There’s no denying it, January is not the jolliest time. Holiday cheer has disappeared and Blue Monday – said to be the most depressing day of the year – falls near the middle of the month. There’s an easy way to keep your spirits high though – start planning a fun-filled getaway. You can’t help but flash those pearly whites if you’re hot-air ballooning above Costa Rica or making friends with elephants in Sri Lanka. To help, here are the top serotonin-boosting experiences from around the world.
Refresh yourself with a hike through the large forests and national parks of India. Trek in Mudumalai National Park alongside tigers and deer, or in the tropical Agumbe Reserve Forest, which comes alive during the monsoon months. If you want a story-worthy adventure, hike through Kanha National Park, said to be the inspiration for Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book.
Soaring high above the ground in a hot-air balloon is super fun – that sense of freedom might be enough to keep you happy for the whole year. Do it in Costa Rica for the sublime vistas; here, you’ll be gliding over volcanoes and green valleys, chasing monkeys around rainforest tree-tops, or competing with birds while cruising over turquoise rivers and shimmering coasts.
Few sights are more spectacular than a bioluminescent sea. Experience this rare phenomenon in the Maldives – the Vaadhoo island in the Raa Atoll is your safest bet. Towards the end of summer, the reefs here fill with dinoflagellates – phytoplankton that emit light as a defence mechanism when the waves move. This creates an otherworldly, sparkling effect that’s bound to fill your heart with glee.
A long, relaxing soak is an easy way to relieve stress. And there’s no better place to do it than Iceland – the hot springs here are sure to alleviate your aching muscles and help you reach a state of utter bliss. Thanks to the high volcanic activity on the island, there are plenty of natural geothermal pools, such as Landmannalaugar and Hveravellir, most of which are surrounded by endless greenery. Alternatively, try the Blue Lagoon, which is man-made but just as soothing.
Sri Lanka is one of the best places in the world to go on safari. Leopards hang out in Yala National Park amid flooded lagoons and coastal dunes and rare lizards and purple-faced langurs stroll along Horton Plains. The most fascinating local attraction, though, has to be the elephants. You are likely to spot hundreds of them drinking water and eating fresh grass in Udawalawe and Minneriya national parks.
Exercising is one of the surest ways to boost your serotonin levels; but what if you could do that while gazing at vast vineyards and valleys? France offers a number of two-wheeled adventures for novice and seasoned cyclists. Whether you follow the Tour de France route in the French Alps or a much simpler path among vineyards and orchards in the Loire Valley, the idyllic views are worth the effort. Want more? Join a small group on a wine and cycle tour of the medieval city of Saint-Emilion near Bordeaux.
If you’re a die-hard gastronome, you can’t go wrong with visiting the top foodie destinations in Italy. Pass by Bologna for the popular tagliatelle al ragù, Rome for a pasta-making class near the Trevi Fountain and Tuscany for exquisite wine paired with local flavours – if bistecca alla fiorentina, the signature steak dish of Florence, doesn’t bring you joy, we don’t know what will. For the best pizza and freshest seafood in Italy, Naples is the way to go.
Japan offers a variety of scenic trails, some passing waterfalls and wildflowers, others passing volcanic craters. Among the greatest is the trek up the legendary Mount Fuji. This can take five to 10 hours to complete, with several trails to follow. Some are more challenging than others, but if you’re looking for a transcendental experience, opt for the Pilgrimage Trail; this will take you to the summit through sacred forests, home to Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples, and finish at the shrine of Shinto goddess Sengen-Sama.
There’s no better way to appreciate the millennia-old history of Egypt than a five-star cruise on the Nile. Make all the necessary stops – including the Valley of the Kings, home to the tomb of Tutankhamun, and the Kom Ombo Temple, once frequented by sacred crocodiles – and admire wonders such as the Colossi of Memnon statues. Better yet, reserve a spot on Culture Trip’s small-group trip to Egypt and explore this awe-inspiring country with the help of a Local Insider.
Athens is best known for its ancient ruins, but the Greek capital also has a contemporary, quirky side to it; this comes through in lively cafes and bars, modern art galleries and colourful murals scattered around town. Take a street-art tour to discover the latter, along with the captivating stories behind them. Somewhere amid all the concrete of the city centre, splashes of colour turn Athens into an open-air gallery, giving you many reasons to smile.