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24 November 2015

Top Destinations for Winter Sun

After the excitement of Christmas and New Year, Brits – and many of our fellow northern hemisphere dwellers – must face the dark, chilly months of winter that lay stretched out before us. Beat the winter blues by taking your ‘summer’ holiday when you need the vitamin D the most: right now.

Here are some of the best places to catch some rays during the winter.

Heather Richardson is an award-winning travel writer based in London. She has worked in print, online and in broadcasting in the UK, US, Asia and Australia. In 2015, she was selected as one of TTG’s 30 under 30 travel influencers for her work in the luxury travel industry. @HG_Richardson / www.hg-richardson.com

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Short to Medium Haul

Canary Islands

Flight time from UK: 3.5 hours

Average Jan-March temperature: 17-18°C

When to go: Year round

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Image Credit: iStock.com/Khrizmo

The Canary Islands – which are Spanish, but found just off the coast of southern Morocco – are hard to beat for Europeans seeking to escape the cold weather. Located just south enough to have year-round sunshine, the Canaries are still less than a four-hour flight away.

There’s much more than just package holidays on offer. Although the popular islands of Tenerife, Lanzarote and Gran Canaria do have quiet and charming areas – there are also several islands lesser known to tourists. La Palma, one of the smallest islands, is a biosphere reserve with a beautiful, rugged national park and is laid back to the point of being horizontal – perfect for unwinding.

For those staying on one of the main islands, try hiking Tenerife’s Mount Teide, the world’s third highest volcano – or catching some sun on one of Lanzarote’s quiet beaches such as La Caleta de Famara.

Cyprus

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Image Credit: iStock.com/EunikaSopotnicka

Flight time from UK: 4.5 hours

Average Jan-March temperature: 13-14°C

When to go: March – December

Cyprus isn’t as hot as some of the other winter sun destinations, but with a minimum of seven hours of sunshine a day in January (nine in March), Cyprus is ideal for those who don’t like it swelteringly hot.

Aside from the sunshine, Cyprus also benefits from a lack of crowds in winter. That means travellers will have easy access to historic sites. One such example is the ancient city of Kourion. Dating back to around 200BC, it’s home to an amphitheatre which used to host gladiator fights, as well as the Temple of Apollo. Plus UNESCO-protected Paphos is one of the most popular cities for tourists, and its castle, city walls and harbour were all built by Alexander the Great.

If it’s the outdoors you’re craving, head to the Triodes National Forest Park, which the rains of December and January will have made lush and green. March also sees the spring flowers start to bloom.

South Jordan

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Image Credit: iStock.com/Konstantin Yolshin

Flight time from UK: 5 hours

Average Jan-March temperature: 14-19°C

When to go: February – May

The small sliver of coastline in Jordan’s south is lapped by the warm Red Sea, which doesn’t get as chilly as the Mediterranean and is suitable for swimming throughout the year.

The Red Sea is known for its diving and snorkelling, but you don’t need to go to Egypt to take advantage of this. Aqaba is the jumping-off point for beach breaks in Jordan and from here you can explore the coral reefs and swim with turtles, rays and tropical fish.

The deservedly popular sites of Petra and Wadi Rum are much closer to Aqaba than Amman (Jordan’s capital and largest city), which makes it easy to combine a relaxed beach break with a dose of culture, ancient history and a feast for the eyes.

Long Haul

Cuba

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Image Credit: iStock.com/danmirica12

Flight time from UK: 9.5 hours

Average Jan-March temperature: 21-23°C

When to go: December – May

Since repairing relations with the US, Cuba is seeing a resurgence in popularity with many Brits keen to visit before mass tourism hits the island. Conveniently, our winter is the best time to travel to the Caribbean, with it being outside the hurricane and wet seasons.

Within easy reach of the capital Havana (to which there is a direct flight from the UK), Varadero is one of the most popular beach resorts and sports a long stretch of bleached-blonde beach. For something more off-the-beaten-track, you might want to try Playa Ancón, close to Trinidad in the south, or Playa Paraíso (Paradise Beach – says it all) on the island of Cayo Largo del Sur.

Some of Cuba’s other attractions are the classic ‘50s cars, cigars, rum, salsa and live music. Aside from the beaches, the country’s most scenic top spots include the tobacco plantations of the Viñales Valley.

Western Cape, South Africa

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Image Credit: iStock.com/Photon-Photos

Flight time from UK: 11.5 hours

Average Jan-March temperature: 21-23°C

When to go: November – March

South Africa’s summer months bring out the best in the Western Cape. Although winter is rarely dramatic and often sunny, the summer brings with it long days of sunshine and guaranteed heat.

South Africa is an outdoor-loving country, so aside from hiking, cycling and surfing, expect lots of brais (barbecues) and al fresco drinks.

Starting in Cape Town, enjoy the summer weather with a few long walks around Table Mountain and along the coast, with a trip out to the nearby Winelands for some of the world’s best food and wine.

Then head east from Cape Town to drive along the coast in search of the quieter, lesser-known beaches. One such hidden spot is the white-sand shores of De Hoop Nature Reserve on the Overberg Coast.

Thai Islands

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Image Credit: iStock.com/NuttKomo

 

Flight time from UK: 13 hours

Average Jan-March temperature: 27-29°C

When to go: November – March

Where could be better for a beach break than the Thai islands? With year-round tropical warmth, Thailand’s dry season is between November and March, making this the most popular time to visit. What’s more, there is an island for every taste, whether it’s the lively Koh Samui or sleepy Koh Lanta.

In the Gulf of Thailand, on the east coast, Koh Tao is where most divers qualify, due to the island’s plethora of diving schools and decent prices. Along with nearby Samui and Koh Phangan, there’s also a good mix of chilled beaches and party scenes to be explored.

Some of the most dramatic scenery is found on the western Andaman Sea coast, where limestone karsts rise out of the azure water creating a striking landscape (and great climbing opportunities); Krabi and Phi Phi (as seen in The Beach) are the best examples of this. Koh Chang on the Andaman coast (not to be confused with the eastern Koh Chang near Cambodia) is the ultimate chill-out island – simply sling up your hammock and relax.

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