10 Tropical Vacations That Will Cure Your Winter Woes
When the novelty of winter—cozy sweaters, hot chocolate, the holidays—wears out, the last thing you want to do is stick around for more gray and gloom. When that's the case, it's time to escape to somewhere warm and balmy, be it the Caribbean, French Polynesia, or even Europe. Below, 10 of our favorite warm winter vacations guaranteed to cure all cold-weather woes.
For obvious reasons, Fiji is a great choice if you're looking for some winter sun. Of the archipelago's 330 islands, only a third are inhabited; we suggest skipping more popular Mamanuca and Viti Levu and heading off the tourist path to the Yasawas, which feel more remote than other places in Fiji: tourists weren’t even allowed on these islands until 1987, and they still remain largely unspoiled by visitors (think flash-packing and mostly locally run accommodations versus big resorts). You won't miss leaving the Internet behind while visiting natural wonders such as the stunning Sawa-I-Lau Caves and surrounding turquoise seas, where you can kayak out to spot resident manta rays. Every stretch of sand here is beautiful, but some of the best are found at Yasawa Island Resort, a five-star property that counts 11 private beaches to its name in addition to a top-notch spa and guest rooms housed in charming bures (Fijian huts).
Riviera Maya, Mexico
If your ideal vacation involves staying on property and never having to lift a finger, consider booking a stay at Viceroy Riviera Maya, an adults-only resort in Playa del Carmen. Its all-inclusive package and activities include ceviche and tequila tastings as well as the opportunity to try a traditional Mayan sweat lodge ceremony, while he property’s thatched-roof villas come with outdoor showers, private decks, and a private plunge pool (though the team servicing the public pool—including a soap concierge and someone who polishes your sunglasses chair-side—makes a strong case for leaving your room). In other words, expect a lot of pampering, which is exactly what you need midwinter.
Vietnam’s beaches don’t get quite the attention like Thailand’s do, but those who are in on the secret know that just means there are miles of gorgeous sands unspoiled by tower-block hotels. Although the mainland has plenty of coastline to explore, we love the idea of taking a trip out to Phu Quoc Island and staying at Salinda—a five-star resort at three-star prices, where each room has a private balcony and there’s a next-level spa that makes a compelling case for tearing yourself away from the hotel’s private beach. When you want to explore further afield, the main island and night market are within easy reach, as is Phu Quoc National Park—home to great hornbills, dugongs, and old-growth mangrove forests. Bai Truong, also known as Long Beach, is on the west coast of the island and also worth a stop to swim in its crystal-clear waters, sail, drink coconut juice, or relax with a beachside massage.
Bora Bora, French Polynesia
Expensive it may be, but Bora Bora promises a luxurious vacation to remember. For an elegant treat, check into the Le Meridien, where you’ll be spoiled by iconic overwater bungalows, meals at Bora Bora’s first sushi joint, and hiking—with views to match—on Otemanu Mount. (Kids will love the daily turtle feeding, too.) Off the resort, the 18-mile island’s most popular beach is Matira, which is backed by a lush tropical landscape and has a seafloor that’s sandy and soft. Its Instagrammable sunsets are best enjoyed while having a drink from one of the beachside bars.
Although a fair few of Thailand's most famous beaches have become overrun with tourists (and sometimes quite a bit of seediness), there’s still off-the-radar shoreline to sun on: Koh Samui, Koh Lanta, and Koh Lipe are three of our favorites. Crowds tend to congregate on the eastern side of Koh Samui because of the area's proximity to the international airport, so we suggest heading north to Bo Phu, a fishing village with beautiful wooden houses that's just down the road from Belmond Napasai. Among this tranquil all-villa retreat's many perks are a yoga sky-deck, complimentary hobie cats and bicycles for exploring, a stunning infinity pool, and sea views from every guest room. South of overrun Krabi Town, Koh Lanta has nearly 17 miles of beaches popular for snorkeling; head to Relax Bay and its eponymous resort for delicious French and Thai food and Mu Ko Lanta National Park to explore networks of caves and mangroves. Hoping to go more remote? Koh Lipe, in the Andaman Sea, has become known as the “Maldives of Thailand”—its turquoise water and sky are interrupted only by white sand. Head straight to Sunrise Beach, which is beautiful both at sunrise and sunset.
Verdant terraced rice fields, ancient temples, perfect beaches—it's no wonder why Bali is called the "Land of the Gods." Bohemian-chic Ubud is a gateway to experiencing the island’s culture, whether that's taking a yoga class (Ubud Yoga House is excellent) or visiting museums like the Agung Rai Museum of Art, where you can see 19th-century Javanese and classical Kamasan paintings as well as traditional Legong dance performances. For even deeper immersion, personal butlers at Mandapa, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve can arrange everything from nature hikes to planting pice paddy seedlings to sessions with local healers. Is the beach calling? While Kuta is one of Bali's most well-known beach areas, it can be too much of a party town for guests who want a more calming holiday. Instead, head to Bukit peninsula, on Bali’s southernmost point, which is home to plenty of scenic sands including the iconic Balangan. Sanur is also a great day trip from Ubud: its beach is one of the more relaxed on Bali, and its charming downtown is full of art galleries, cafés, and cute spots to grab an island-fresh dinner—that is, if you aren't already planning on filling up at the Pasar Sindhu Night Market.
Moorea, French Polynesia
With its untrammeled beaches and lush volcanic mountain landscapes, Moorea, just 11 miles northwest of Tahiti, remains one of the most beautiful yet still under-the-radar islands in French Polynesia. Because there's no main city, visits here are all about spending as much time in nature: head to the beach (Temae, a bay with turquoise waters, is one of the loveliest); take a guided hike into the lush Pass of the Three Coconuts; or paddle over surrounding coral reefs on a glass-bottomed kayak. Be sure to grab lunch at A L’Heure du Sud, a food truck that serves great home-cooked proteins like tuna belly over salad and fish burgers. As for to where to lay your head, we love the Sofitel Moorea la Ora Beach Resort for its Zen-like spa and swim-up overwater bungalows.
Canary Islands, Spain
The Canary Islands are a big hit with Brits escaping their own winter, but don’t let the hordes of revelers put you off—there’s plenty of peace and quiet to be found. Gran Canaria and Tenerife, part of the western group of islands, each has secluded areas to escape to. Both beach bums and water sports enthusiasts love Tenerife's isolated La Tejita beach, near the Montaña Roja Nature Reserve, because of its ever-present winds and big swaths of sand. For even more action, Santa Cruz de Tenerife is the lively capital port city, with Spanish architecture and engaging museums like the Tenerife Espacio de las Artes, which contains a permanent exhibition on Óscar Domínguez, a Spanish Surrealist painter in line with Dalí and Miró. Time your visit right and you might even experience Carnival, which takes place in early February and is second in size and scope only to Rio de Janeiro.
If you’d prefer to stay in the U.S., the Hawaiian Islands are a great place to go to hide away from the gray, cold stretches of winter. On the north side of Kauai, you can take in mountain vistas while floating in the blue waters of the 15-mile-long Nā Pali Coast, accessible by either an 11-mile trail or boat (we love going with a tour like the Nā Pali Coast Kauai Snorkel and Sail). Consider a visit to Hanalei Town, a surf hub full of secluded beaches and an earthy, bohemian vibe. While you’re up north, seek out Anini Beach, which is one of the island’s safest to swim in during the winter and is home to some excellent snorkeling—keep an eye out for humuhumunukunukuapuaa, Hawaii’s state fish. For a place to crash, you can’t go wrong with the St. Regis, whose posh Princeville property is great for both couples and families.
Although this Dutch Caribbean island sits relatively close to the U.S., its year-round tropical climate makes it feel worlds away. Spend a couple of days exploring the capital of Willemstad, known for its brightly painted townhouses, Floating Market (vendors sail from Venezuela to sell here), and Dutch-style cafés. If water’s your priority, diving along the island’s west coast is especially excellent (though there’s a shipwreck just off the main pier in Willemstad for those who are extra-adventurous). For more rest and relaxation, Playa Lagun features a charming cove while Knip Beach is known for its sugar-white sand and stunning blue water—it’s been named one of the top 25 beaches in the world. We suggest spending your nights at the ultra-luxe Baoase, right on Mambo Beach, where you can participate in sunrise yoga on the sand before taking a dip in your Balinese-inspired villa's plunge pool.
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