July doesn’t have to mean fighting for space on packed European beaches, dodging flocks of school children and gritting your teeth at peak prices. Winter in the southern hemisphere promises cheap flights and fantastic skiing, while elsewhere July is packed with unusual festivals, wild celebrations and some of nature’s most spectacular events, giving you a great excuse to escape the annual beach holiday rut.
Summer is an ideal time to explore Alaska’s awe-inspiring wilderness of deep fjords, towering glaciers and sweeping forests. Abundant wildlife thrives here, and with over 98 per cent of America’s brown bear population, America’s largest state is an obvious destination for animal enthusiasts. In July, the sockeye salmon run lures both brown bears and camera-clad visitors to Katmai National Park, a remote stretch of land home to over 2000 brown bears. Those in the know head to Brooks Falls, where visitors can watch from viewing platforms as the bears dodge to intercept the relentless flood of leaping salmon.
When snow on the northern hemisphere slopes has vanished, New Zealand’s ski season is in full swing, perfect for those who don’t want to pack away their kit for another year. Running roughly from June to October the ski season neatly overlaps the country's low season, meaning flights in July are among the cheapest you’ll get all year. While the North Island boasts slopes on volcanic Mount Ruapehu, most people head to the South Island’s lofty Southern Alps for their powder-fix. One of the best ski spots is Mount Hutt, two hours drive from Christchurch, while Queenstown is a great base to access Coronet Peak’s quiet runs and lively atmosphere, or organise adrenaline-pumping heli-skiing.
Head anywhere in the States for July 4th and you’re guaranteed a fantastic party; sprawling cities and rural communities alike go all out to commemorate the 1776 signing of the Declaration of Independence. Celebrations stretch from the expected parades and fireworks displays, to the more bizarre - New York hosts an annual hot-dog eating contest. Highlights include heading to America’s birthplace, Philadelphia, for the country’s largest free concert, or Washington DC for the massive fireworks display over the Lincoln Memorial. However, Bristol, Rhode Island’s pretty seaport, holds the title for the oldest July 4th parade, proving that, big city or small town, you’re in for a great time.
Each May, an estimated 1.5 million wildebeest, and hundreds of thousands of zebras, antelope and topi begin the world’s largest animal migration. From the withering plains of Tanzania’s southern Serengeti, to the undulating grasslands of Kenya’s Masai Mara Game Reserve, this is a hazardous, relentless journey of 800km across racing rivers, lethal lakes and deadly lion country. One of the most spectacular moments of this journey is the July river crossings. Every year wildlife watchers are drawn to the Mara River to watch as swarms of wildebeest take on these crocodile-infested waters, the final, yet deadliest obstacle in their journey.
Every July, Santiago de Cuba forgets the soaring temperatures to celebrate Cuba’s most famous and most Caribbean party. Officially running from 18th-27th July, festivities start in earnest the week before, seizing the town in a frenzy of rum-fuelled partying and pulsating Afro-Caribbean beats. Countless floats flaunt extravagantly-costumed carnival queens, neighbourhood percussion bands parade their talents, stages blast out live salsa and diablitos (little devils) run riot amongst the crowds. Most captivating perhaps are the neighbourhood conga parades when everyone tips out of their homes – often still wearing their slippers - to be led through the streets by their own comparsas (conga bands).
Europe’s answer to Nevada’s legendary Burning Man, northern Spain’s minimalist Nowhere Festival promotes the same principles of self-reliance, self-expression and mass participation. Each July, somewhere in the scorched wilderness between Zaragoza and Lleida, a temporary community springs up “conceived, built, experienced and returned to nothing” by festival-goers. Barrios (themed camps) pop-up like mushrooms catering for a diverse range of needs from chill-out bases and cinemas to hedonistic mini nightclubs. Self-expression lets loose into arts installations, music performances, craft workshops, bizarre costumes and other happenings, yet six days later when the festival ends the land is returned to a barren nowhereness.
Patriotic pomp and revelry seize France on 14th July to commemorate the 1789 storming of the Bastille, the spark that started the French Revolution. The hub of official ceremony, Paris boasts iconic spots to enjoy the festivities; watch military parades stomp down the Champs-Elysées, explore the city’s museums for free, or catch the evening fireworks from the Champ de Mars. However, France’s capital is not the only city worth visiting for Bastille Day celebrations; fireworks displays, open-air balls, free concerts and giant picnics take place across the country, from the World Heritage treasures of Lyon and Bordeaux to the youthful, lively Lille.
South America’s most famous hike, the Inca Trail, is a regular on bucket lists. Vulnerable to heavy rains and landslides, the trek is hazardous in the wet season, and shuts completely in February. However, in July, the conditions are warm and dry, with the Andes cloaked in lush greenery. This is peak season though, so book your trek well in advance. For those who miss out on an Inca Trail place, there are a range of great alternative treks. Hikes around the stunning, snow-capped peaks of Salcantay are (quite literally) breathtaking, while the trek to Choquequirao, an ancient Inca citadel still veiled in dense vegetation, feels like a whole new Machu Picchu discovery.
This article updated April 2016.
Top image: Machu Picchu, Peru - Shutterstock