With the recent freezing conditions in many parts of the United States, especially in the east of the country, many of you are likely already planning (or wishing for) an escape from the frigid temperatures and wintry weather. No doubt it is long stretches of warm sand and palm trees that fill your daydreams, but if beaches aren’t your thing – or if you’re looking for something more adventurous this winter – there are many other types of exotic locations out there waiting for you.
Not that there’s anything wrong with a beach vacay, mind you! We’ll be offering some recommendations there as well, but for something a little different this winter, we’re going to explore three additional categories: mountain, desert and city. And to make things even more interesting, we’re going to offer three destinations ranging from close, not so close, to far flung locales. Locations will range from within the United States to across the globe and will be need to fulfill three key criteria:
- Be either a beach, mountain, desert or city destination.
- Be warm.
- Be warm right now!
Let’s get started!
With sunny days and temperatures from the high 60s to the 80s, Belize is the perfect tropical winter escape. Whether you want to laze on pristine, palm-fringed beaches, dive world-renowned sites like the Great Blue Hole, visit fascinating Mayan ruins, explore jungles or take an underworld spelunking expedition, Belize has it all. And with direct flights from many major cities, Belize is an easy getaway to recharge your batteries.
Not So Close: Hawaii
Whether you choose to visit just one island or a few, you really can’t go wrong with a trip to Hawaii. Home to the world’s most active volcanoes, azure waters and lush, green valleys, Hawaii offers one island paradise after another, with winter temps in the high 70s to low 80s. For a quick trip you could choose The Big Island, Maui or Kauai, or if you have more time, make your Hawaiian vacation into an island hopping epic. With stunning beaches ranging from golden to black sands, a range of ocean adventures from surfing, diving to fishing, and a huge array of sea life to discover, there is a beach – and likely hundreds more – made just for you in Hawaii.
Far Flung: Bora Bora
This small French Polynesian island may be a long way to travel for a beach vacation, but it’s worth every minute. With bungalows built on stilts over the coral-filled turquoise lagoon in luxury resorts like the Four Seasons, you can wake up with an underwater paradise literally under your feet. When you get tired of exploring the tropical waters, there are miles of unspoiled beaches for some R&R or 4×4 safaris to explore the lush island interior. But let’s face it, the chances of you getting sick of swimming, sunbathing and sipping cocktails is pretty slim.
Close: Costa Rica
Although as well known for its beaches as its rugged rainforests, mountains and volcanoes, Costa Rica is a hiking mecca and the ideal place for a mountain getaway during the North American winter season. Not only is it the dry season here, it’s also low on crowds, allowing the intrepid traveler a chance to truly lose themselves in nature. From hanging bridges to cloud forests and mountain summits, Costa Rica has a trail for every kind of hiker. For the best biodiversity there’s Corcovado National Park with a plethora of hiking trails in tropical rainforest teeming with wildlife. Peak baggers need look no further than Mount Chirripo, the highest mountain in Costa Rica at 12, 500 feet (although be sure to plan in advance as reservations are required for this national park). And for those who would rather drink a beer on the beach while looking at the mountains and being entertained by spider monkeys, Costa Rica’s a great destination for you too.
Not So Close: Patagonia, Argentina/Chile
With December to February offering the mildest weather, this is the perfect time for exploring the rugged peaks, glaciers and fjords of Patagonia’s dramatic, unforgiving wilderness. One of the ultimate destinations for thrill-seekers, Patagonia offers a myriad of outdoor adventures from mountaineering and rock climbing to trekking, mountain biking, horse riding to wildlife expeditions. Not for the faint of heart, this remote Chilean-Argentinian terrain will test your endurance, but reward you with heart-stopping scenery at every turn.
Far Flung: The Southern Alps, New Zealand
If you’ve seen the Lord of the Rings trilogy, then you have a pretty good idea what The Southern Alps of New Zealand has in store for you. Spanning the length of the South Island, the mountain range forms a natural divide with hundreds of peaks and glaciers. Much of the range is designated as protected national parks, with some of the more notable being Mount Aspiring and Aoraki/Mount Cook. Winter in the United States is summertime down under, making it the perfect time for sightseeing. Whether you hike, drive, heli-tour – or a combination of all three – there is dramatic scenery to be found from Christchurch to the Fiordland, and action-packed towns like Queenstown, Wanaka and Te Anau make great bases for exploring the heart of the Alps.
Close: Palm Springs, CA
A desert resort city with winter daytime temperatures in the 70s, it’s easy to understand why this is a popular destination during the cold months. For nature lovers there’s the vast Joshua Tree National Park, craggy Indian Canyons and San Jacinto Mountain, which can be explored by car, 4WD jeep tours or on foot. For those who prefer to soak up the desert sun in the comfort of Palm Springs, there’s plenty of poolside sunbathing, swimming, golf, and alfresco dining to enjoy. With direct flights from hubs across the country, this is a no-brainer for those looking for a sun-filled long weekend.
Not So Close: Dubai
Known more for its uber-modern architecture, high-end shopping and nightlife than the deserts that surround it, this United Arab Emirates skyscraper city offers an exciting mix of old and new. From man-made islands with luxury resorts like the Atlantis, The Palm, to marine parks and iconic fountains, towers and malls, you could easily spend your whole time enjoying the luxury of the city and its balmy waters without ever setting foot in the desert. For those looking to explore farther afield though, there are a host of tour companies offering sunrise, evening and overnight desert safari trips. With activities including 4X4 sand dune “bashing”, quadbike riding, sand boarding and camel rides, there’s more to do than you might think in the Dubai Desert.
Far Flung: The Outback, Australia
It doesn’t get much more remote than the Australian Outback, and if hot temperatures are what you’re after, you’ll get those in spades here as well. With temperatures soaring up to 100 degrees in the Australian summertime, this is not the most pleasant time of year to visit, but it does offer the attraction of less crowds, and with good planning you can still enjoy everything the red center has to offer. From the famous Uluru, which can be experienced in luxury-style glamping at exclusive resort basecamps to the soaring sandstone walls of Kings Canyon, you can experience the beauty of this remote location by day or night, with daytrips in air-conditioned comfort and nighttime stargazing tours. Just be sure to plan a few days at one of Australia’s beach destinations to cool off afterwards.
Close: New Orleans, LA
While Mardi Gras is indeed a fun time in the Crescent City, you don’t have to wait for the festival of the year to visit NOLA. The home of jazz, rich (and plentiful) cuisine and seemingly endless celebrations, there’s always a good time to be had. With infamous Creole architecture and haunting cemeteries from the quaint French Quarter to the elegant Garden District and beyond, there is a lot to explore. Ride the streetcar, join a second line; explore gardens, parks and squares, and throw down on Bourbon: just be sure to eat your way around the city as you do it. There are many luxury, historic hotels in the quarter to rest your weary head and for those looking for a slower pace, cruises on the mighty Mississippi and plantation tours are also on offer. And if you happen to time your winter trip with Mardi Gras – “laissez les bon temps rouler”!
Not So Close: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
If New Orleans isn’t quite warm enough to quash your winter blues, swap Mardi Gras for Carnaval and head to Rio de Janeiro to lap up the Brazilian summertime. Enjoy daytime highs in the 80s and spend your days working on your tan at Rio’s infamous Ipanema and Copacabana beaches, overlooked by Sugarloaf Mountain and the iconic 125 foot-tall Christ the Redeemer. If you’re looking for an exotic city destination filled with beautiful people, music and an amazing nightlife, with the added bonus of white-sandy beaches and lush rainforests, then the city of Samba and Carnaval might be for you.
Far Flung: Cape Town, South Africa
Nestled under the towering Table Mountain National Park, Cape Town is a visually stunning destination. Flanked on one side by the over 3,000 foot flat-topped mountain, the stark Devil’s Peak and Lion’s head on the other, and the rugged spine of Cape Peninsula jutting out 25 miles to the south, mountains form a dramatic backdrop for this city that seems to almost tumble into the sea. In addition to natural wonders, Cape Town offers a tantalizing landscape of cultures and cuisines, with the multicultural inhabitants bringing their own unique flavors to this most fascinating city. Our winter is a great time to visit, when Cape Town is less crowded and average temperatures reach the high 70’s. For those looking to get their adrenalin pumping during their stay, there’s surfing, paragliding and the legendary great white shark cage diving tours, just to name a few adventures on offer.
So there you have it. No matter what you’re into, there’s a winter escape, near or far, just waiting to be discovered.