One of the most magical aspects of traveling during the off-season is that it’s a time of year that can transform a destination from a place of familiarity into somewhere completely new. Nantucket during Christmas is a wash of small-town merriment; Mendoza is cozy when sipping wine by a fire with a pat of snow on the Andes; and the heavy rains in Botswana let wildlife flourish in different ways. Here, three travelers on their love of being in these places when the rest of the crowds have left.
All listings featured on Condé Nast Traveler are independently selected by our editors. If you book something through our links, we may earn an affiliate commission.
A very green safari in Botswana
The flowers were ones I hadn’t seen many times before. My poler, who was steering our mokoro, a traditional wooden canoe, brought us to a halt to observe them—bright yellow water buttercups and white lilies that bobbed along the water’s surface, craning out like they were looking for sunlight. The flowers bloom during the rainy season in Botswana’s Okavango Delta, between December and April.
This time of year is called the “green season” because of the lush vegetation that comes with the seasonal rains. It’s considered a less favorable time to visit the bush because animals can be harder to spot behind the tall grass, but in truth it’s one of the bush’s best kept-secrets. What many forget to tell you is that with these heavy rains comes so much life—and fewer tourists to share sightings with.
“There’s a plethora of immigrants—birds and insects that have been underground for well over six months, waiting for the right conditions to emerge” says Beks Ndlovu, founder of African Bush Camps. Interested in plants and migratory birds like yellow-billed kites? There couldn’t be a better time to visit the bush.
While other animals like antelope and cats might not be as easy to spot during this damp time of year, it’s not impossible. On a recent trip to Xigera Safari Lodge in Botswana’s Okavango Delta in January, peak green season, we spied two packs of wild dogs, which are hard to see regardless of the length of the grass. We also got up close to a lion and her cubs, saw leopards in trees, and spotted numerous antelope as well as elephants sloshing in the mud. At Khwai Leadwood, on the edge of the Moremi Game Reserve, we traded 4x4s for boats, where we glided along the water looking at wattled cranes, hippos, and steely crocodiles.
In the usually bone-dry Makgadikgadi Salt Pans at Jack’s Camp, where I’ve seen lions during peak season, I saw the desert flourish and transform into a landscape that resembled the Okavango Delta, swathed with herds of zebra that migrate this time of year. Having visited the Kalahari a few times before, I’d never seen it so lush. Every afternoon, almost like clockwork, clouds would gather above and thunder would rumble for miles. While we raced back to the lodge seeking shelter, giant raindrops pelted down and animals scattered. The air was warm, the energy frenetic, and everything felt totally alive. —Mary Holland
On Nantucket, a summer paradise in the snow
The scent of Born & Bread’s straight-from-the-oven sourdough teases me all summer. I’ll wait in line for hours and still might not score one of the cult bakery’s prized loaves. But in winter, I walk straight into the Scandi-style shop, and baker Kim Anderson has time to casually chat me up about her distinctive pain au levain and cruffins (a muffin-croissant hybrid).