The months of September and October might not be obvious times to go away – but for destinations when these months fall between off season and peak season, it can mean cheaper flights, fewer crowds and even better weather. We’ve done the hard graft for you, so all you need to do is book…
1. Cape Town
September and October are the perfect months to head to South Africa’s cultural capital. With the rainy season over, the temperature rests around 24°C and the landscape surrounding the city is lush and verdant. Better still, once you’ve explored the art-filled city centre, there are fewer tourists competing for the best spots on the wildlife-watching trips that are obligatory for a visitor to South Africa.
Head to the horseshoe-shaped False Bay just south of Cape Town for your best chances of seeing southern right whales and, with a bit of luck, humpbacks. They migrate from Antarctica to the South African coast to raise their young before leaving again around November. Drive an hour and a half to the seaside town Hermanus for its whale festival on 27-29 September – peak time for whale activity on the coastline, as well as enjoying festivities on dry land.
South Africa’s peak tourist season starts in November, and you can expect elevated prices and busy national parks from then. Visit parks like Sanbona Wildlife Reserve and Aquila Private Game Reserve, both an easy drive from Cape Town, for a chance to see the Big Five without having to compete for the view. Set your sights on Inverdoorn Game Reserve for guided walks with giraffes or to marvel at the cheetahs in its well-known rehabilitation programme.
Stay: A stone’s throw from the lively Greenmarket Square, boutique four-star The Grand Daddy offers stylish rooms, free newspapers in the lobby and a rooftop bar. From £61.
2. Mexico City
Peak season in Mexico starts in December – and there’s a reason why the dry season, from then until April, is the time when travellers flock to its scorching Caribbean coast and into the less-humid jungles of Chiapas. Yet, September and October are the cheapest months to visit, and though the risk of rain is greater, it clears the air in Mexico City, which can feel oppressively polluted at other times of the year. It’s also cooler, which can work in your favour for ticking off the capital’s cultural highlights.
Enjoy the fact that the city’s less crowded on a tour of the central districts. You’ll find artisan-roasted coffee from Oaxaca and stone-baked pizzas in the Cafetería La Privada Roja in San Rafael, and hidden speakeasys in Juárez. Browse first editions and rare novels at the El Laberinto bookstore in the Historic Centre and take a ride in a traditional trajinera boat in Xochimilco – the UNESCO-protected ‘Little Venice’ of Mexico City.
Then, of course, 31 October marks the beginning of three days of Day of the Dead celebrations. Activities range from quiet candlelit ceremonies in cemeteries to huge parades of skeletal costumes (think of the opening scene of the James Bond movie Spectre). Take a night-time boat ride through the canals, have your face painted and raise a tequila to honour the dead.
Stay: Budget-friendly Hotel Isabel has an ideal downtown location just 10 minutes’ walk from the Plaza de la Constitución, and a terracotta-painted, pot-plant-filled rooftop. From £21.
India’s monsoon season brings floods and mayhem, but the beginning of the dry season in December also means pricey flights and big crowds of tourists. The months of September and October make a great middle ground, when the rains are over but the throngs of visitors haven’t yet descended on the already-chaotic city.
Lush from the recent heavy rains, the island of Gharapuri (better known as Elephanta Island) is a must-visit spot at this time of year. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site thanks to its labyrinth of Hindu temples carved into the cave rocks. Take the hour-long ferry from the Gateway of India, which costs less than £2 for a return ticket, and be on guard against the pesky monkeys on the walk up the stairway to the caves. It’s all worth it when you come face to face with the six-metre-tall statue of the three-faced Shiva at the top, his eyes closed in serene contemplation.
Back in the city, enjoy balmy evenings like the locals do, with a walk along Girgaum Chowpatty beach. Grab a bhelpuri (puffed rice with lentils and chutney) from a street food stall and dig your toes into the sand (just don’t swim in the polluted water). If you happen to be here on 2 September, it’s the focal point of the bustling and joyful Ganesh Chaturthi festival, when a giant statue of Ganesh is submerged in the Arabian Sea.
Stay: Close to Chowpatty is the clean and functional RK Hotel, known for its welcoming staff who take good care of the guests occupying the 30 rooms and offer 24-hour room service. From £48.
Morocco’s Red City is just that in summer – red-hot, with temperatures nearing 40°C in August. Locals welcome the relief of September and October, when it’s still hot and dry, but pleasant for sightseeing and sunbathing poolside as a tourist. It mirrors the climate of the country’s peak season, in April and May, but without the throngs of half-term visitors and the prices that come with them.
Take the opportunity to soak in Marrakech’s diverse cultural offerings without having to elbow your way through the crowds. Wander through the souks and haggle over spices and babouche leather slippers; tuck into lamb tagine in the Jemaa el Fnaa; sip mint tea at one of the city’s many rooftop bars (try Kosybar) to the lilting sound of the call to prayer. Then there are the galleries and museums to tick off: the magnificently tiled Dar Si Said, home to the Museum of Moroccan Arts, the much-celebrated Musée Yves Saint Laurent, dedicated to the French fashion designer who had a lifelong love affair with the city, and the Berber Museum, set within the beautiful, blue-painted Majorelle Garden.
September’s become a particularly good time to venture to Marrakech now that it hosts Oasis – an electro festival held at The Fellah Hotel on 13-15 September, with a line-up to rival its big Croatian competitors.
Stay: The beautiful, three star Riad Faiza and Spa is around the corner from the Dar Si Said and is built around a central, white-arched courtyard in the traditional style. From £43.
As soon as summer comes to an end, there are three words on the lips of every visitor to the world’s most northerly capital: the Northern Lights. In the thin upper atmosphere above Iceland, electronically charged particles from the sun create ‘auroral belts’, which appear in a flame-like pattern of green, pink or white lights in the sky. From September onwards, the nights are long and dark – and while the sky is darkest in mid-winter, it’s also more likely to be overcast from November onwards, meaning there’s a clear-sky window for the best aurora activity in late September and early October.
Light pollution in Reykjavik means getting out of the city gives you the best view of any light formations that might occur. Reynisvatn Lake, by the city limits, is a little-known secluded spot. Or, walking distance from the city centre is Öskjuhlíð hill, surrounded by woodland. Then there’s the Grótta Lighthouse overlooking the ocean, which makes a dramatic and romantic stage for the display.
But thankfully there’s more to the Icelandic capital than the Northern Lights, which can disappoint visitors by not showing up regardless of the time of year. With fewer crowds than in the warmer months, Autumn brings with it Iceland’s biggest film festival, RIFF (26 September-6 October), as well as Oktoberfest celebrations in September.
Stay: The chic and central Kex Hostel is a five-minute drive from Reykjavik Harbour and offers an airport shuttle, a funky bar and a sunny terrace. From £95.
Dreaming of an autumnal getaway? Make the most of the more affordable shoulder season, and start browsing flights.