Dark, dreary and cold in Europe and North America, February often feels like a long drag before spring arrives. Yet it’s a fantastic time to travel. Warm, balmy weather and riotous carnivals beckon below the equator, while chillier climes should be embraced for snow-fuelled activities and unique wildlife watching opportunities. Here are our tips on the best places to visit in February.
Be a Big Kid at Harbin’s Snow and Ice Festival, China
In February the weather is cruel here with temperatures plummeting well below -30°C. Yet winter is when Harbin is most alive; every January and February this northern Chinese city hosts one of the world’s largest snow and ice festivals. Transformed into a frozen fairytale kingdom, Sun Island is packed with snow-tube pistes, while hundreds of illuminated ice sculptures fill Zhaolin Park: intricate full-sized temples, ferocious dragons and massive buildings decked out with elaborate stairways and slides that beg to be clambered over. At the festival's finale, fireworks are accompanied by an open invitation to smash down the sculptures with pickaxes.
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. Plus, this is an ideal month for wolf tracking; packs move at lower elevations, drawn down to hunt shuffling herds of elk, and the wolves are more visible, their lean, dark bodies clearly silhouetted against the pristine white snow.
Scuba Dive in the Andaman Islands
Near-deserted beaches, untouched reefs and remnants of an intriguing past increasingly lure visitors to the Andaman Islands, a remote tropical outpost cast 1000km off India’s east coast. This is paradise for scuba divers and in February things couldn’t get much more perfect – blue skies, balmy weather and crystal clear waters can be enjoyed before the summer’s heavy rains and cyclones threaten. 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.
Party in Brazil
Rio might get most of the attention but Carnival’s frenzied excitement infects every city in Brazil, making February an unforgettable month. Prior to Ash Wednesday, 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.
Have a ball in Venice, Italy
Venice is suffocating in summer, yet winter here is magical. Empty streets, low-slung mists and icy canals re-establish the city as the capital of romance. Head here for Valentine’s Day, or wait until the end of February for the Carnevale. Refined and extravagant, this is the highlight of the Venetians’ social calendar, when the city becomes an endless catwalk of elaborate costumes and intricate masks. Kitted-out locals pose in the piazzas or run errands decked out with traditional black coats, white masks and tricorn hats. Quieter canals become runways for processions of elaborately-decorated gondolas, while grand dinners and masked balls fill the nights.
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, promising bizarre parades, massive water-fights and enthusiastic drinking sessions. The main event, Entrada, is a huge procession of brass bands and grotesquely-costumed dancers that is so large it 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.
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. On the cusp of the tourist season, Darjeeling is relatively quiet in February. 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, trundle through the hills on the endearing Toy Train or launch an expedition to Sandakphu for magnificent vistas of Everest.
Get cultural in Oman
In the summer (March to October), Oman is oppressively hot, with blistering temperatures easily soaring above 40°C. February, meanwhile, promises pleasantly warm days and breezy nights. This mild climate is perfect for roaming around Oman’s dramatic landscapes of vast rolling dunes, rugged mountains, plunging canyons and quiet coastlines. There's also a host of burgeoning cities to explore. Throughout February, the Muscat Festival holds Oman’s capital captive. This fascinating blend of arts, culture and tradition fills Muscat’s theatres with shows and concerts, while the Oman Food Festival and Muscat Fashion Week also draw in great crowds.