food — balanced with yoga and stand-up paddle events, of course.
Guanacaste, Costa Rica
Get on board with the pura vida lifestyle in Costa Rica. In January, you'll undoubtedly have plenty of sunny days to practice your surf skills, laze on the golden beaches, and explore the rainforests. With direct flights to Liberia International Airport from many major U.S. cities, a winter escape to Guanacaste, in the northwestern part of Costa Rica, has become super accessible and affordable. While the surf town of Tamarindo is by far the most popular beach destination in the area, with tons of hotels and restaurants right off shore, trek a bit further north and you'll find prettier beaches with thinner crowds. Playa Conchal, tucked away in a private cove, requires a short walk along the coast to reach. But you'll be rewarded with a quiet beach made of tiny crushed shells and turquoise waters for snorkeling.
Eagle Beach, Aruba
Aruba claims to have the most sunny days per year of all the Caribbean islands, so you're sure to get great sunbathing weather (especially important in January when we've all been deprived of vitamin D). While away breezy, 82-degree days on the 20 powdery white beaches, including Eagle Beach, often ranked as one of the best beaches not only in the Caribbean but also in the world. Backed by many low-rise resorts, timeshares, and restaurants, Eagle Beach is outfitted with loungers for sunbathing and watersports equipment for rent. For a bit more adventure, head to the rugged northern coast where you can hike, go on an ATV excursion or horseback riding tour, or head inland and explore the arid desert-like landscape of Arikok National Park.
Credit to Travel and Leisure website.