Regions of the world like the Caribbean and the entire Mediterranean coast really start to heat up in May. Sunshine drenches the land and warms the sea to bathwater temperature. But it’s not so hot outside that you prefer to keep confined to the air-conditioned indoors.
In other words, May is way too nice for you to be stuck in an office.
But May is about more than pleasant temperatures—it’s a shoulder month. While the summer sun has come out, the summer crowds have yet to do the same. This means more for you at lower, off-season prices.
What’s not to love about that?
Traveling in May means nabbing some seriously good bargains on flights and accommodation before prices spike in the summer months. And saving money on travel and accommodation expenses will leave you with fistfuls of extra dollars to spend on international beers, questionable street foods and all the suntan lotion you’ll need.
So, rather than closing your eyes and pointing at a map to choose your next vacation (I did this once and landed in the North Sea) get to know May’s hotspots and make the most of your travels this month.
1. Canyoning in Croatia
This Mediterranean gem has some of the most beautiful landscapes on the continent. Read: lush, rolling hills interspersed with clear lakes, sparkling waterfalls and terracotta-roofed towns.
But, the country is more than just a beauty queen. Croatia is a hub for canyoning, an adventure activity that involves abseiling, swimming, climbing and hiking your way through a canyon.
At the ominously named Devil’s Passage you will abseil down waterfalls, hike over craggy rocks and dive into warm pools. The canyon is about 6.5 feet wide and 330 feet high. Just being there is enough take your breath away.
If you have time to kill after your canyoning adventure, go to Plitvice National Park. You’ll find turquoise lakes fed by dozens of magnificent waterfalls that topple over cliffs worn smooth over time. Not too bad, right?
There is a boardwalk that runs through the park, around the lakes and through the surrounding forests. You can either follow this all the way through the park or you can hire a rowing boat and navigate through the water. Or both if you have time. Finish the day with some local Croatian grub in nearby Zadar.
2. Scuba Dive in St. Lucia
Don’t think for one second that just because you’re in the Caribbean, you have to spend your whole vacation sitting on the beach. Although May does bring perfect lounge-on-the-beach-and-do-nothing weather so, in theory, you could.
But St. Lucia is overflowing with adventure activities, and some of the best are found not on the beach, but under the water. This little Caribbean island is a hotspot for scuba diving; the Anse Chastanet Reef is hailed as a favorite among divers.
The reefs around the island teem with tropical fish and colorful coral. If you’ve already got some diving experience, you can plunge down around 62ft and visit the Lesleen M shipwreck, a 165-foot freighter the Department of Fisheries sunk in 1986 to provide an artificial reef.
If you’d rather keep your feet on terra firma, however, then check out the Gros Piton Trail. This green mountain rises up out of the sea and is topped with a jagged point. The trail isn’t long, but it carves along the side of the mountain with an outrageous incline. The views are worth the sweat, shaky legs and tears when you get to the top though. And impressed St. Lucian locals nod those who’ve conquered the mountain.
3. Trek the Indrahar Pass in India
Situated way up in the North of India, near the border with Pakistan, is Dharamshala. The temperature here hovers in the mid to high 80s in May, which means it’s not as hot as it certainly could be.
In Dharamshala, the first thing you notice is its beauty. Cedar forests surround Dharamshala, a hill station, which sits at 4,900 feet above sea level. In the background, the snow-capped tips of the Himalayas peak up over the undulating hills. Back when the British colonists ruled India, this lofty region was used by the British to escape the heat of the cities.
One of the stand-out activities here is trekking the Indrahar Pass, and it is a challenge. The trek can last anything from four to 10 days depending on your speed and the route you take.
A highlight of the trek is a visit to the Lahesh Cave, a low but wide cave that is often used to shelter trekkers while they eat or sleep. From there, the path winds for several hours all the way to the Indrahar Pass. You’ll find panoramic views of the frosty peaks of the Dhauladhar Range. Just be aware that the pass is 14,100 feet above sea level, which means altitude sickness is common. Just in case, take some Diamox (acetazolamide) with you – this will combat the symptoms of altitude sickness.
The final part of the trek brings you back to Dharamshala, where you will be able to rest your weary legs and feast on mouth-watering Northern Indian cuisine. Dig into aloo gobi (potatoes, cauliflower, and Indian spices) at the Taste of India or feast on steamed momos (dumplings stuffed with spiced vegetables) at Shop Number 4.
4. Watching Planes Land on St. Maarten
Hurricane Irma almost completely annihilated St. Maarten in September 2017, and many worried that the famous Maho Beach, the superstar of the Eastern Caribbean, would be no more. Fortunately, the island has made an outstanding recovery thanks to both domestic and international relief efforts that brought this beautiful place back to life in just six months.
Maho Beach is famed for its proximity to the Princess Juliana International Airport—seriously, the runway virtually touches the beach. While this beach has all the appeals of a “regular” beach—golden sand, glistening sea, etc.—what really draws in the visitors is its perfect location for plane watching.
Planes come soaring in to land on the runway, almost shaving the tops of people’s heads as they descend. It’s hard to believe you can get that close to a plane in flight, but there are more than enough videos on YouTube to prove that it’s real.
Once you’ve had your thrills on Maho Beach, hop in a kayak and paddle for 25 minutes across the narrow stretch of water that separates St. Maarten from Pinel Island.
The beaches on Pinel Island are exceptional. Hiring your own kayak gives you the freedom to explore some of the more secluded beaches, and you can find your own spot to set up camp for the day.
5. Ride in a Hot Air Balloon in Turkey
If you don’t know what Cappadocia looks like, I recommend you Google it right now. Go on, I’ll wait.
Cappadocia is a vast, barren plain in Central Turkey peppered with incredible cone-shaped rock formations that have been named “fairy chimneys.” These fairy chimneys stretch out as far as the eye can see and seriously incredible.
The best way to fully take in the scenery at Cappadocia is to soar above it in a hot air balloon for panoramic, aerial views of the region. If you don’t like the idea of being suspended in the air, however, it’s still worth seeing—opt to walk or cycle around the site instead.
Meanwhile, in the West of the country is the remarkable natural wonder Pamukkale, a series of white pools, made from limestone and filled with aquamarine water. Here, you’ll be able to take a dip in the pool and explore the rugged landscape freely.
If you have time, combine a trip to Pamukkale with a visit to the nearby Hierapolis, an ancient Greek-Roman spa city resplendent with hot springs, temples, and a necropolis.
6. Watch Orangutans in Borneo
Animal lovers around the world most likely already have Borneo on their to-do lists. Those who don’t should add it now. Borneo is home to the critically endangered orangutan, and the few that still exist these days come out in full force in May.
Those who want to see orangutans before they become extinct can do so via an immersive jungle trek. In addition to spotting orangutans, you might also catch a glimpse of one of Borneo’s numerous endemic species, such as the proboscis monkey, the Borneo bay cat and the black-crowned pitta bird.
An alternative way to spend your time in Borneo is to pull on your hiking boots and climb to the top of the formidable Mount Kinabalu. The trek takes two days and leads you through lush jungle brimming with waterfalls, orchids and the cries of exotic birds. The climb is moderately hard due to the steep incline but well worth it for the sense of achievement when you reach the summit.
7. Follow the Salkantay Trail to Machu Picchu in Peru
Actually, no. The Salkantay Trail is a beautiful trail that carves through the Sacred Valley—just like the Inca Trail. Except that the Salkantay has three key differences: You don’t need to book in advance; you don’t need a guide, and it is completely free.
The Sacred Valley is perfect in May. The rainy season is over but the chill of winter (June to September) hasn’t yet settled in. This means you get clear, sunny days while you walk and mild evenings as you wild camp along the trail.
The whole journey takes between four and five days. You should expect to be walking for around six hours each day. Be sure to bring camping equipment with you (tents, sleeping bags, roll mats and more can be rented for a few dollars in Cusco) and plenty of food and water to keep you properly fed and hydrated for the entire journey.
Eventually, you will arrive at Aguas Calientes. That’s the base town where you will stay the night before heading up to Machu Picchu early the next day.
You can either walk up the mountain to get to Machu Picchu or take the bus. Just time your journey to arrive at the gates of Machu Picchu at 6 a.m. Then you can see the ruins before it gets packed. The locals at the entrance will put a cool Machu Picchu stamp on your passport, too.
Life is too short to spend your vacations at home and May is too beautiful a month not to travel. The key to living your best life is to be constantly on the lookout for adventure. And to occasionally do something that terrifies you. Traveling in May means you can do just that on a budget.
Which of these adventures has you putting your out of office on? Let us know in the comments!