Winter vacations. We need them to make it through the doldrums of the season. But sometimes you need some inspiration—some ideas that go beyond a quick jaunt to Miami. Fret not: There are plenty of warm-weather winter vacations that prove an ideal break from the icy weather.
How does it sound to be whisked away by helicopter in Belize to fly over the largest barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere? Or how about diving in the biggest ocean sinkhole in the world? And what about kayaking beneath the stars in a dazzling, glow-in-the-dark bioluminescent bay?
While cities like New York, Boston and San Francisco can be almost unbearable this time of year, many other far-flung regions of the world (and even destinations closer to home in the southern bounds of the U.S.) are home to much friendlier, sunnier days where you can indulge in a bevy of both adrenaline-pumping and relaxing adventures.
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You could hit the trails in Central America to explore volcano-clad parks and verdant jungles, or strap on your diving gear during a visit to one of South Asia’s ethereal private islands where white-sand beaches and vibrant coral reefs abound. Whether you’re eager to head to South America’s hippest surf town to catch epic waves at a point break beloved by big-wave surfer Ramón Navarro or ready to take a technology detox on a sunny Japanese island where your agenda calls for forest-bathing and dips in steamy hot spring pools, now is the time to use those airline miles you’ve been saving and book a ticket to sunnier skies.
Here, your guide to the best winter vacations—from Tahiti to Tanzania—that offer more than just a reprieve from the snow.
1. Paraglide in Valle de Bravo, Mexico
Located two hours west of Mexico City on Lake Avándaro and replete with picturesque cobblestone streets and terracotta adobe houses, the colonial town of Valle de Bravo is the perfect weekend retreat for an off-the-beaten-path adventure. An ideal stay begins at La Casa Rodaventro, a converted 20th-century family mansion set a short distance from Piedra Herrada sanctuary, where thousands of monarch butterflies fill the forest during their annual migration from November to March. In addition to watching this natural spectacle, travelers can climb to the top of the town’s famous
La Torre, or The Tower, where paragliders take a running start and glide off the mountain for an unmatched aerial view of the town and lake. Escajadillo / Shutterstock 2. Forest Bathing in Kyushu, Japan
On a journey with Oku Japan to Kyushi, the southwestern-most island in Japan, travelers can explore the landscape’s mountainous volcanoes, beaches, and natural hot springs. On the nearby island of Yakushima, hikers can mosey under giant cedar trees during day hikes, some of which are believed to be more than 1,000 years old; or partake in healing volcanic black sand bathing, called
suna-mushi, at Ibusuki Beach, just south of Japan’s most active volcano, Mount Aso. After a week of adventure, travelers can check into Sanga Ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn with therapeutic indoor-outdoor onsen hot spring baths perfect for recuperating tired muscles. Courtesy of Sanga Ryokan 3. Kayak in Vieques, Puerto Rico
Set on the highest point in Vieques, a secluded island off Puerto Rico’s eastern coast, is Finca Victoria, a farmhouse-style bed-and-breakfast specializing in Ayurvedic wellness. Set in the mountains with views of the ocean and countryside, a stay here is for travelers who crave a chance to slow down and enjoy the natural wonders of this Caribbean isle—with the added perk of homemade vegan and vegetarian cuisine. To get active, guests can set out on evening walks along the white-sand beaches, where wild horses roam free. You can also book moonlight kayak journeys through the mangroves of the bioluminescent Mosquito Bay.
Kristina_M / Shutterstock 4. Rock Climb in Tucson, AZ
Tuscon is an ideal desert outpost to run free in locations like The Loop, a 131-mile, car-free network of multi-use trails and paved paths. It’s known for its year-round sunshine, saguaro-and-sunset landscapes, and a bevy of outdoor adventures. For a more action-packed exploit, travelers can head straight to Mt. Lemmon, a 9,000-foot peak in the Santa Catalina Mountains with more than 2,700 climbing routes ranging from single-pitch clip-ups to multi-pitch traditional routes. After, travelers can find respite at the secluded Posada by The Joshua Tree House, located on the border of Saguaro National Park West.
Charles T. Peden / Shutterstock 5. White Water Rafting in Costa Rica
Set adjacent to the Arenal Volcano National Park, a rainforest oasis home to 16 nature reserves within 504,094 acres, Nayara Tented Camp is one of the first luxury camps of its kind to open in Costa Rica. Built in the style of luxury canvas lodges in Africa, the property’s 29 air-conditioned suites—built at a high altitude on the hillside to provide unobstructed views of the volcano—offer travelers a chance to immerse themselves in the park’s myriad activities. Though the property offers naturalist-led adventures like visits to a sloth sanctuary and early-morning bird-watching walks, thrill-seekers should head straight to the park’s Balsa River to navigate over six miles of white water rapids.
Parkol / Shutterstock 6. Snorkel in the Maldives
Located in the Arabian Sea of the Indian Ocean, the Maldives—a small island nation in South Asia—is an aquatic oasis known for its unrivaled white sand beaches spread amidst the country’s 1,200 ethereal islands. Set on its own private island and with a strict, barefoot-only code, Soneva Jani is the ultimate stay for traveler’s seeking a thrill. Each villa at the overwater resort is equipped with slides that funnel directly into the turquoise waters. This outpost is all about soft adventures, where guests can snorkel with the resort’s on-site marine biologist.
Courtesy of Soneva Jani 7. Heli-Dive in Belize
Belize’s thick rainforest—peppered with Mayan archaeological sites—and stunning white beaches open to teeming reefs. It’s perched in the eastern edge of Central America and boasts a paradisiacal coastline set against the crystal-clear Caribbean Sea. On a luxury holiday to the country, Black Tomato can arrange a stay at the 25-room seafront Turtle Inn in Placencia, an ideal base for the ultimate aquatic adventure. Travelers will take a helicopter ride over the largest barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere to arrive in the Turneffe Islands. Here, you can dive the dazzling Blue Hole, the largest ocean sinkhole in the world.
Globe Guide Media Inc / Shutterstock 8. Surf in Pichilemu, Chile
Set three hours west from Santiago along Chile’s Pacific Coast is the under-the-radar surfer’s haven: Pichilemu. Fans of the sport can opt for a stay at Hotel Alaia, an intimate seaside property with 12 private bungalows and a convivial, surf-inspired lounge offering floor-to-ceiling views of the coast’s endless wave, named
el diamante (or the diamond). Seasoned surfers can suit up and head straight to the left-handed point break at Punta de Lobos, which first garnered notoriety as a favorite spot of Chilean local and big-wave surfer Ramón Navarro. Courtesy of Hotel Alaia 9. Dive on Pemba Island, Tanzania
The experts at Deeper Africa know how to plan a sunny escape to the Tanzanian island of Pemba, where tropical, white-sand beaches and offbeat adventures await. Set in the heart of the Zanzibar archipelago, the island’s warmest months occur from January to March (the average is around 90° F). The secluded island is best enjoyed during a stay at Manta Resort, a partially underwater retreat set on a three-story, floating structure. Though kayaking, kiteboarding, and sandbank safaris are all on the adventure menu, divers will relish suiting up to explore the island’s untouched coral reefs in the warm azure waters. Sightings of bottlenose dolphins, butterflyfish, and sea stars await.
Courtesy of The Manta Resort 10. Coral Gardening in Moorea
Set northwest of Tahiti is the heart-shaped island of Moorea—a tropical escape with two ethereal bays filled with lush vegetarian, pineapple fields, rivers, and waterfalls. Travelers can book a stay at the contemporary Manava Beach Resort and Spa, Moorea, home to 90 rooms and bungalows and a sleek infinity pool, or at Moorea Beach Lodge, an intimate 12-room guesthouse set on the sea. During a visit, travelers can adopt coral with local organization The Coral Gardeners. An eco-tour culminates with the opportunity for guests to plant their own coral cuttings in an effort to revive the ocean’s biodiversity.
Courtesy of Manava Beach Resort & Spa Moorea 11. Hike in the Aeolian Islands in Sicily
You’ll find the volcanic island of Lipari in the heart of the Aeolian Islands, nestled in the Tyrrhenian Sea, north of Sicily. It’s the largest of its kind in the seven-island archipelago. Home to bubbling hot springs and active volcanoes, steaming fumaroles and hydrothermal activity can be seen everywhere on the island. The area was once a hub for trading obsidian in antiquity; today, it’s beloved for its ample adventure opportunities. Boutique travel company Tourissimo can create the ultimate itinerary, starting with a stay at the whitewashed Cutimare Hotel, a great base to enjoy the island on foot along the Cave di Caolino trail. The path snakes along an ancient quarry and beyond the thermal spring of San Calogero, ending at the vineyard Cantina Tenuta Castellaro, where you can enjoy a glass of vino and catch the sunset.
silky / Shutterstock 12. Horseback Ride in Mancora, Peru
Though most travelers are enticed to Peru thanks to Cusco’s high-altitude hikes leading to the illustrious ancient Incan fortress of Machu Picchu, the country is also host to an under-the-radar adventure haven along it’s lunar-like northwest coast. Naya Traveler knows how to plan the ultimate journey to Mancora, a once-sleepy fishing village that’s slowly gaining notoriety amongst the adventure set thanks to its perpetual sunshine, wild beachscapes, and nearly perfect point break. Travelers can settle into Kichic—an adult-only boutique hotel that lulls travelers into tranquility with linen-draped canopy beds, intimate shaded nooks, outdoor baths, and the relaxing sound of the ocean surf at night—before embarking on sunset horseback rides and surf lessons along the coast.
Elisa Locci / Shutterstock 13. Hike in St. Lucia
Marked by the Pitons, a tapered mountain range on the island’s west coast, St. Lucia is an oasis tucked within the eastern Caribbean island. Travelers can make their base at Sugar Beach, A Viceroy Resort, a verdant oasis tucked within 100 acres of rainforest on the site of a former 18th-century sugar plantation. For an adventurous thrill, outdoor enthusiasts can lace up their boots and skip a hike in the Pitons for Mount Gimie, a strenuous, somewhat technical day hike through dense rainforest that will land adventurers atop the highest peak of the entire island.
Delray Beach Photog / Shutterstock 14. Cycle in Jose Ignacio, Uruguay
Barefoot luxury and adventure merge on Uruguay’s Golden Riviera, a glamorous stretch of unspoiled coastline where picturesque beaches await. Free of crowds and often traffic-free, the best way to explore Uruguay’s windswept coast is by bike. On a trip with DuVine Cycling + Adventure Co, a journey begins near Punta del Este—where surfers wait in earnest for swells—and continues along the coastal trail to the ultra-bohemian José Ignacio, the official cool-kid hangout of the country. During a stay in one of Bahia Vik’s luxurious waterfront bungalows, sunset strolls on the beach and dips in an infinity pool offer a refreshing wind-down from a day in the saddle.
Ksenia Ragozina / Shutterstock 15. Soak in Sea Pools in Virgin Gorda
The third-largest island of the British Virgin Islands, Virgin Gorda is a tropical oasis rich with rolling hills, secluded coves, and white sand beaches. Visiting one of the Caribbean’s most coveted destinations, travelers are privy to island-hopping, snorkeling, and diving—but the most renowned of all is a visit to Baths National Park, which showcases natural sea pools formed by granite boulders. For a dose of luxury, travelers can find refuge at Rosewood Little Dix Bay, a newly renovated, 80-room property situated across 500 acres of pristine beachfront property.
BlueOrange Studio / Shutterstock
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