20 end of year escapes from castaway islands to short-haul sunshine
If you haven’t managed to get away this year as much as you usually would, you’ll likely be feeling pretty low on Vitamin D (and sea) by now. As the colder months approach, we’re seeking out the sunniest spots to beat the winter blues and wanderlust woes – from the tropical temperatures of Cambodia, Costa Rica and the Caribbean, to the balmy shores of Mexico, Mauritius and the Maldives, it’s not too late to plan your end of year escape. These winter sun destinations will be worth the wait…
Golden, palm-lined beaches meet centuries-old Mayan ruins, colourfully painted buildings, bohemian bars and spiced cuisine – Mexico will take any traveller on a journey of the senses. Home to some of the world’s most beautiful coastline, dotted with pretty palapas and coral reefs, days are best spent swinging in a hammock, or enjoying the sugar-white sands of the East Coast to the jungle-fringed eco-paradises on the West Coast. Head inland for vibrant cities, a medley of handicraft boutiques and markets, and beautifully preserved ancient landmarks which are drawing a more creative crowd.
El Pez, Tulum…With thatched-roof beach houses lining the shore, from a distance this laid-back luxury resort looks like a traditional Mayan village. Best enjoyed barefoot, go for a stroll along the peaceful cove and keep an eye out for newly hatched sea turtles – which sometimes hatch as late as November. Explore our other Tulum hotels here.
Brick Hotel, Mexico City…The views don’t stop at the bedrooms in this Roma neighbourhood favourite. Its shaded roof terrace is surrounded by lush greenery and offers the perfect spot for an afternoon aperitivo. Browse our Mexico City collection here.
Hacienda Pena Pobre, Tlalpan…This 19th century hacienda turned boutique hotel stands close to Tlalpan Forest National Park, one of the city’s largest green spaces – making it the perfect place from which to dip in and out of the fast pace of life in the Mexican metropolis.
2. Costa Rica
Costa Rica is the definitive tropical paradise – a small country that’s bursting with wildlife, adventure and back-to-nature luxury. With miles of pristine coastline, you’re never far from world-class diving, surfing and sunbathing. Though well equipped for year-round visitors, Costa Rica’s dry season – which runs roughly mid-November to April – is when you’ll usually find plenty of sunshine and warm temperatures.
Hotel Nantipa, Santa Teresa de Cobano…Every element at this Considerate Collection boutique is inspired by the ocean and sky – right down to its name, which means ‘blue’ in the native Nicoya tribal language. From dawn to dusk you’ll have the sand between your toes and the sound of crashing waves in your ears.
Hotel Three Sixty, Ojochal de Osa…Set 300 metres above the Pacific Ocean, this cluster of luxury villas is circled by mesmerising rainforest views and boasts the most spectacular infinity pool.
Los Altos Resort & Spa, Manuel Antonio…Wake to the sounds of howler monkeys, glimpse toucans among the trees, and breakfast with hummingbirds at this rainforest retreat, where you’ll find restorative nature at every turn.
Alta Las Palomas, San José…Hugging the hills of Las Palomas above the Valle del Sol overlooking volcanoes, coffee fields and mountains, Alta Las Palomas has been designed with tranquillity in mind with a farm-to-fork restaurant serving seasonal dishes under the shade of the ancient Guanacaste tree.
3. The Caribbean
Nowhere does white sandy beaches and impossibly blue waters quite like the Caribbean – and with many of the islands now open to international travellers, it’s still possible to get your dose of vitamin sea this winter. Both in and out of its crystal-clear waters, the Caribbean is awash with exciting activities, or simply relax in a hammock as you sway to the gentle breeze and calypso beats. Such a diverse collection of islands – and boutique hotels – lets you be as lively or as laid-back as you wish.
Coral Reef Club, Barbados…Surround yourself with flowering shrubs, swaying palms, colourful bougainvillea, crotons and frangipani at this tropical hideaway on the secluded West Coast. All the rooms have a patio or balcony overlooking the gardens, pool or beach while the Plantation Suites and Luxury Cottage Suites have their own private plunge pool.
Bluefields Bay Villas, Jamaica…Each expansive villa faces the aquamarine sea on the waterfront at this all-inclusive resort on Jamaica’s south coast, where your personal concierge is on hand to organise an array of activities – from reef diving, stand up paddleboarding, and sunset sailing to horseback riding along secluded JamWest Beach.
Barbuda Belle, Antigua & Barbuda…This beautiful Caribbean retreat is made up of just a handful of private wooden residences, each set up for the ultimate in beach luxury. Silently solar-powered and only accessible by boat they make the most of the island’s tranquillity, so you can switch off and embrace the natural beauty that surrounds you.
Australia’s vast size means that the climate is varied, with tropical weather in the north and a Mediterranean feel in the south. Summers stretch from December to February when the evenings linger and the barbecues get fired up, though winters are blissfully balmy too. The lifestyle here is well and truly laid back and the welcome is as warm as the weather. Although Australia’s borders have been closed throughout the pandemic and currently only essential travel is allowed, it’s looking increasingly likely that tourists could be able to visit the country from December 2021 onwards.
Smiths Beach Resort, Yallingup…This environmentally-friendly and picturesque resort is perfectly positioned on the gleaming white sands of Smiths Beach and within easy access of many wonderful wineries and restaurants the region is popular for.
Whether it’s a luxury city break hunting for treasure in a souk or a relaxing retreat sipping mint tea in a desert oasis, Morocco can be an all-year-round destination. The shoulder seasons tend to be quieter and cooler times to visit, to avoid the scorching Saharan heat in the summer months. For a wholesome way to experience this desert land, December is harvest time in Morocco when markets are brimming with fresh olives and mandarins.
Dar Ahlam, Ouarzazate…Unwind in a haven of manicured lawns and fragrant almond blossom at this terracotta traditional Kasbah, where you can spend the night in a private luxury tent beneath the stars.
Hotel Sahrai, Fez…With a name meaning ‘magic’ and sublime hillside setting – promising views of minarets and Medina – this airy retreat captivates from the moment you arrive. Inside and out you’ll find traditional Moroccan features, from Taza stonework to Fassi ceramics – alongside crisp interiors and designer furnishings, plus a Givenchy spa.
Ksar Char-Bagh, Marrakech…Framed by Romanesque arches with an irresistible stretch of palm-lined pool leading to the main building, this 14th century riad makes a powerful first impression. Fig, olive and citrus trees fill the air with fragrance, pools of water offer cooling respite from the heat of the day, and the kitchen garden is bursting with produce.
La Sultana Marrakech, Marrakech…At the beating heart of the kasbah, this romantic hideaway puts you just moments from the royal palaces, museums and souks of magical Marrakech. While the day away on an orange-scented shady patio or the rooftop terrace and breathe in the captivating views.
6. The Maldives
With its far-flung hideaways and private island resorts scattered across the Indian Ocean, the Maldives is proving to be one of the safest destinations to open its borders to international travellers, thanks to its dispersed geography and exclusive transfer services. The privacy of over-water villas and beachfront bungalows guarantees minimal guest interaction, while many dining experiences and activities can be enjoyed in open-air spaces, mask-free (unless you’re snorkelling, of course).
Huvafen Fushi Maldives, North Malé Atoll…Submerge into serenity in the first and only under-the-sea spa on ‘Dream Island’, with treatment rooms overlooking the reef. Also home to the Maldives’ first underground wine cellar, an evening at Vinum takes wine tasting to a whole new level. And this is before you have even dipped your toe in the water-lovers world of Huvafen lagoon.
Baros Maldives, Malé…Elegant, secluded villas with palm thatched roofs are either over-water or facing the beach at this castaway atoll, sheltered by large banana leaves and palms. Diving or snorkelling in the coral reef just off the island is a must with its variety of colourful fish, turtles, rays and an abundance of healthy coral.
Milaidhoo Maldives, Baa Atoll…As an adults only resort, Milaidhoo Island is known for its romantic atmosphere and absolute privacy is ensured with all manner of options for in-villa dining, beach dinners and even a night sleeping under the stars.
Velassaru Maldives, Malé…If you’re looking for a true Maldivian experience, choose one of the water villas at this far-flung island fantasy with a full sea-facing wall that opens out onto an over-water terrace and the lagoon beyond.
7. South Africa
Recently removed from the UK’s travel red list, South Africa is ready and waiting for travellers to come and take a walk on the wild side. The best time to visit is often less about the weather and more about the wildlife. That said, the dry seasons are ideal for going on safari and whales can be spotted from June all the way through to November, while summertime runs all the way through to March – this is prime time when it comes to the views from Table Mountain and Lion’s Head, when the skies are clearest. Follow the iconic Garden Route with our in-depth itinerary here.
The Cellars-Hohenort, Cape Town…Wake up to Table Mountain views surrounded by nine-acres of fragrant gardens blooming with roses and Camphor trees at this historic wine estate, where you can have the best of both worlds with the Constantia Valley Wine Route and the South African capital’s city centre on your doorstep.
The Marine, Hermanus…Perched along the rugged Hermanus coast overlooking the breath-taking Walker Bay, this clifftop retreat more than lives up to its nautical name with two refreshing saltwater swimming pools, and by offering some of the world’s finest land-based whale watching – often directly from the comfort of its sea view bedrooms.
The Plettenberg, Plettenberg Bay…As one of the few hotels in the area with direct beach access, The Plettenberg is serenely situated above one of South Africa’s finest bays. Soft blues and soothing tones mirror its waterfront setting, where private villas come with their own heated pools.
During the winter months, the sweltering heat and humidity is significantly softened by cooler temperatures and dry spells, making November-April the perfect time to visit Cambodia. Hidden jungle ruins, pristine beaches accessible by traditional long-tail boats, and a colourful Khmer culture of tangy cuisine and ornate temples await.
Koh Russey Villas & Resort, Bamboo Island…Little more than a mile wide, nature is all around on this private island retreat. The hotel’s rooms, suites and villas – some with their own freshwater pools – blend with the backdrop of palm trees and bamboo groves, home to colourful local birds.
Angkor Village Hotel, Siem Reap…Set in peaceful tropical gardens, yet just a tuk-tuk ride from the buzz of the city – Angkor Village Hotel is a real best-of-both-worlds escape where every element is inspired by Cambodian culture.
9. The Philippines
Home to more than 7,000 postcard-perfect islands, wherever you venture in the Philippines you’ll find sugar-white beaches, incredible wildlife and a warm welcome from some of the friendliest people on the planet. While there is no bad time to island hop your way around this breath-takingly beautiful destination, our favourite month to visit is December during the dry season.
Anya Resort Tagaytay, Tagaytay…Relax in the wood-scented shade of the bamboo groves before unwinding in your own bath tub in your suite at this restful retreat in the lush Philippines countryside, where your very own Anya Experience Assistant will personally tailor-make your stay.
Pangulasian Island Resort, Palawan…Fronting a 750-metre white powder beach overlooking the bay, the resort offers 42 individual villas all with a private balcony either on the beach, in the forest, 17 metres from the ground, or with a private pool.
Belize’s peak season coincides perfectly with the Northern Hemisphere’s coldest months. Although temperatures remain high all year-round, the dry spell is from December to April and is the least humid time of the year. Home to mysterious ruins, hidden caves, dizzying zip-wires and the world’s second largest barrier reef, this tropical gem is often overlooked for nearby Mexico – though its icing sugar sands and buzzy beach culture certainly give its neighbour a run for its money.
GAÏA Riverlodge, Cayo District…Part of the tucked-away Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve, this eco-luxury rainforest retreat is perched atop Belize’s Five Sisters Waterfalls. Many of the tranquil and technology-free bedrooms, created in the style of rainforest cabanas, come with views (and sounds) of the falls – while others look across at the mountains.
Itz’ana Resort & Residences, Placencia…On a sugar-sand beach in palm-tree lined Placencia, this beachfront haven puts privacy centre-stage, with wraparound terraces, airy indoor living spaces, and a multitude of luxurious creature comforts.
Ka’ana Resort, San Ignacio…Expect accommodation in pretty casitas or ultra-luxurious private pool villas, gourmet cuisine, a relaxing spa and pool at this exclusive outpost set in the Maya Mountains in Western Belize.
Matachica Resort & Spa, Ambergris Caye…A perfectly private retreat nestled between reef and rainforest, this beach-meets-jungle resort takes its ‘private by nature’ mantra seriously. Thatched casitas and villas are arranged like a traditional village and blend into the landscape, with personal verandas giving you front row seats (or hammocks) to soul-stirring views.
With a tropical climate that changes little throughout the year, the Seychelles offers a warm welcome whenever you choose to visit. Your adventure will begin in Mahé, which offers a delectable mix of powder-soft beaches and rugged jungle to explore. Then, strike out to the smaller islets to spot flitting birds and stately Giant Tortoises.
L’Escale Resort Marina & Spa, Mahé…Taking its name from the rest stops made by seafarers of the Ottoman Empire, this waterfront beauty boasts a state-of-the-art marina so guests can sail straight into the heart of the Seychelles islands.
Picture the perfect tropical paradise and you’ll likely conjure up images of Thailand’s countless islands – rustic beach shacks, a gently swaying hammock, and colourful long-tail boats bobbing about in turquoise waters. And with plans to end quarantine requirements for fully vaccinated travellers from at least 10 low-risk countries from the 1st November 2021, you could soon be sunbathing on that whiter than white sand.
VALA Hua Hin, Petchburi…This beachfront hideaway is the perfect blend of escaping-into-nature and contemporary comforts, with uninterrupted views over the Gulf of Thailand.
Cape Fahn, Koh Samui…This luxury hotel is set on its own small island just off the northern tip of Koh Samui, with independent villas tucked into green gardens and beside pristine beaches. Here, the only footprints in the sand will be your own.
Twinpalms Phuket, Phuket…This place has a totally unhurried and chilled-out ambiance where the only energy you need to expend is lying by the pool or sitting on a stretch of golden tropical sand.
From the majestic plateau of the Golan Heights to the shores of the Red Sea, Israel is filled with natural wonders and breathtaking beauty – plus, with around 300 days of sunshine a year, if you come towards the beginning or end of winter it’s still warm enough to lie on a beach. What better place to celebrate Christmas than in the Holy Land itself.
The American Colony Hotel, Jerusalem…Once the site of an American-Swedish commune, this iconic hotel retains its utopian ideals with tranquil spaces dedicated to relaxation and contemplation, from fragrant gardens to hidden courtyards.
The Norman Tel Aviv, Tel Aviv…These painstakingly restored 1920s residences house an impressive modern art collection, a gorgeous rooftop with panoramic city views, an infinity pool, and two non-kosher gourmet restaurants.
Travelling to Indonesia is all about whether to be warm or very warm. Its tropical climate means there’s little difference between winter and summer, with temperatures averaging 25°C-30°C all year. From April to October the beach resorts are at the their most popular, while from November to March an evening soaking of refreshing rain brings colourful flora and fauna to life. If you want to soothe the soul, head for the home of yoga – Bali is brimming with local centres where you can really stretch yourself, and simply relax.
Hidden Hills Villas, Uluwatu…Tucked away in the peak beauty of Uluwatu, these individually designed residences draw inspiration from China, Java, the Mediterranean and, of course, Bali where you can wake up to Indian Ocean views.
Viceroy Bali, Ubud…These gravity defying, thatched villas set on the edge of a steep ravine, overlook the Petanu River gorge in Bali’s mountain foothills where the exotic sounds of the jungle are all around.
The Seminyak Beach Resort & Spa, Seminyak…Make yourself at home in your suite or private villa at this lush oasis in the heart of Bali’s most vibrant and stylish coastal town.
Spa Village Resort, Tembok…Set amidst a dramatic volcanic landscape on Bali’s north-eastern coast, this restorative retreat is dedicated to top-to-toe pampering and personalised spa treatments.
The sun gods never take a break in Mauritius and the temperatures barely dip below 20 degrees, even at night. Sea temperatures are always in the mid-20s, which means the waters are inviting all year round. When you lie on its white sand, dive into its clear waters, venture into its volcanic hills, or sample the local juices and fusion cuisine, it’s easy to see why it’s proved so popular.
Heritage Le Telfair Golf & Wellness Resort, Bel Ombre…Set on the wild south coast of Mauritius in a protected nature reserve, these beautifully renovated villas are scattered throughout tropical gardens, creating the feel of a private village.
Paradise Cove Boutique Hotel, Anse La Raie…When an infinity pool overlooking a turquoise lagoon is the least of a hotel’s charms, you know you’ve found somewhere truly special.
With its wonderfully warm Caribbean climate, guaranteed sunshine and very little rain, Cuba’s weather is at its most reliable during our wintertime. From pastel-hued buildings and eye-catching classic cars, to white sands and impossibly blue waters, this one-of-a-kind island is a photographer’s dream.
With buzzing cities, deep rainforest and vibrant coastal villages to choose from, deciding when to visit Brazil is down to what you want to see. In the cooler months, the Amazon is a wildlife spotter’s paradise. There’s never a bad time to be on the coast, but April to December are particularly lovely.
Kenoa – Exclusive Beach Spa & Resort, Alagoas…Sitting between the warm ocean and pristine tropical jungle, this eco-chic jewel is just nine degrees from the Equator, which means the temperature here is always balmy and the drinks always cold.
Emiliano Rio, Rio de Janeiro…Famous for its distinctive façade of white, foldable shutters, their dramatic perforated pattern allows the cooling sea breeze to enter from the legendary Copacabana beach, while bathing you in dappled light.
Emiliano São Paulo, São Paulo…From its soaring glass exterior to its skyscraper views, every detail of this urban retreat is catch-your-breath spectacular – the epitome of sleek and elegant minimalism.
Located just off the Tanzanian mainland, the exotic Zanzibar archipelago is one of Africa’s most beautiful beach destinations. Famed for its spice heritage, explore the mysterious alleyways and bazaars in the historic city centre of Stone Town. Or island hop by boat to where mangroves disguise pristine and private emerald green coves.
Amani Boutique Hotel, Paje Beach…Set on one of the finest stretches of sand on the island, Amani is all about laid-back luxury and puts the warm, tropical water centre-stage.
Its luscious landscape might look like something straight from a Jurassic Park film set, but this often overlooked subtropical hideaway really is in Europe. Madeira’s Mediterranean climate – from mild winters to sizzling summers – make this a perfect island for year-round exploration without the worry of jetlag. Clear blue skies and warm temperatures on the coast are ideal for a spot of sunbathing, while many visit for its spectacular New Year’s Eve fireworks display – once in the Guinness World Records for being the largest in the world.
Quinta da Casa Branca, Funchal…A fabulous unison of wood, glass and stone, this modern architect designed hotel resides amidst the most visually stunning gardens with trees and plants from all over the world.
20. Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka is a perfect year-round escape. It’s hottest from June to September when, with temperatures averaging around 35°C, a chilled pool and an icy cocktail feel like heaven. There are two rainy seasons in May-June and November-December – but the typically short showers provide nothing more than delightful refreshment.
The Fortress Resort & Spa, Galle…Designed in the style of a historic fort, this exclusive beach retreat encircles lush gardens and luxurious features. Inside you’ll find a heavenly Ayurveda spa, Yoga pavilion, an inviting free-flowing pool and a selection of restaurants.