Winter doesn't have to mean long months indoors. Our editors have chosen ten trips that will have you gearing up for adventure or joining in local festivities—warm- and cold-weather travel that's sure to cure the winter blues. Do you have a favorite winter destination? Share it with fellow travelers below.
Petra and Wadi Rum, Jordan
Photograph by Gabriele Croppi, SIME
Built by nomadic Nabataeans two millennia ago, rose-red Petra is a “lost” city well worth finding. The ancient commercial crossroads chiseled from bedrock cliffs is situated between the Red and Dead Seas, about a hundred miles north of King Hussein International Airport. Follow the 3,300-foot-long, serpentine entry path—the Siq—through towering sandstone walls to Al-Khazne (the Treasury). The elaborately carved, 13-story tomb served as the final resting place of the Holy Grail in the 1989 movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Explore empty caves, visit the archeological and Nabataean museums, and hike 800 steps up to the top of Al-Dier (the Monastery). From Petra, head south to Wadi Rum (“Valley of the Moon”), the desert valley setting for Lawrence of Arabia, where local Bedouin guides lead rock-climbing treks, canyon hikes, jeep tours, and horseback and camel rides. Highlights include the Red Sand Dunes and the spectacular Seven Pillars of Wisdom rock formation, the latter named for T.E. Lawrence’s autobiography. End the day sleeping under the stars at one of the area’s Bedouin-style desert tourist camps.
Lake Placid, New York
Photograph by Dave Schmidt Photography
The Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics are two years away, but the games are on—and accessible to all ages and fitness levels—at the Olympic venues in New York’s world-renowned Adirondack resort village. Host of the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympics, Lake Placid offers visitors the opportunity to zip down an icy bobsled run with a professional driver and brakeman, blend cross-country skiing and riflery skills in a “Be a Biathlete” lesson, and speed skate on the same Olympic Oval where legendary U.S. Olympian Eric Heiden won an unprecedented five gold medals in 1980. Parents and kids can experience what it’s like to be an Olympic athlete in the Gold Medal Games Family Edition. The friendly competition begins with a torch run and ends with a medal ceremony. Events include a skiing/snowboarding race at Whiteface Mountain, curling and hockey slap shot contests at the Olympic Center, and biathlon target shooting at the Olympic Sports Complex. From February 18 to 26, watch the fastest athletes on ice compete in the 2012 Bobsled and Skeleton World Championships.
Photograph by The New York Times/Redux
A 2011 Treasury Department travel policy change gives United States citizens participating in government-sanctioned “people-to-people” group tours the chance to once again watch the torcedores, or cigar rollers, at Havana’s legendary Partagás cigar factory; stroll the Parisian-style boulevards of Cienfuegos; and tour Cojímar, the seaside setting for Ernest Hemingway’s Pulitzer Prize-winning The Old Man and the Sea. Only specially licensed operators, including National Geographic, can lead cultural exchange excursions from the U.S. to Cuba. Previous visits to the communist island nation were limited by U.S. embargo to those with family members in Cuba. People-to-people trips don’t require family ties, but do entail a daily slate of educational activities (no lounging poolside at luxury villas) such as touring the baroque Catedral de San Cristóbal de La Habana and exploring the UNESCO World Heritage sites of Old Havana and Trinidad and the Valley de los Ingenios with local preservationists. Tours often are tailored to fit specific educational interest areas, such as Afro-Cuban culture and cuisine, photography and film, or music and dance.
Photograph by George Steinmetz, National Geographic
Shifting dunes, eerie shipwrecks, and a diverse array of migratory and seabirds draw ornithologists and adventure seekers to Namibia’s rugged 976-mile South Atlantic coast. November to April is summer here, where the ancient Namib Desert meets the cool Benguela current. Days are cool, damp, and foggy, but mainly dry. From the seaside tourist hub Swakopmund, take a fly-in safari to view sand-encased shipwrecks and whale skeletons along remote Skeleton Coast National Park, or join a guided tour of Sandwich Harbour lagoon, an isolated marine sanctuary sheltered by towering sand dunes. Easy day trips include sand boarding in the dunes and visiting Walvis Bay lagoon, home to thousands of greater and lesser flamingos. From the bay, kayak out among the dolphins to the seal colonies at Pelican Point. Namibia’s newest—and largely inaccessible—national park, Sperrgebiet (“forbidden territory”) encompasses 5.4 million acres of the southern Diamond Coast including the famous De Beers diamond-mining lease. Limited, permit-only guided tours are available to specific park sites like the dramatic, 180-foot-tall rock arch at Bogenfels.
Photograph by Michael and Jennifer Lewis, National Geographic
Hidden within Mexico’s southernmost state are mist-shrouded jungles, volcanic mountains, thriving indigenous communities, and spectacular Maya ruins. Chiapas is home to the Pre-Hispanic City and National Park of Palenque, built by the Maya between A.D. 200 and 600. Highlights of the World Heritage site include the rambling Palace—Palenque’s largest complex—and the Temple of the Inscriptions pyramid, housing the crypt of Pakal the Great. In Chiapas’ cultural capital, Spanish colonial San Cristóbal de las Casas, stroll the narrow cobblestone streets and book a guided tour of neighboring Maya-speaking Tzotzil Indian villages, including San Juan Chamula and Zinacantán, famous for traditional woolen garments woven on rustic back-strap looms. Winter ushers in the dry season and annual coffee bean harvest. Several organic coffee farms along the La Ruta del Café, a geotourism project in southwestern Chiapas, offer tours, hands-on activities, and lodging. Join the harvest at family-run Argovia Finca Resort, located under the jungle canopy near the Guatemalan border.
Photograph by Keenpress, National Geographic
The austral summer season along the Antarctic Peninsula brings intense midnight sun, bearable temperatures (20°F on average), and bountiful wildlife encounters to the world's coldest, windiest, highest, and driest continent. November to March, multi-week group expeditionary cruises to the ice-free coastal zones typically depart from Ushuaia, Argentina—the world’s southernmost city. Tours may include stops to view seal pups and penguin chicks on the Falkland Islands and the sub-Antarctic island of South Georgia, home to 30 million breeding birds, including the fabled wandering albatross. There are no countries in Antarctica, which is managed under a 1959 international treaty. Primary residents include a small cadre of hearty research scientists; Adélie, chinstrap, and gentoo penguins; killer whales, or orcas; and Weddell and leopard seals. Naturalist-led tours, such as those aboard National Geographic Explorer, offer kayak trips around icebergs, shore treks amid thousands of penguins, and spectacular ice field hikes. Changing wind, weather, and water conditions dictate daily itineraries; so stay flexible, and dress in layers (protected by a waterproof, windproof outer shell) to adapt quickly for any adventure.
Photograph by Paul Spinelli, AP
White-sand beaches, a white-hot restaurant and club scene, and nonstop festivals attract sophisticated snowbirds to South Florida’s “Gateway to Latin America” each winter. Greater Miami-Dade County’s population is 65 percent Hispanic or Latino, giving the international arts, fashion, and entertainment hub a distinctive—and culturally rich—Latin vibe. January 13-15, retro-hip Miami Beach hosts Art Deco Weekend with lectures, guided tours, and a street fair along Ocean Drive amid the world’s largest (800-plus buildings) collection of Art Deco architecture. February’s highlights include the outdoor Coconut Grove Arts Festival, February 18-20, bringing more than 330 artists and craftsmen to the laid-back beachfront community and the Food Network South Beach Wine & Food Festival, February 23-26. Emeril Lagasse, Duff Goldman, and Rachael Ray are among the celebrity chefs headlining four days of classes, cooking demonstrations, parties, and tastings. March 2-11, 70,000 attendees are expected at the Miami International Film Festival showcasing new international and Ibero-American films, filmmakers, producers, and talent at venues throughout the city.
Fernie, British Columbia
Photograph by Henry Georgi
Fernie Alpine Resort rises out of the Kootenay Rockies region at the epicenter of British Columbia’s “Powder Highway,” a 530-mile loop with over 50 ski and snowboard operators. A new Polar Peak Lift to the summit gives Fernie the biggest vertical in the Rockies at 3,550 vertical feet, the most marked ski runs at 140, and the most alpine bowl skiing at 2,550 acres over five bowls. The resort and adjacent historic mountain town are favorites with Hollywood producers, serving as backdrops for films ranging from Inception to Disney’s Santa Pups, scheduled for release in November 2012. Private slope-side lodging (including the same cabin—and hot tub—featured in the cult hit Hot Tub Time Machine) offer convenient ski-in, ski-out access to Fernie’s legendary powder. The resort celebrates 50 years of skiing in 2012, and most winter weekends bring special events like the Kokanee Snowdreams Festival, January 28-29. The raucous, nonstop deck party features live DJs in the Plaza Glacier Beer Gardens and the Fernie Famous Hula Hoop contest. Save travel time by booking flights directly into the Canadian Rockies International Airport in Cranbrook, an hour’s drive from the resort.
Palm Springs, California
Photograph courtesy Gregg Felsen
The Coachella Valley’s stark desert landscape and 350-plus sunny days inspired “Desert Modernism,” Palm Springs' steel-and-glass-on-the-blocks design aesthetic. Located 110 miles southeast of Los Angeles, the all-season arts, culture, and outdoor recreation destination is home to the nation’s largest concentration of sleek, mid-century modern architecture. Landmarks include visionary Swiss architect Albert Frey’s Movie Colony Hotel, a favorite hideaway of Hollywood celebs from the 1930s through 1960s. Step inside Frank Sinatra's 1947 Twin Palms retreat and other retro-cool residences during Modernism Week, February 16-26, the city’s annual celebration of mid-century modern design, history, culture, and architecture. Events include lectures, a Vintage Airstream and Trailer show, and inaugural public tours of The Annenberg Retreat at Sunnylands. Located in nearby Rancho Mirage, the retreat encompasses the new, 15-acre Sunnylands Center & Gardens, plus (hidden behind miles of tall pink-brick walls) the historic 200-acre estate where late U.S. diplomat and philanthropist Walter Annenberg and his wife, Leonore, hosted the likes of Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon, Bob Hope, and Queen Elizabeth II.
Sledding, Preda-Bergün, Switzerland
Photograph courtesy Peter Fuchs
The 3.7-mile Preda-Bergün cross-country toboggan course is Switzerland’s first and Europe’s longest floodlit sled run. Take the Rhaetian Railway to the tiny village of Preda (about 20 minutes from St. Moritz and three hours from Zurich), rent a wooden sled at the train station, and hold on tight for the exhilarating plunge down the closed Abula Pass road from Preda (5,900 feet above sea level) to the finish at Bergün (4,484 feet). The icy course winds through towering pine trees and past tidy Swiss farms and villages. Periodic total darkness adds to the adventure and danger. Wear a ski helmet and goggles for safety, and watch for riders pitched off their sleds on hairpin turns. Snowmaking equipment helps ensure a full season of sledding, but check weather conditions and operating hours before making the train trek to Preda. Combination rail-and-sled daily passes cover unlimited train trips back to the starting point in Preda, so scope out the course—and panoramic views of the surrounding glaciated Alpine peaks—with an initial daytime run.
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