Secrets of the Seasons

The beauty of the off-season is that places that are well-trodden at their peak get to show a different, sometimes more authentic side of themselves once the crowds have gone. If you’re willing to pack a rain jacket or some extra layers, the rewards of traveling to our lodges in the low season can be great. Not only are there fewer crowds and often cheaper prices, you are privy to an intimate side of the destination that’s harder to find when you travel during high season. Here are some of the secrets of the seasons from staff at our lodges.

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OSA PENINSULA, COSTA RICA

Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula is a stunning place in the dry high season, but ask the naturalists at Lapa Rios what time of year they like best, and many will tell you they love the rains. After months of relatively little precipitation, the forests spring lushly to life after the first few showers of May, and by July—the month several lodge naturalists claim as their favorite—they’re ravishingly emerald and teeming with life. And while this misty, mystical jungle fulfills most fantasies of what a tropical rain forest should be, the rains are oddly predictable: you can usually count on sunny mornings to explore. In the afternoons, pull on rubber boots (provided by the lodge) and venture into the forest for a swim in natural waterfall pool, where you’ll barely feel the warm raindrops.

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AMAZON RAIN FOREST, PERU

When asked what time of year he likes best in Peru’s lower Amazon rain forest, naturalist Elias doesn’t hesitate: “November and May.” These months, considered shoulder season, are a happy compromise of all that defines the jungle. There are just enough rains to keep the vegetation lush and the wildlife prevalent, but not enough to make muddy trails take hold of your boots. It is warm, but not too hot. Reptiles and amphibians settle into temporary ponds and oxbow lakes—making them easier to spot, and the birdlife is at it’s best when the skies are cloudy.

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ARISTI, GREECE

Once you get to Aristi Mountain Lodge and behold the Vikos Gorge—Greece’s karst version of the Grand Canyon—you may want to return every season just to see how nature’s different moods transform this jaw-dropping cathedral of rock. In fall, the show is particularly spectacular, as swaths of beech trees turn riotous shades of orange and gold, which set off the limestone cliff faces even more. This is the time of year when wild mushrooms burst out of the loam, and you can go mushroom hunting with a local expert from Aristi. Head deep into the forest, basket in hand, and learn to identify edible mushrooms of many shapes and sizes. Then bring them back to the kitchen, where the chef will demonstrate different ways to preserve and cook your bounty.

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WESTERN MONTANA WILDERNESS, UNITED STATES

Montana in fall is just summer with a jacket on. The same trails beckon, the trout still run through Blue Ribbon streams, and the aspens and cottonwoods transform into a backdrop of shimmering yellow. The Ranch at Rock Creek celebrates autumn every year during an weekend of great food, live music, and seasonal fun—surrounded by glorious fall scenery. Spend your days horseback riding, biking, fishing and hiking. Then gather for fantastic farm-to-fork meals that showcase the flavors of the Montana harvest. The festivities continue into the evenings, with cowboy bowling, songs around the campfire, wagon rides, a barn dance, and a specially arranged musical performance.

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SHANGRI-LA, CHINA

From a tourism perspective, it is quiet in the hills of Shangri-la in early spring and late fall. But local life continues as it has for the ages, and visitors to Banyan Tree Ringha have a rare chance to get truly immersed in the ethnic Tibetan culture and the serene, sometimes sacred, landscapes. Lodge General Manager Nigel Fisher recommends heading up in a cable car to the top of Shikha Snow Mountain, some 14,750 feet high. From here you can see three of the most important peaks of the region: Meili Mountain, the tallest in Yunnan, Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, and Bilo Snow Mountain. Then take a leisurely walk with the lodge manager and his friendly Tibetan mastiff, passing through gorgeous meadows and mountain scenery.

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KANGAROO ISLAND, AUSTRALIA

The austral summer is high season on Kangaroo Island, or “KI” as the locals call it, but winter (June-August) claims some of the best wildlife viewing of the year. As the cooler season sets in, marsupial babies begin to emerge from their mothers’ pouches, and you’re liable to catch a glimpse of young kangaroos, koalas, and wallabies. It’s also mating season for sea lions, which congregate by the hundreds on the beaches of Seal Bay Conservation Park. There’s “less lolling and more action” among the mature sea lions, according to a staff member at Southern Ocean Lodge, and sea lion babies from the previous season are born—often numbering more than 200. Their mothers shelter them among the dunes and bushes that line the boardwalk, so it’s easy to observe them up close.

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MAYO, IRELAND

Winter may not be the time you dream of going to Ireland, but the season certainly has its charms. Come November, most tourists have left the island, but all the trappings they had come for stay put. You can still catch a great local band at the pub, still hike a misty trail to ancient ruins, still grab a pint of Guinness and enjoy the craic. With the game rooms and tea parlors, dungeons and wine cellars at Ashford Castle, you could spend plenty of time just exploring indoors. The castle has a compelling collection of experiences to choose from in winter—whether it’s a culinary adventure led by the castle chef or a vibrant celebration of the holidays.

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SOUTH LUANGWA NATIONAL PARK, ZAMBIA

November to March is known as the “emerald season” in this part of Africa. In the height of summer, the southern African bush, so long painted in golds and beiges, gets a few substantial rains and turns brilliant shades of green. The tawny forms of leopards and lions stand out amid the grasses, and the Luangwa River swells. For Andy Hogg, owner of The Bushcamp Company, this is most glorious time to be in Zambia’s South Luangwa National Park. It’s also a great time for birding. Not only does the rare Angola pitta make an appearance during the wet season, but termite mounds erupt with newly hatched bugs, and all kinds of bird species—including migratory birds and eagles—arrive for the feast.