7 sunny spots to spend the holidays this year

Nov 24, 2019

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The idea of a winter wonderland gets old fast in many parts of the U.S.

White, powdery snow turns to icy slush; a steaming mug of hot cocoa no longer comforts; you catch a winter cold, or maybe cabin fever, when you’re trapped inside during a polar vortex.

So, why not spend the holidays relaxing in the warm sunshine, instead? From California to Colombia, the Caribbean and Mexico, here are seven destinations not too far from the U.S. where you can enjoy a tropical Christmas, balmy Hanukkah or simply a sunshine-filled winter escape.

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The Bahamas

Although Hurricane Dorian devastated some Bahamian islands, many of those in the south remained unscathed. Because the Bahamas largely relies on tourism dollars, there’s no better way (or time) to help the nation recover than to visit places like 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.

Nassau, Bahamas. (Photo by Terrence wijesena/Getty Images)
Nassau, Bahamas. (Photo by Terrence wijesena/Getty Images)

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 launches direct routes between Minneapolis–St. Paul (MSP) and Nassau (NAS) on Dec. 21, 2019, just in time for Christmas in the sunshine. 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

Dominican Republic

This country has had a rough year when it comes to tourism, with a spate of negative headlines generating serious safety concerns. But it seems like the trouble may be largely in the past, thanks in part to an FBI-assisted investigation. Presently, the country is marked with a Level 2 travel advisory by the U.S. State Department (the same as France, Germany, Spain, the U.K. and the Maldives), meaning, as with most destinations, you should exercise increased caution but not necessarily expect danger.

Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic. (Photo by bakerjarvis/Getty Images)
Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic. (Photo by bakerjarvis/Getty Images)

Enjoy Dominican holiday cheer without leaving your resort’s beach just by flipping on the radio and listening to merengue Christmas tunes. Plus, Punta Cana has plenty to offer if you feel like getting out of the all-inclusive resort. 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: American is replacing its A320 with a Boeing 767 for this winter season on the route between Philadelphia (PHL) and Punta Cana (PUJ). Although off-peak saver award tickets may be hard to find, they start at just 12,500 AAdvantage miles in economy and 25,000 AAdvantage miles one-way.

Where to stay: Though the Hyatt Ziva and Zilara Cap Cana resorts have faced opening delays and had major opening kinks, we’re hopeful things will be running more smoothly by late December. Travelers with a World of Hyatt Credit Card may have a targeted offer for a $250 statement credit after spending $500 or more directly at a Hyatt Ziva or Zilara all-inclusive resort. (Hurry, registration is required by Nov. 30, but you can use the credit for stays between Nov. 1, 2019, and March 31, 2020).

Palm Springs, California

If Christmas in the low 70s sounds like a dream, head to Palm Springs, California — no passport needed. Since Palm Springs has so many holiday visitors, many local businesses such as coffee shops, movie theaters, grocery stores and restaurants are open on Christmas Day, so there’s plenty to do in addition to hanging out by the pool.

Palm Springs, California. (Photo by Ron and Patty Thomas/Getty Images)
Palm Springs, California. (Photo by Ron and Patty Thomas/Getty Images)

For the 27th year in a row, visitors can enjoy the WildLights at The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens on select dates throughout November and December, during which the zoo is turned into a glittering paradise. Besides lights displays, the event includes holiday music and entertainment, carousel rides, decorations, food and more holiday fun.

Getting there: Starting Dec. 21, Delta Air Lines will expand its nonstop service between Palm Springs (PSP) and Atlanta (ATL) to fly four times per week.

Where to stay: While Palm Springs has plenty of luxury hotels, you may also find that home or villa rentals can 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. Before booking, see if your Chase or American Express cards have special offers for statement credits on Airbnb.

Related: The best starter travel credit cards

Cabo San Lucas, Mexico

Whether it’s soaking up the sunshine or having cultural experiences, Cabo offers the best of both worlds in December. Warm temperatures and sunshine make beach visits a dream, and whale watching season officially starts Dec. 15. Meanwhile, with the Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe’s celebrations on Dec. 12, Christmas festivities, ringing in the New Year and Three King’s Day (Epiphany) on Jan. 6, the holidays seem to stretch on for almost a full month in Mexico.

Cabo San Lucas in Mexico. (Photo by raisbeckfoto/Getty Images)
Cabo San Lucas in Mexico. (Photo by raisbeckfoto/Getty Images)

If it’s delicious cuisine you’re after, Sabor a Cabo, the region’s food and wine festival, runs from Nov. 30 to Dec. 8. And the event goes beyond just food and beverages — Latin music sensation Maluma is performing, too.

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 Ritz-Carlton Reserve Zadún, which opened on Oct. 15, 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, which is also brand-new, has rooms with private plunge pools and fireplaces. December rates start at $790, or 120,000 Hilton Honors points per night.

Costa Rica

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 from American and European holiday treats (think: gingerbread cookies or fruitcake) you can indulge in what the local population consumes during this festive holiday time instead: tamales.

Rio Celeste Falls in Costa Rica. (Photo b7 Kryssia Campos/Getty Images)
Rio Celeste Falls in Costa Rica. (Photo b7 Kryssia Campos/Getty Images)

The country sees all sorts of celebrations and festivals in the month of December, including bullfights mid-December in honor of the Virgin of Guadalupe, San Jose’s Festival de la Luz (Dec. 14), which features parades, costumes and music, and the famous horse parade El Tope, in San Jose (Dec. 26).

Getting there: On Nov. 21, American is launching daily service between New York-JFK and San Jose (SJO). Just in time for the holidays on Dec. 18, American Airlines will offer a second flight from Dallas (DFW) to San Jose and another to the northern Costa Rican tourist hub Liberia (LIR). And on Dec. 21, American Airlines will launch Saturday service to Liberia. JetBlue also expanded its service in 2019, flying from New York-JFK to San Jose and Liberia.

Where to stay: Nantipa opened in 2019, and is now 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.

Fort Lauderdale, Florida

If you’d prefer to stay stateside for the holidays 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 the city’s holiday events.

The Fort Lauderdale canals. (Photo by Pla Damonte/Getty Images)
The Fort Lauderdale canals. (Photo by Pla Damonte/Getty Images)

Start with the Winterfest boat parade (Dec. 14), where Bret Michaels will be this year’s grand marshal. Other Winterfest events include Jingle Ball and Family Fun Day. Kids will love the Polar Express Train Rides (Saturdays and Sundays through Dec. 29). Daily holiday-lights cruises offered by the water taxis allow passengers to admire all the waterfront mansions in full, glittering decor.

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: Although a brand-new Curio Collection Hilton and Hyatt Centric are projected to open in early 2020, stay this holiday season at the Dalmar, a Tribute Portfolio property with a rooftop infinity pool that opened in early 2019. The Category 5 property has rates starting at $200 or 30,000 Marriott Bonvoy points, in December.

Cartagena, Colombia

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. Locals and visitors alike enjoy being out and about on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, so you’ll find the city full of lively energy if you visit on major holidays.

Cartagena, Colombia. (Photo by Starcevic/Getty Images)
Cartagena, Colombia. (Photo by Starcevic/Getty Images)

Party animals should head here on New Year’s Eve, when many hotels and nightclubs put on memorable fiestas. For a splurge, hire a boat to take you for a special New Year’s Eve celebration on the water. And make sure to check out the city’s New Year’s Eve fireworks display too.

Getting there: Airlines including JetBlue, Avianca, American and Spirit fly to Cartagena (CTG) from various U.S. cities. If you plan to use AAdvantage miles, you can spend as little as 17,500 for an off-peak economy ticket. You could also combine your Cartagena adventure with stops in larger cities such as Medellín (MDE) or Bogotá (BOG).

Where to stay: Although plans are underway for a new Four Seasons property in Cartagena right now, one of the best points options is the Hyatt Regency Cartagena, which features three pools and rooms with bay and ocean views. The Category 3 hotel has December rates starting at 12,000 points per night or $112 per night. Keep in mind that many of the larger points hotels such as this one are in the beachfront Bocagrande neighborhood. If you prefer to stay in the walled historic center, it’s best to book a room at a bed and breakfast or boutique property.

Featured photo of Lovers Beach in Cabo San Lucas by ©fitopardo.com/Getty Images.

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