Dark and cold in much of Europe and North America, February can feel like a drag before spring arrives. Yet it’s a fantastic time to travel. Below the equator there's balmy weather and riotous carnivals. In chillier climes, snow-fuelled activities and unique wildlife watching opportunities present themselves. Here are our tips on the best places to visit in February.
Dance with devils at Oruro Carnival, Bolivia
For one week a year, prior to Ash Wednesday, this sombre mining city explodes into Bolivia’s most spectacular party. Expect bizarre parades, massive water-fights and enthusiastic drinking sessions. The main event, Entrada, is a huge procession of brass bands and grotesquely-costumed dancers. The lineup is so large the parade can last up to twenty hours. Among the profusion of stomping demons and cavorting she-devils, the fiesta’s highlight is the diablada (the dance of the devils) waged by Lucifer and Archangel Michel. After the festivities there isn’t much to see in Oruro, but February’s rains mean that the surrounding Andean countryside is at its most beautiful, blanketed with lush grasses and wildflowers.
Carnival dancers wearing traditional masks and dresses on the street, Oruro, Bolivia © Agatha Kadar/Shutterstock
Track wolves in Yellowstone National Park, USA
America’s first national park is arguably one of the best places in the world to see these elusive beasts. During the summer the park is choked with hordes of would-be Attenboroughs, yet in the winter you’ll have the place more or less to yourself. Yellowstone is stunning in February, transformed into a frosted world of snow-blanketed valleys, frozen creeks and bubbling geysers. It's also the ideal month for wolf tracking, which makes Yellowstone one of the best places to visit in February. At this time of year wolf packs move at lower elevations, drawn down to hunt shuffling herds of elk. The wolves are more also visible, their lean, dark bodies clearly silhouetted against the pristine white snow.
Gray wolf at the Yellowstone National Park © Agnieszka Bacal/Shutterstock
Scuba Dive in the Andaman Islands, India
Near-deserted beaches, untouched reefs and remnants of an intriguing past increasingly lure visitors to the Andaman Islands. The remote tropical outpost is cast 1000km off India’s east coast. It's paradise for scuba divers, especially in February. Picture blue skies, balmy weather and crystal clear waters ready to be enjoyed before the summer’s heavy rains and cyclones. These reefs boast some of the world’s most abundant marine life; rainbow-coloured corals flourish while iridescent fish, manta rays, loggerhead turtles and reef sharks fill the waters.
Gorgonian corals in the Andaman Sea, India © Dade72/Shutterstock
Go wine tasting in Marlborough, New Zealand
February is late summer in the northern part of New Zealand's South Island, which means long sunny days but fewer crowds than in December or January. It's the perfect time to explore the vineyards of Marlborough famous for their Sauvignon Blanc. The region gets over 2,400 sunshine hours per year, so you're almost guaranteed good weather. Biking around the area is easy, and allows you to enjoy the tastings without worrying about getting behind the wheel. Visit Cloudy Bay and Brancott, but make time for some of the smaller wineries too – just follow your nose.
View of the vineyards in the Marlborough district of New Zealand © Jeffrey B. Banke/Shutterstock
Join the carnival across Brazil
Rio might get most of the attention but Carnival’s frenzied excitement infects every city in Brazil, making the country undoubtedly one of the best places to visit in February. Brazilian bacchanals take over the country as months of feverish preparation explode into pure unbridled hedonism. Salvador, Olinda and Recife are just a few of the places swept up in the excitement. The air pulsates with booming sound systems from hundreds of street parties, gigantic floats accompanied by flamboyantly costumed dancers riot through city centres and glitzy, licentious Carnival balls extend well into the early hours. When it’s all over, the country nurses its collective headache before perking up to plan the next year’s extravaganza.
Carnival in Rio de Janeiro © Gustavo Ardila/Shutterstock
Explore Darjeeling’s tea plantations, India
Perched on a mountain ridge, 2200m up in the Himalayas, Darjeeling is surrounded by sculpted tea-plantations, lush forests and soaring snow-capped peaks. The area is relatively quiet in February, just on the cusp of tourist season. It’s also free from monsoons, and the area is exceptionally beautiful as the landscape shakes off its winter slumber. Clear skies and cool temperatures make this an ideal time to explore the Buddhist monasteries that pepper the area. You can also trundle through the hills on the endearing Toy Train or launch an expedition to Sandakphu for magnificent vistas of Mount Everest.
Darjeeling tea plantation, India © Ake13bk/Shutterstock
Hit the slopes in Niseko, Japan
On the northern island of Hokkaido, February means two things: world-class skiing and steaming onsen hot springs. Head to the island's premier ski area, Niseko, for unforgettable powder skiing. Made up of four interconnected resorts – Niseko Village, Grand Hirafu, Hanazono and An’nupuri – Niseko is famous for its wide powder bowls and tree-lined runs. Snowboarding is also big here, with the conditions ideally suited to the sport. After a day on the slopes, nothing beats heading to a natural hot spring to relax tired muscles while drinking in the snowy scenery. Rough Guides works with local experts in Japan to offer a trip planning service. Get in touch for more details.
Niseko Ski Area, with Mt.Yotei in the background Hokkaido, Japan © atthle/Shutterstock
Top image: Oruro Carnival, Bolivia © gustavo ramirez/Shutterstock