January Beach Guide

Caribbean Snorklers
FLIP KICK: Invert winter expectations by aiming for more tropical climes (Corbis)

Saint John, U.S. Virgin Islands
The holiday crowds have dispersed leaving more elbow room for the purists to soak in the serenity and beauty. Seven cover-shot beaches fan off of the eponymous resort, and water is as blue and crystalline as any other time of year. Hiking trails are likewise less crowded: Ascend one of the many nearby jungle hills and look down on your own, almost–private paradise.

Whitehaven Beach, Whitsunday Islands, Australia
This may be the most beautiful beach in the world. The sugar–white sands, so colored because they are roughly 98 percent silica, form shapes like a billowing scarf, gently sloping into the bluest water you'll ever see and bridging the space between sea and lush tropical forest. Whitehaven is popular--among sailors, Great Barrier Reef tourists on day trips, and just about anyone else who's ever heard of it--but don't let that dissuade you. Touring the islands by sailing craft will provide you with a lifetime of “best ever" memories.

Cabarete, Dominican Republic
After a relative lull in autumn, the breezes return to this wind-sport mecca in January, filling the horizon with sailboards and kite surfers. There are dozens of instructors along the miles of sailable beach, but with the waters packed with locals and visitors alike, this may be a better bet for intermediate and advanced skill sets, not rookies. On light-wide days, grab a surfboard and paddle out to the reef for a more traditional water sport.

Barbados Jazz Festival
You may not love jazz, or it might be that you love it and just don’t know it yet. Either way, the Barbados Jazz Festival, which occurs in mid–January, is a convenient excuse to go tropical in the winter. Regional and international musicians play select venues—mostly at night but there's typically a couple midday sets on the schedule—leaving you free to beach it up by day. Featured artists from past festivals have included Stanley Clarke, Smokey Robinson, Macy Gray, Robin Thicke, and Anita Baker, and each year the line-up just gets stronger.

Saint Barts
If you're one of those people whose music tastes tend toward "just about everything," consider this: There's a volcanic island lined with elysian beaches and soaked in the best of French culture and cuisine, and every January this place plays host to an eclectic music and dance festival featuring jazz, classical, opera, rock, chamber music, and, undoubtedly, a few sets that mix all of the above. The first notes of the Saint Bart's Music Festival kick off in mid-January. Beach choices are equally rich, from the popular and resorty Grand Cul de Sac and St. Jean, to the more laid–back Flamands (broad, white sands fringed with lantier palms) to the ultra serene Gouverneur and Saline.

Scuba Diving in Utila, Honduras
Two words: whale sharks. January is the start of whale shark season in the Bay Islands of Honduras, where the gentle giants loll about the fringes of the Latin American barrier reef. Numerous outfitters take snorkelers out on whale shark safaris and, for wildlife lovers, few thrills can compare to finning along next to a 30–foot behemoth as it snarfs plankton. If the giants prove elusive—and they often do—grab a regulator and BCD and dive Utila's extensive and varied reef system, then retreat to the tumbledown waterfront bars for cheap beers and equally affordable cuisine.

ISA World Masters Surfing Championship in Rincon, Puerto Rico
Take some of the world's best surfers and put them in the lineup off of the Caribbean's top surfing beach and pretty soon you'll run out of synonyms for "stoked." The International Surfing Association holds its annual ISA World Masters Surfing Championship each January in Rincon, featuring surfers from Brazil, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, France, Great Puerto Rico, South Africa, Tahiti, and more. We'd mention Rincon's other charms—laid–back aura, casual bars, fresh seafood, killer sunsets—but it seems we already have your full attention.

This island has a bit of everything, from orderly Dutch appearance to a thumping nightlife scene on the southeast beaches, secluded coves on the West End, great diving, a top–notch aquarium, and even a 4,000–foot mountain to hike. In January the scene livens further with the annual Curaçao Regatta, which colors the horizon with sails from yachts, catamarans and, starting in 2007, Sunfish. Win, lose, dunk, or just watch--you still deserve a finish line mojito.

Nungwi Village, Zanzibar
Perched on the tip of this East African island, Nungwi is low key, with ocean–front villas and hotels, fine local seafood, and stellar snorkeling and diving, all in a fun–loving, youth–driven vacation atmosphere. But you can play it at any pace you want, from water sports all day to hanging out with the local boat builders (Nungwi is the dhow-building center of Zanzibar) to a slow breakfast and coffee followed by a favorite pastime: lounging in the iridescent Indian Ocean.

Whale-Watching in Salt Cay, Turks and Caicos
What could top a sparsely populated island hemmed by stunning beaches, surrounded by glowing indigo waters, and caressed by soft breezes? How about thick pods of migrating humpback whales? The cetaceans use the Silver Banks in the Dominican Republic, about 40 miles south of Salt Cay, as their breeding, calving, and nursinggrounds in winter,and pass just offshore en route to and from the banks. Local outfitters will take you right to the gentle giants, even allowing snorkeling among them when conditions permit.

Published: 4 Jan 2007 | Last Updated: 30 Jul 2012
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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