There’s never a better time for a holiday than January; everyone needs a bit of a boost after Christmas and it doesn’t have to be a long-haul trip to deliver some much-needed escapism. Here is our pick of the best destinations to visit this January.

Tropical backwaters in India

Take a bamboo raft or houseboat cruise through the Keralan backwaters

While it may be bleak elsewhere in the world, January finds the Indian state of Kerala in full bloom. This southern Indian, tropical state is nicknamed God’s Own Country, thanks to a tourism ad slogan from the 80s that actually stuck. But it’s true; the scenery really is quite divine. The beaches are long, wide and often bathed in a hazy heat while inland, the Western Ghats mountains are a tropical haven of rainforest and tea plantations that glow green from the previous monsoon season. You also might have heard of the Keralan backwaters, a 900 km-long network of waterways lined by coconut groves and tiny fishing villages. Embrace the Keralan tourist rite of passage and take a bamboo raft or a houseboat cruise around these calm, tropical canals, enjoying constant sunshine and relatively cool temperatures that January brings. Stay at the beautiful, beachside Maadathil Cottages.

Skiing in Bulgaria

Bansko in Bulgaria is an up-and-coming ski resort

Bansko in Bulgaria is an up-and-coming ski resort

Regardless of whether you’ve never set foot on a ski slope or consider yourself to be a slalom maestro, there’s only one place to go skiing this January. The rapidly up-and-coming resort of Bansko, at the foot of the Pirin Mountains and in the middle of Bulgaria’s Pirin National Park, is affordable, naturally beautiful and has miles and miles of pistes and modern lifts. It’s an old mountain town that acts as a gateway to the slopes on and around the huge Todorka Peak and Vihren Peak, with plenty of off-piste adventures to be had, winding your way through powder and pine forests. Check into the highly-rated Villa Vera Guest House, a short walk from Bansko’s ski lift.

Mediterranean escape in Malta

Colourful balconies in the Maltese city of Valletta

Colourful balconies in the Maltese city of Valletta

Built by the Knights of St John on a tiny peninsula, Valletta is the historic Maltese capital, whose honey-coloured stone walls and 16th-century buildings contrast with the surrounding deep blue sea. Although winter won’t bring sunbathing temperatures, it is mild and often sunny (Malta gets 300 days of sunshine per year), plus the prices are drastically lower and there’s so much to do in the capital that isn’t weather-dependent. It’s known for its museums, palaces and ornate cathedrals, as well as fresh Mediterranean fare at fine restaurants. Valletta is so small it’s easily walkable, so take an evening amble down to the waterfront and find a restaurant (ideally one that’s based in one of the city’s 17th-century mansions) for an authentic Maltese meal washed down with local wine. The Ursulino Valletta is the most highly-rated accommodation in Valletta, no doubt partly thanks to its roof terrace with a cityscape panorama.

Sunshine and spice in The Gambia

Senegalese and Gambian fishing boats moored on the sand

Senegalese and Gambian fishing boats moored on the sand

Not only does The Gambia offer ample January sunshine, it’s also great value for post-Christmas travel budgets. It’s an easy destination to immerse yourself in the local culture, as the people are warm, welcoming and mostly English-speaking, and you’ll find a range of excursions and courses that allow you to experience Gambian life. Book yourself onto a cookery course with local Ida Cham-Njie, for example, and you’ll get to visit a fish market with her, before being invited back to her home to learn how to use local spices and herbs in rich Gambian recipes like Benachin (a deliciously comforting one-pot dish). The Nemasu Eco-lodge is a simple, beautiful accommodation where activities available include cycling, fishing and hiking.

Yoga on the beach in Mexico

Beach life in Mexico's coastal city, Puerto Vallarta

Beach life in Mexico’s coastal city, Puerto Vallarta

A sunny January destination full of colour and character, Puerto Vallarta in Mexico will certainly pick up your post-Christmas spirits. Wander the cobblestone centre full of ornate churches, pretty fountains, red, fuschia and orange bougainvillea sprouting up on the roadside, boutique shops and the Mercado Río Cuale flea market. The weather is perfect in January; hot but not oppressively so and with barely any rain. You can do yoga on the beach, sunbathe, gorge on moreish, fresh Mexican food and perhaps go on a whale spotting tour in the Bay of Banderas (the season for this runs from December until March). Stay at HOTEL CINCO22, just 100 metres from the centre of Puerto Vallarta.

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