A fantastic round the world adventure can often be as much about the when as the where. Freezing your proverbial bits off in northern China or southern Patagonia might make for an excellent anecdote in retrospect, but it probably won’t be quite as enjoyable at the time. Similarly, you probably don’t want to be dodging hurricanes in Mexico or continually lashed by monsoons in South-East Asia.
There’s a definite art to being in the right place in the right time, and when climatic conditions can vary massively in just one country, it’s worth reading up on the weather patterns of the places you’re planning to visit. But for a quick overview – here’s an (extremely) rough guide to where’s hot and where’s horrible at different times of the year...
It takes a special kind of masochism to head to the Arabian Gulf in summer. It can be brutally hot for sustained periods in Dubai, Qatar and Abu Dhabi, with temperatures regularly above the 40 degrees Celsius mark. If you think that sounds great for sunbathing, think again. If you have a choice, head out between November and March – you’ll still have lots of sun, little rain and generally pleasant heat (between 20 and 30 degrees Celsius).
North and South India have different climates, but the summer months (May to September) are generally hot and soaking in the south, but rather nice in the northern Himalayan regions. On the flipside, Himalayan trekking in the winter is stupidity on a grand scale, while the South is relatively cool, dry and appealing.
China is huge, and the climate varies from region to region. You’ll want to avoid the north during the European winter (unless you like living in a freezer), and the south during the European summer – it gets very humid, rainy, and attracts typhoons. That makes March to May and September to November the safest catch-alls.
Mountain ranges and localised weather patterns make tipping a best time to visit South-East Asia something of a tricky art. Singapore is hot, soggy and humid year-round, while Vietnam has monsoons in the north between October and March, then more which douse the whole country between May and September. As a very general rule, November to February is the most pleasant time of year to visit the region – but it really does depend on where you’re going.
Australia is a continent, and the best time for one part of it is very different from another.
The southern states (New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia, the bottom corner of Queensland and the bottom part of Western Australia) operate on something approaching the four seasons model. June, July and August can get surprisingly cold, whilst summer humidity can make things very sweaty – particularly in January and February. The best months are arguably October, November, December, March and April.
In the north (Tropical Queensland and Western Australia plus the Northern Territory), it’s a whole different story. Breaking it down into the wet and dry season is an oversimplification, but it’ll do for the purposes of deciding when to go. May to November is drier, cooler and with general clear blue skies. Turn up mid-November to late April, and expect to get soggy.
If you’re going for skiing, then the season is generally between late May and early September. If you’re going for anything else (which tends to be the case), then this is the time to avoid as it can be bitterly cold. This especially applies to the South Island. New Zealand doesn’t get Australia’s humidity, so the summer months (December to February) are pretty darned good. March, April, October and November are generally excellent bets too.
As a broad rule, the Pacific Islands follow the rough seasons of Northern Australia. The wet and humid weather tends to be between late November and mid-to-late April, which makes May to November the best time to go for most travellers. Some islands do have their own microclimates, however – it’s worth checking before you book to go somewhere really obscure.
North America pretty much follows the European seasons. Certainly in the northern US and Canada, the summer months (June to August) are the best weatherwise. In the Southern US, however, these months can be too hot – and going slightly earlier or later is a good plan. As a general rule, autumn is a better bet than spring. Blizzards are far more likely in March than November, for example.
Most of Central America tends to get sweaty, rainy and more than a little hurricane-prone between June and October. Unless you’re a fan of perennial dampness, that’s the time to avoid.
The climate across South America is extremely varied. The weather can be doing very different things in Amazonia, Patagonia, the Andes and Copacabana Beach. So before falling into any obvious generalisations such as “well, it’s in the southern hemisphere, so the seasons must be the reverse of ours”, do some specific research on the areas you’re going to. The Andes and the southern parts of Chile and Argentina are generally about snow avoidance – November to March will be the best bet.
Cape Town and the surrounding area are far better explored during the European winter – and not just because of the temperatures. Most of the rain comes during the winter months (June to September) as well – as the BBC hilariously found out when they spent a fortune on a World Cup studio that had Table Mountain as a backdrop. Of course, the mountain was hardly ever visible during broadcasts because it was chucking it down. The Highveld (Johannesburg, Pretoria etc) and the areas closer to the tropics, however, get the rain and thunderstorms when Cape Town is blissfully dry. The shoulder seasons – September to November and March to May – are the happy compromise.