Looking forward to a January getaway? We put together a list of the best island destinations in January for all types of travellers: whether you prefer city breaks, sandy beaches, hanging out in glaciers or adventurous encounters with wild lizards, there’s something in here for you.
Hong Kong Island
Not everyone knows this, but downtown Hong Kong is distributed along the Kowloon area and Hong Kong Island, which is separated from the mainland. As we’ve come to expect from the “Pearl of the Orient”, there are plenty of activities to do all-year round. If you’re planning a January getaway with the whole family, highlights from the Hong Kong Island include the Tamar Park, the Lai Yuen amusement park, the 23.000 square feet 3D Repulse Bay Visual Art Museum and Hong Kong’s most stunning viewpoint, appropriately named “the Peak”.
If you’re flying from London to Hong Kong for a holiday, and have a few days, make sure to take a day trip to the smaller Cheung Chau islet. It is a distinctive Cantonese district with a great street food scene and plenty of seafood stalls. Before you leave, don’t forget to watch the Symphony of Lights at 8PM from the Golden Bauhinia Square or, better yet, from the Jumbo Floating Restaurant!
Just off the East of Madagascar, Reunion Island (an overseas department of France) is an unspoiled retreat where you can discover the beauties of the Indian Ocean. The climate is warm all year round, and January is just the start of the hot cyclone season when temperatures can reach 30ºC near the coast. The calm and clear waters are ideal for snorkeling and scuba diving in a coral seabed that giant clams, green sea turtles, emperor angelfish and lagoon triggerfish call home. Apart from its biodiversity, the island is known for its volcanic lunar landscape on the Plaine des Sables and the active volcano at Piton de Fournaise. Your tastebuds can also expect something unique from the Sucrerie de Bois Rouge and La Maison de La Vanille, where sugar and Bourbon Vanilla are produced. Finally, delight all your senses at the Saint Paul Street Market.
Iceland really is a land of ice. Temperatures in January drop well below zero. Plus, January only has 4 hours of sunlight per day (on average), so you’ll have about twenty hours of darkness, on snow-filled streets, per day. If this already sounds like a dream to you (whatever floats your boat!), keep on reading. There’s a special prize for withstanding Iceland’s freezing temperatures in January! In fact, two! First, it’s an opportunity to see the Northern Lights, especially if you go out of Reykjavik. Second, you can go ice caving on glaciers – including on the Vatnajokull (Europe’s largest glacier) and on the Skaftafell Nature Reserve. If you’re around for Winter Solstice (on the 21st), the Imagine Peace Tower on Videy Island is relit, so you can take the ferry to watch the ceremony. Finally, New Year’s Eve means fireworks all over Reykjavik!
Komodo Islands, Indonesia
Everybody knows the komodo dragons, but not everyone has been to the island where these giant lizards hail from! In the beginning of this year, it had been reported that the Indonesian Government was planning to close the island to tourists in order to increase the number of dragons in the wild – which is reportedly as low as 5000. However, last month Indonesiabacked down and the Komodo Islands can still be visited… for now. This is your chance! The Komodo Islands are a great destination for Nature lovers and adventurers, who can visit the Natural park, hike along the Trek Padar, snorkel with tropical fish at the Pink Beach, hike Gili Lawa or embark on an Indonesian Islands Hopper tour. There are several hotels and restaurants around the islands catering to tourists, so you’ll get your fair share of fun and relaxation too.
Like Hong Kong, it’s easy to forget that Japan is an island. And, like Hong Kong Island, Tokyo never sleeps; there’s always something to do, all year round, all day long. January is no exception! Hop on a car to explore the Tokyo German Village, go to the sake rink at Toshimaen, see the Christmas lights at Yebisu Garden Place and witness the worship rituals at Meiji Shrine on New Year’s Eve. After moving around the city, head to a traditional Japanese hot spring spa to cleanse your skin, relax your muscles and get a break from the cold weather. Another quintessential Japanese experience at this time of the year are Winter foods such as fugu (the deathly, but delicious, puffer fish), yuzu and kaki (seasonal fruits) and mochi, a popular rice cake during New Year’s.
Whitsunday Islands, Australia
Granted, January is technically not the best month to visit the Whitsunday Islands – it’s the beginning of the Summer, so temperatures can be quite hot, with the occasional tropical storm. But then again, who wouldn’t like to say hello to the New Year exploring the Great Barrier Reef? If you are an experienced diver, like to travel by water and definitely want some beach time during your next holidays, don’t think twice. You can travel by plane to Hamilton Island and explore several other islands by boat, depending on how much time you want to spend in the Whitsunday Islands. And have we mentioned the spectacular, endless sunsets by the beach?
Madeira Island, Portugal
Madeira Island is a volcanic island known as the “Pearl of the Atlantic” – it’s been famous among Europeans for centuries (notable visitors include Sir William Churchill), but it’s somewhat unknown to the rest of the world. Highlights include trekking along the levadas (water canals), which are trails that connect the North and the South shores, as well as the island’s mountainous center and its unique Laurissilva forest. However, at this time of the year some levada trails might not be safe to visit and you should check on a case-by-case basis. Why are we including Madeira on this list, then? Because the island has award-winning New Year’s fireworks, which light up the entire capital city, Funchal, from the mountains to the bay.