11 sunny spots to spend a winter holiday
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The idea of a winter wonderland gets old fast in many parts of the world. White, powdery snow turns to icy slush; a steaming mug of hot cocoa no longer comforts; you catch a winter cold, the flu, cabin fever or worse when you’re trapped inside during a polar vortex.
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So why not plan a winter holiday relaxing in the warm sunshine, instead? From California to Colombia, the Caribbean, Africa and Europe, here are 11 destinations around the world where you can enjoy a sun-filled cold weather escape. But before you book that trip, check for any travel restrictions if you’re traveling outside of the U.S. And make sure you have a plan to get your COVID-19 test before coming to the U.S., and have a plan in case the worst happens and you get sick on your trip.
Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain
Getting there: Tenerife has two international airports — Tenerife Norte (TFN) and Tenerife Sur (TFS). As each of their names suggests, Norte is located in the north of the island in the capital of Santa Cruz. The Sur airport is located near the southern tip of the island, closer to popular resort areas such as Los Cristianos, Playa de las Americas and the Costa Adeje.
United Airlines has unveiled an expansion of transatlantic routes, including service from Newark, New Jersey to Tenerife Sur airport three times per week. The route launches on June 9, 2022, aboard a Boeing 757-200. Other carriers from the U.S. with flights include Iberia, Air Europa and Tap Air Portugal. Visitors coming from European destinations can catch flights on carriers including British Airways, Ryanair, Air Europa, EasyJet, Vueling, Tap Portugal, Jet 2 and SAS.
Where to stay: Marriott loyalists should consider the Ritz-Carlton Abama (Category 6, requiring 40,000-60,000 points per night) or the Sheraton La Caleta (Category 5, requiring 30,000-40,000 points per night). Both offer gorgeous views of the sea, with amenities such as saltwater pools and fitness centers.
Further reading: Your vacation guide to Tenerife, Canary Islands
Getting there: Located on the far west side of Jamaica, you’ll need to fly into Montego Bay Airport (MBJ) and then take a two-hour drive to get to Negril. You can fly on Southwest, Delta, American, JetBlue, Frontier, United and Spirit from the U.S. Get from Europe to the island flying British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, Condor and TUI Fly.
Where to stay: In October 2021, Marriott announced an agreement with Sunwing Travel Group’s Blue Diamond Resorts that added 20 properties to the Autograph collection, including the Category 7 adults-only Hideaway at Royalton Negril. The hotel, located right on the beach, features gourmet cuisine, craft cocktails, water sports, fitness programs, yoga on the beach or mixology classes beside the pool. If you want to bring the kids, then consider the all-inclusive Beaches Negril, located on the famous Seven Mile Beach. Enjoy a club for teens and tweens, the Pirates Island Waterpark, 10 restaurants, scuba and diving, tennis or take a dip in one of three freshwater pools or three whirlpools.
Further reading: Reopening guide to Jamaica for tourists
Senior news editor Clint Henderson went to Belize in December when Alaska Airlines added flights from Los Angeles and Seattle on Nov. 29, 2021. Everyone in the country speaks English and accepts U.S.dollars for payment. If you’re a diver or like to snorkel, a visit to Ambergris Caye, a 25-mile-long island off the coast of northern Belize, is a must-visit. The Cayo District features ancient Mayan sites, gorgeous sunsets, verdant jungles and the ancient Mayan ruin Xunantunich. Note that Belize still enforces a nightly curfew from 9 p.m. until 4 a.m. and is serious about everyone wearing masks.
Getting there: Flights to Belize City’s Philip Goldson International Airport (BZE) are operated by American Airlines, British Airways, United, Qatar Airways, Southwest Airlines, Delta, Alaska Airlines and KLM.
Where to stay: You’ll need to stay at one of the country’s full-service hotels or resorts that have received the Belize Tourism Gold Standard Certificate of Recognition (a full list is here). Henderson stayed at the Gaia Riverlodge in the forest of the Cayo District, which features rooms, casitas, villas and suites, all with either garden, mountain or waterfall views.
This island nation, off the southeast coast of Africa in the Indian Ocean, is known for its white sandy beaches, crystal clear blue water and lush, relaxing vibes. It’s a more affordable option than the comparable destinations such as the Maldives and Seychelles.
Getting there: Mauritius is amazingly easy to reach from the U.S. and Europe. And a big plus is once you land, you’re there — you don’t have to take a seaplane or speedboat to get to your hotel. Airlines flying to Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam International Airport (MRU) include Air Mauritius, Iberia, British Airways, Turkish Airlines, Air France, Kenya Airways and Saudia.
Where to stay: Options include the Hilton Mauritius Resort & Spa and the Heritage Le Telfair Golf & Wellness Resort, a member of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World group. There are also three Marriott properties: The JW Marriott Mauritius Resort (Category 7, 50,000-70,000 points per night); The Westin Turtle Bay Resort & Spa, Mauritius (Category 5, 30,000-40,000 points per night) and Le Méridien Ile Maurice (Category 4, 20,000-30,000 points per night).
There’s no better time to visit places including the Exumas, Rum Cay and New Providence, which are open for business as usual. Traveling to these places will help the country rebuild the other more damaged islands such as Abaco and Grand Bahama.
Travelers who visit the Bahamas during the holiday season can celebrate life alongside the locals from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1 during the Junkanoo Festival, a Carnival-style affair with parades, dancing and music, all performed in colorful costumes and masks. Or you can just enjoy all the typical Bahamas tourist activities, such as lounging on the beach, snorkeling or (responsibly) swimming with pigs.
Getting there: Sun Country launched direct routes between Minneapolis–St. Paul (MSP) and Nassau (NAS) in 2019. East Coasters should use British Airways Avios to fly to Nassau from Philadelphia (PHL), Miami (MIA) and Charlotte (CLT) (about 15,000 points in economy or 30,000 in business round-trip).
Where to stay: The hotel megacomplex Baha Mar in Nassau houses the Grand Hyatt, the SLS and the Rosewood. While you’ll be able to stay at the family-friendly Grand Hyatt for just 20,000 points per night, the SLS may be best for couples, and the Rosewood is the most exclusive of the three.
Further reading: Best points hotels in the Caribbean
This country is a popular tourist destination for travelers, served by its two largest airports Punta Cana (PUJ) and Santo Domingo (SDQ), with each destination offering something different. Enjoy activities including white sand beaches, outdoor adventures, wildlife, diving and snorkeling. Instagram Live Q&A With Benét guest Jose Duran shared his love of the Samaná Peninsula, an off-the-beaten-path beach on the east side of the island about a three-hour drive from Santo Domingo.
Punta Cana has plenty to offer if you feel like getting out of your hotel. Since the country is too warm for snow, locals create, display and sell snow-inspired charamicos, or carved wooden decorations painted white. You can also take a day trip to nearby Saona Island, covered in lush mangroves and white sand beaches.
Getting there: JetBlue, American Airlines, Alaska Airlines, Frontier Airlines and Delta Air Lines fly to the island. Other carriers include Avianca, Copa Airlines, Qatar Airways, Emirates, KLM and British Airways.
Where to stay: The all-inclusive Hyatt Ziva and Zilara Cap Cana resorts are great options with family and adults-only options. The Hilton La Romana has separate adult and family-friendly sections, the luxury InterContinental Hotels Real Santo Domingo in the city’s Colonial Zone and the Category 6 The Westin Puntacana Resort & Club, a gated beachfront hotel, are also good options.
Further reading: How to book a trip to the Dominican Republic using points and miles
Palm Springs, California
If winter in the low 70s sounds like a dream, head to Palm Springs, California — no passport needed. Palm Springs has many local businesses such as coffee shops, movie theaters, grocery stores and restaurants for visitors, so there’s plenty to do in addition to hanging out by the pool.
Palm Springs is known for its 125 world-class golf courses, a hike to a desert oasis complete with a 50-foot waterfall in Tahquitz Canyon, fantastic midcentury modern architecture, the Palm Springs Art Museum and a ride on the famous Palm Springs Aerial Tramway that offers 360-degree views of the Coachella Valley.
Getting there: Airlines serving Palm Springs International Airport (PSP) include Air Canada, Air Canada Rouge, Alaska Airlines, Allegiant, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Frontier Airlines, JetBlue, Southwest Airlines, Sun Country, United Airlines and WestJet.
Where to stay: While Palm Springs has plenty of luxury hotels, you may also find that home or villa rentals can be the right choice, especially if you’re traveling with a group. With amenities such as barbecue areas and pools, you’ll have your own private space to celebrate the holidays.
Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
Whether it’s soaking up the sunshine or having cultural experiences, Cabo offers the best of both worlds in winter. Warm temperatures and sunshine make beach visits a dream, and whale watching season in the Sea of Cortez on Baja’s eastern shore officially started Dec. 15. Cabo San Lucas beaches come in a wide variety, including swimming, surfing, snorkeling and ones that are perfect for a long sunset stroll, but where the surf is too dangerous for swimming. Médano Beach, which extends from the Cabo San Lucas harbor east to Villa del Palmar, is considered one of the safest for swimming.
If you’re looking for adventure, Cabo, Happy Flights, Para Mex and Baja’s Watersports are among the many outfitters offering paragliding and parasailing. Sport fishing put Cabo on the map, and the town well deserves its nickname as the Marlin Capital of the World. The Cabo area features several ziplining adventures that take advantage of the peninsula’s dramatic inland topography of deep desert canyons.
Getting there: Flying into San Jose del Cabo Airport (SJD) is fairly easy — you can do so nonstop on a variety of airlines such as United, Alaska, Southwest, American and Delta from several U.S. hubs. For Canadian TPG readers, low-cost carrier Swoop just launched a route in November from Edmonton International Airport (YEG) to Cabo.
Where to stay: The Zadún, a Ritz Carlton Reserve is an ultra-luxurious tropical escape perched over the Sea of Cortez that will cure all your winter blues. Unfortunately, Ritz-Carlton Reserve properties aren’t part of the Bonvoy program, which means you can’t earn or spend points there. If it’s a points hotel you’re after, the Waldorf Astoria Los Cabos Pedregal has rooms with private plunge pools and fireplaces. December rates start at $790, or 120,000 Hilton Honors points per night. There’s all-inclusive Hyatt Ziva Los Cabos or high-end luxury at The Cape, Thompson Hotel in Cabo San Lucas.
Active travelers should head to this Central American paradise, where afternoons spent hiking up volcanoes and frolicking through jungle waterfalls are just as easy to arrange as those lazy days on palm tree-fringed beaches. If you want to experience something a little different, you can indulge in what the local population consumes: tamales.
Costa Rica’s tropical climate and abundance of nature parks offer nonstop opportunities for forest and volcano hikes, zip lining excursions, wildlife viewing, beach time and more. The best places to see wildlife in Costa Rica are Tortuguero National Park (Place of Turtles).
Getting there: Fly into San Jose (SJO) or Liberia (LIR) on carriers including Alaska, American, Frontier, Delta, JetBlue, Southwest, Spirit, Copa, Air Canada, Mexicana and Avianca.
Where to stay: Nantipa one of Costa Rica’s most coveted hotels. The space, which is contemporary and sustainable, also has that laidback “Pura Vida” vibe (it means “pure life,” the Costa Rican philosophy of living well). Because it’s a Small Luxury Hotels of the World (SLH) property that participates in the partnership with Hyatt, travelers can earn World of Hyatt points when booking a stay through the Hyatt website. Other places to stay include Hotel Punta Islita, a member of Marriott’s Autograph Collection, the Tabacón Thermal Resort & Spa, set atop the volcano’s thermal field, with springs, pools and waterfalls naturally heated by the volcano’s magma, and Nayara Springs Resort, which has an on-site sloth sanctuary.
Further reading: TPG’s destination guide to Costa Rica
Fort Lauderdale, Florida
If you’d prefer to stay stateside for your winter escape but need a dose of vitamin D, Fort Lauderdale is warm, sunny and more affordable than Miami. You can still enjoy the glitz and glamour of some fancier hotels and energetic nightlife, but there are also endless opportunities to relax on the sandy beaches, or have family fun at many of the city’s ongoing events.
While it’s fine to be lazy and sit on the beach or by the pool, other activities in the area include golf, museums, a day trip to the Everglades, Little Havana and the city’s Riverwalk Arts and Entertainment District.
Getting there: Fort Lauderdale (FLL) is a key city for JetBlue, and one of its fastest-growing hubs. Fly there from a number of U.S. cities. Travelers on a serious budget can fly Spirit for cheap. As a bonus, Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood Airport is one of the most affordable in the U.S.
Where to stay: Stay at the Dalmar, a Tribute Portfolio property with a rooftop infinity pool. Also consider the Hotel Maren Fort Lauderdale Beach, Curio Collection by Hilton, The Ritz-Carlton, Fort Lauderdale, the Hyatt Centric Las Olas Fort Lauderdale or the Kimpton Goodland Fort Lauderdale Beach.
Further reading: TPG’s ultimate guide to Miami and South Florida
December brings the start of Cartagena’s dry season, meaning you can relax at the beach or wander through the city’s colorful colonial streets without risk of excessive rain.
Cartagena — a 2.5-hour flight from Miami — is an increasingly popular tourist destination for travelers from South America and the States. Founded as a Spanish port in 1533, the Old Town of Cartagena de Indias — a UNESCO World Heritage site — remains largely intact behind high stone walls that peer out over the Caribbean. A visit here isn’t your typical beach vacation, as you can just as easily immerse yourself in history, art and theater as you can take a dip in the sea.
Getting there: Airlines including JetBlue, Avianca, American and Spirit fly to Cartagena (CTG) from various U.S. cities.
Where to stay: One of the best points options is the Hyatt Regency Cartagena, which features three pools and rooms with bay and ocean views. There’s also the Hilton Cartagena Hotel, a beachside property that rises above El Laguito Pensisula or the InterContinental Cartagena de Indias, located on the waterfront Bocagrande part of the city.
Additional reporting by Lori Zaino
Featured photo of Lovers Beach in Cabo San Lucas by ©fitopardo.com/Getty Images.
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