With shorter days creeping in and woolly hats coming out, there’s no denying that a change of season is on the way. What better to beat the winter blues than escaping the cold weather altogether? Here, we’ve picked 6 of the best winter sun destinations.
Winter is the dry season in Cuba, and the risk of hurricanes dramatically tails off at the end of November, leaving reliably hot, mostly clear and sunny days.
Winter sun destinations abound in this fascinating country, but we’d head to Viñales in Pinar del Río, Cuba’s westernmost province. This village, a couple of hours’ drive from Havana, is set in a strikingly beautiful and serene valley, clustered with strange ancient limestone mounds. Formed 160-million years ago, they look, aptly, straight out of Jurassic Park.
Life in the village itself runs at a slow pace and retains a strongly traditional feel. A few minutes walk out of town takes you to rust-coloured fields and tobacco plantations where farmers’ wives will show you how cigars are rolled.
Around 5km north of town lie the once-indigenous dwellings of Cueva del Indio, a network of caves with an assortment of ancient carvings viewable on boat rides through the underground river.
A day-trip out to nearby undeveloped beaches of Cayo Jutias or Cayo Levisa is a must, with several kilometres of flawless white-sand beaches and calm, turquoise waters lapping at the shore.
From November to April the Philippines basks in glorious weather, with typhoon season out of the way and warm but not unbearably hot, usually dry days.
The islands around El Nido and Coron in Palawan are set in blisteringly blue-turquoise waters and offer jaw-droppingly lovely jagged-edged coastlines.
The more accessible islands can be visited on day bangka boat trips, or you can venture into more remote areas on multi-day adventures in which you feast on freshly caught seafood, spend your days snorkelling through hidden coves and sunbathing on deserted beaches, as well as getting the chance to see how local fishing communities live in these isolated and undeveloped destinations.
Prepare your vocal chords, as you’ll be singing an awful lot of karaoke.
The southern Indian state of Kerala receives more rain per year than most other Indian states, but only a couple of rainy days a month from December to February.
With winter temperatures averaging in the late twenties, this is the perfect time to explore the tree-covered mountains or get to grips with palm-lined beaches on the 550km of gorgeous coastline interspersed with rice paddies, lagoons and enchanting canal backwaters.
Explore the European-style lanes of ex-colonial Fort Cochin and marvel at the elaborate costumes and martial-art-style dancing at an all-night Kathakali performance of gods and demons.
Head to the coast and watch fisherman taking in their haul on the unspoiled beaches around Varkala, and witness rural Keralan life in magnificent surroundings on an overnight backwaters cruise in a traditional wooden barge (kettu vallam) around Kollam or Alappuzha.
Experience all this accompanied by some of the finest – and hottest – curries on the planet.
Image by dreamstime.com: Uros Ravbar / Urosr
For those determined to escape the chilled northern-hemisphere climes, New Zealand offers relatively dry, warm weather right through its summer months (December to February).
Taste the excellent wines and craft beers of the Marlborough region before soaking up rays on the beaches around Nelson, or paddle a sea kayak around the golden beaches and lush greenery of Abel Tasman National Park and jump in the deep end in Kaikoura, where you can swim among hundreds of dolphins and fur seals.
Absorb the exciting post-earthquake creativity in Christchurch and check out the wildlife bonanza of the Otago Peninsula, where albatrosses, seals, sea lions and penguins abound.
Get your thrill-seeking fix in Queenstown, where you can jump off a bridge or out of a plane. Top it all off with a visit to what Rudyard Kipling called the “eighth wonder of the world”, on a hike through the heart of Fiordland National Park to the astonishingly beautiful Milford Sound.
For the ultimate mix of buzzing urban life and picturesque scenery, you can’t do much better than Cape Town. The city has an extraordinary location, with the renowned flat-topped massif of Table Mountain dominating the backdrop, the Atlantic Ocean sitting on its west side and the Indian Ocean to the east, where white-sand beaches are dappled with granite boulders.
Table Mountain drops sharply into the Atlantic seaboard, where you can spot whales and absorb astonishing views from spectacular coastal roads. The forested mountainous region of the Cape Peninsula stretches south in dramatic, craggy peaks for 40km (25 miles) to Cape Point.
There’s more natural splendour at the magnificent Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, plus delicious wines to be sampled at the Constantia estates, both easily accessed from the city centre; you might even make it back in time to check out the city’s pumping nightlife.
A lighthouse on Fuerteventura at sunset by Michael Caven via Flickr (CC license)
A beach-bum’s paradise ideal for short breaks from mainland Europe, Fuerteventura, the second largest of the Canary Islands, has the longest beaches in the archipelago. Less than a hundred kilometres from Africa, the island’s winter temperatures hover around a pleasant 18°C, with two or three rainy days a month.
Rugged natural beauty abounds, with large inland plains dotted with whitewashed villages and volcanic peaks jutting out over the horizon. The island remains relatively undeveloped; the main tourist resorts of Corralejo in the north and Morro Jable in the south are refreshingly low-key when compared to their equivalents on Tenerife.
Fuerteventura is popular with wind- and kite-surfers, though less so in winter. Surfers, however, are drawn here year-round, with over a dozen different breaks over the island.
A trip here wouldn’t be complete without sampling the local goat’s cheese, majorero, with a uniquely nutty flavour and smooth texture.
Get more winter travel ideas with our lists of the best places to go in November, December, January and February. Compare flights, find tours, book hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.