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As the days get increasingly colder, it’s time to start planning your next vitamin D fix. From beaches to the rainforest via colourful city streets, these are the places to keep summer dreams alive.
Read on for our ultimate winter sun hotlist
Suiting both thrill-seeking travellers to laid-back sun worshippers, Kenya has it all. Test your mettle climbing Mount Kenya, the second highest mountain in Africa, or head to Maasai Mara National Reserve to try and spot the Big Five. Reward your adventure travels with a trip to Unesco World Heritage Site Lamu, where dhow boats bob along the shore and donkeys plod along cobbled alleys in the oldest Swahili settlements in East Africa.
Many travel to Mauritius for crystal clear waters and powdery beaches, but there’s more to this country than paddling and sunbathing. Hike up Le Morne Brabant, a mountain in southern Mauritius which rewards eager trekkers with sparkling waterfalls and views across the island. Explore quiet fishing villages and visit colonial plantation houses, or take a boat offshore to go snorkelling among vibrant coral and colourful fish.
Warm temperatures and a booming cultural scene make Israel a top hit for some winter sun. Head to Tel Aviv, where artisan boutiques, sprawling street art and Unesco-protected architecture draw in culture-hungry travellers. Spend mornings lazing on the beach before wandering along the Rothschild Boulevard to reach Neve Tzedek – one of the oldest neighbourhoods in the White City – filled with bauhaus buildings and charming cafés. After a cup of Israeli coffee, stroll through Florentin’s colourful streets, where dynamic graffiti has earned it a reputation as the “Brooklyn” of Tel Aviv.
4. Costa Rica
From rainforests to towns, Costa Rica is as varied as it is vibrant. Nestled between Panama and Nicaragua with both an Atlantic and Caribbean coastline, travellers visit in search of pura vida or “the good life”. Famous for their positive attitude, laid-back locals and a relaxed atmosphere offer a soul-nourishing getaway full of surfing and sloths (the national animal).
You already know about Bangkok and Phuket, and probably ended up at a full moon party at some point in your misspent youth. Instead, head up north where you’ll be surrounded by misty mountains and remote villages, while Chiang Mai has become a hub of contemporary art and design. Of course, you’ve got to hit the beach – we’ve found five Thai islands that no one knows about (yet).
Morocco’s unabating popularity is testimony to the exquisite architecture of its cities, expansive desert landscapes, rugged mountains and windswept coastline. If you’ve already been to Marrakech, cosmopolitan Casablanca will give you a fresh perspective on the country, while the streets, arches and doorways of Tangier, Essaouira and Fez will give you Instagram material for days. Check out where and what to eat with chef John Gregory Smith’s insider guide.
7. Canary Islands
Located just off Africa’s west coast, the Canary Islands are another destination which are throwing off their somewhat trashy image, offering a sunny mosaic of sandy beaches, volcanic landscapes, premium surf spots and local wine. Relaxation feels imperative upon arrival, and it’s not hard to find somewhere to do just that. From Tenerife to La Gomera, these islands are having a renaissance and offer the perfect place to soak up some winter (and summer) sun.
With apricot-hued cliffs giving way to a green-blue ocean full of pristine coral and the imposing Al Hajar Mountains in the distance, Oman is a far cry from flashy neighbouring Dubai. Muscat is a city rich in old-world charms, while the coast is full of secret bays that can only be accessed by boat. Head to the Musandam Peninsula, known as “the Maldives of the Middle East”, where a tropical-esque beach is juxtaposed with lively harbours which buzz with jovial bartering.
From the thriving capital of Hanoi to the modern metropolis of Ho Chi Minh, the remote caves of Ninh Binh and the unspoilt beaches of Con Dao, Vietnam is a country of contradictions which are hard to grasp without visiting. The country’s dynamism is apparent throughout, with a local culture full of life wherever you g0. Say “good morning Vietnam” with this vibrant photo journal.
10. Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka’s unhindered views and endless coastline have made it one of the most popular long-haul destinations in recent years. Temples jostle for space with jungles in Sigiriya, while tea plantations and crashing waterfalls make up the scenery in mountainous Ella. Head to the coast to spot whales in Mirissa, surf in Argugam Bay and visit the traditional fishing village of Trincomalee.
11. The Gambia
Affectionately referred to as Africa’s “smiling coast”, The Gambia exudes hospitality and warmth. Get lost among the heady scents of hectic street markets (Albert Market in the heart of Banjul is a must) then explore the golden beaches of Nginki-Nganka or Fajara and spot crocodiles and hippos at Abuko Nature Reserve.
Said to be India’s happiest and most liberal state, Kerala has a history of ethnic, religious and cultural diversity. Revel in the sheer enormity and symmetry of the spice towers in the Mattancherry quarter, explore the vast network of lakes, lagoons and canals that spread far and wide, or simply bask in the magic of Kerala’s friendly folk.
The sparse population of the island has kept its ecosystem in perfect equilibrium, with the island’s blue skies, leafy palms and aquamarine seascapes filling desktop backgrounds worldwide. Popular among honeymooners, this is a destination for those who want to spend a week or two on a sun lounger, book in one hand, cocktail in the other.
14. New Zealand
Whether it’s a road trip around South Island or a wander through arty Auckland, New Zealand is ripe for exploration. From helicopter rides over the Puketi Forest and quad biking along 90 Mile Beach, pampering in Lake Taupo and trekking up Te Mata Mountain – with plenty of wine tasting in between – it’s not hard to understand the reverence laid-back Kiwis have for their country.
Often overlooked by travellers descending on Vietnam and Thailand, Cambodia’s thriving local life is very much present in its architecture, food and people. The strength of the Indian and Thai-influenced Khmer culture – combined with remote jungles, millennia-old temples and islands that give Thailand a run for its money – make Cambodia one of the most sensorily invigorating countries in southeast Asia.
There is a bit of Brazil for everyone. Live out castaway fantasies in dreamy Trancoso, feel the beat in Rio, wander Salvador’s streets or head to the tropical gardens of Inhotim. Wherever you decide to go, make sure at least one of these exceptional hotels is on your list.
17. California, US
America’s west coast is not just home to Hollywood, the Golden Gate Bridge and more cable cars than you can count. The Sierra Nevada Mountains, Mojave Desert and bohemian Joshua Tree are the places you should really be visiting on a trip to Cali. If you need more reasons to escape the sprawling metropolis, there’s Santa Monica with its perpetually blue sky and the desert town Palm Spring, which has sunshine 350 days a year.
18. South Africa
The recent opening of Zeitz MOCAA in Cape Town has brought yet another dimension to a country that already had beaches, safari, mountains, cities and wine lands. South Africa’s infectious energy is palpable all over; pack it all in with a whistle stop tour of the country – but check out our photo journal, an important reminder of the poverty still experienced by many.
With year-round sunshine and a thriving cultural scene, Senegal has become a popular destination among adventurous creative types. In Dakar, colourful rustic buildings line the unpaved streets that lead down to hidden beaches and waterfront restaurants, while in northern Saint Louis you’ll find French architecture reflecting the country’s colonial heritage.
Despite the proliferation of Cuban cars and cigars — both quintessential reminders of the pre-revolution era — there is nothing outdated about Cuba, and it’s lack of development will always be charming. To guarantee a memorable trip, indulge in the lively bars and restaurants that line Havana’s maze-like streets, or visit Baracoa, the land of chocolate, coconuts and 29 melodically named rivers that you can follow down through jungle-covered mountains.
21. St Lucia
An unadulterated Caribbean paradise, much of St Lucia is covered in treacherous mountains, thick rainforest and pastel-coloured towns. Visit the southwest coast to see the Piton volcanoes heroically rising out of the ocean and don’t miss the the street-food markets, for the freshest seafood and stacks of exotic fruit.
22. Cape Verde
Cape Verde is another destination enjoying a resurgence. Comprised of 10 very different volcanic islands, we think we’ve found our favourite in Boavista. While at first glances it appears a barren, dusty land, swathes of soft, beyond the Mars-like surface, swathes of white sand are kissed by a mint-hued ocean, an abundance of wildlife live among the wind-battered vegetation and friendly locals emanate laid-back spirit that suffuses the soul.
With over 7,000 islands and year-round sunshine, the Philippines should be on your list – though it’s best to avoid the large cities given the current political situation. From Pamalican’s eco resorts to the Banaue’s rice terraces (the oldest in the world) and world-class diving in Malapascua (one of the only places to spot thresher sharks) the southeast Asian destination offers a varied escape for those after a little more than just a beach.
Floating in the Dead Sea might be high up on your otherwise Petra-dominant agenda, but make sure to make room for Amman on your Jordan trip. Al-Balad or “downtown” has gained quite a reputation for its chilled out vibe and artistic flair. Walk its narrow alleyways to discover the souks, mosques and coffeehouses you won’t see listed on your standard travel guide. Another under-the-radar spot to add to your itinerary, is Jabal El Weibdeh. Slightly more obvious, but no less worthwhile, Wadi Rum is a great spot for camping – and the stargazing here leans towards the spectacular.
25. Miami, US
After the madness of Art Basel has ebbed away, head for North Beach and lap up the best of this beachside city. Hotel hop between Faena, 1 Hotel and Soho Beach House and when you’ve had your fill of flash beachside living, venture to Wynwood for a flavour of Miami’s most creative (and rapidly expanding) district. If you’ve days to spend, make the trip out to the Everglades for some gator gawking and on the drive back stop for the best strawberry milkshake of your life (to put it mildly) at Knaus Berry Farm. Once you’re back in the city, bed down in Brickell in Downtown before your outbound flight.
Mexico is abound with stories and secrets. One of nature’s finest playgrounds, explore the sprawling mezcal fields of Oaxaca (the country’s foodie state) and the abandoned beaches of Puerto Escondido via bottomless lakes and verdant jungles. A country that blends old with new, its chaotic capital harmoniously sits among areas of great tranquility. Forget Cancun, Cabo and perhaps even Tulum; Isla Holbox and Todo Santos are the places to visit, and this design hideaway is one of our favourite hotels in the world.
Steeped in ancient heritage, Cyprus is far more than the naff beach parties and cheap package holidays that it has become known for. Central to Cypriot culture, local food awaits around every corner, with delicately balanced flavours a testimony to generations of recipe perfecting. Cyprus’s (often remote) beaches are home to a plethora of flora, fauna, while the Troodos Mountains bring a side serving of adventure.
Far from Africa’s big-game reserves, Mozambique’s unique and extensive Indian Ocean coastline is rich in marine life and has the beaches to match. Head to the unspoilt Tofo for world-class surfing, unparalleled views and locals keen to make you feel at home. Further south, the Bazaruto Archipelago (known as “paradise island”) is all the white sand, azure water clichés rolled into one – but the honeymooning brigade don’t seem to have descended just yet.
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