Heavens above: the best destinations for stargazing
4 December 2023
January usually calls for big jumpers, a permanent umbrella-shaped sidekick and a post-Christmas slump – but it needn’t be so! Elsewhere in the world there are pleasing temperatures and beaming, blue skies between December and April, so now is the time to get organising. Read on for our top picks for the coming year.
You’d need a lifetime to unravel all of the sights, secrets and stories of India – let alone try all of its superb cuisine. India is huge, with a myriad of climates and weather patterns. But the Golden Triangle route in the north – named after its triple-highlight feature of Delhi, Agra and Rajasthan – is best visited between November and March, when skies are blue and temperatures stay at the mid-20s. So what’s on offer?
Big question, but let’s start with the obvious. This classic route offers the most emblematic of Indian ventures; probably the India you’ve imagined when scanning the guide books or daydreaming at work. The bewildering and brilliant havoc of the ‘Old Delhi’ markets, the tree-lined avenues of New Delhi, the stunning Taj Mahal of Agra and the sublime tigers of Rathambore National Park are all great possibilities for any itinerary. Jaipur, Jodhpur and Udaipur are also oft-visited cities on the way, and for good reason – they offer the ideal introduction to India.
But what about beyond these bucket-list behemoths? Well with two weeks there’s endless opportunities to get ‘off the path’ here and absorb the spirit of rural India. The abandoned Mughal city of Fatehpur Sikri, the countryside charm of Karouli, the ornate palaces of Bundi and the bewitching Ranakpur Temple are all within reach These lesser-known spots of the Rajasthan region, away from the tourist hubs, are easily accessed with a bit of local know-how. India can be overwhelming, but a local expert can add an extra dimension to your trip, ensuring your time in this incredible country is as enriching as it should be.
Surrounded by the Caribbean and Pacific oceans and covered in dense jungle, this compact country packs more species of flora and fauna into its small landmass than the whole of Europe and the U.S.A. combined. Temperatures level at the late-20s from December through to April, making it a perfect time to visit the Pacific coast and embark on a wildlife-spotting adventure.
Undoubtedly this is an explorer’s paradise. The dazzling animal spectrum pops fresh from a children’s picture book, with sloths, macaws, rainbow-beaked toucans, howler monkeys, resplendent butterflies and lime-green treefrogs among the canopy. You could also scale the Arenal volcano, swim and scuba dive off the Pacific coast, find yourself zip-lining through the rainforest canopies or tackle the many renowned surf breaks along the coast. And don’t forget to sample some of the world renowned Costa rican coffee whilst you’re there.
The Costa Ricans take pride in ‘la pura vida’ (the pure life), and love visitors to embrace this cultural mood with them. When exotic butterflies, serene shorelines and balmy evenings become part of your agenda, the stresses of life will feel a million miles away.
When the early winter months still have most of us in a daze, why not discover the true meaning of relaxation? Lovely Laos, a small country traversed by the lulling Mekong River and hugged by Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, China and Myanmar, offers the most agreeable lowland temperatures between November and February.
The people of Laos are renowned for their laid-back, ‘c’est la vie’ philosophy, and it’s tempting – and encouraged – to adopt this mentality as you meander the gold-lacquered Buddhist temples of Luang Prabang or tend to a freshly-baked pastry in one of Vientiane’s French cafes. But with a bit of local guidance there is also plenty of adventure on offer in this Southeast Asian wonderland.
A homestay in the northern region is a potential highlight of any Laos visit, topped with outstanding trekking through lush forest and mountainous terrain. The dreamy, mist-covered hilltops of outer Luang Prabang are home to stunning green-blue waterfalls and attractive rural villages. While in Vang Vieng, the godly karst mountainscape takes centre stage – a world away from its backpacker reputation of the past – offering vibrant cycling and hiking trails.
So if you’re thinking ahead to avoid those winter blues or you just want more information on any of these captivating countries, visit our pages on India, Costa Rica and Laos to get some local insight and inspiration for your next exciting trip abroad.