Somewhere in the world, the sun has got his hat on and he wants to play with YOU. Whether you’re an avid hiker, hardcore sunbather or fancy yourself as a bit of a surfer dude, we’ve found a place where the sun is shining. Play nicely now…
For an otherworldly vibe
Classic: Lanzarote, Canary Islands
It may be known as the ‘island of 100 volcanoes’ but there are actually 300 volcanic cones on the easternmost Canary Island. The result is a stark, black-lava landscape of hills. Lots of them. That means the island should appeal as much to avid cyclists (pros come here to train), wine gluggers (the landscape lends itself to some unusual vineyards in the middle of the island, where vines grow in black lava cinder holes) and beach enthusiasts (head to Papagayo for fine white sand backed by cliffs). It may suffer a rep as a package destination, and there is a lot of that, but it’s also a favourite of boho Scandinavians, and we always strive to be as cool as them.
How: Cool Stays offers a number of pretty farmhouse villas with pools on the island, including Finca Malvasia – which is set in the middle of volcanoes and vineyards – from £109pn. coolstays.com; Monarch offers return flights from £110. monarch.co.uk
Alternative: Cape Verde
Four hundred kilometres off the coast of Senegal and halfway to Brazil you’ll find Cape Verde. This cluster of ten islands offers everything from nightlife to hiking and deserted beaches – the perfect place to sip on some of the local sugar cane liquor, grogue. Use Sal island (largely package holiday and golf resort territory) as a starting point and hop to neighbouring islands, where African culture is embedded in ancient towns, and dramatic beauty comes alongside cultural vibrancy. Maximise your time and the islands by enlisting the help of an expert.
How: Cape Verde Choice puts together itineraries from £1,200pp for seven nights. capeverdechoice.com
For south-east Asian parties
Classic: Koh Phangan, Thailand
Our first trip to Koh Phangan was a blur of shakes (there’s even a tasty mushroom flavour…), whisky buckets and turquoise neon paint. There may have even been a naked congo line. That’s what the Thai island may be known for, but ten years later we revisited, when there was no full moon and found secluded bays and water the colour of… oh, that neon paint again. You’ll find cheap beach huts alongside cool hotels here, and the island remains unspoilt compared with the likes of nearby Phuket. For long lazy days on the beach interrupted by ice-cold Chang beer, fiery green curry and wild all-night parties, this has long been the ticket.
How: Anantara Rasananda is a peaceful retreat on a white sweep of sand; the bed-to-private- pool-to-sea view is about as good as life gets. Nightly rates from £215. anantara.com; Etihad offers flights from £580. etihad.com
Alternative: Boracay, the Philippines
Boracay has been riding a wave of hype over the last few years, and for good reason – it’s great for kitesurfing (many say it’s the best place in Asia for the sport), excellent for diving, and there’s no finer stretch of powdery white sand to shake your tail feather on. The Philippines receives around an eighth of the number of visitors the UK does, but people are clocking on, and quickly. If Boracay’s emerging party scene on White Beach doesn’t take your fancy, there are 7,000 other islands to choose from. Decisions, decisions…
How: G Adventures offers a range of group island-hopping trips to the Philippines, with eight nights from £850 including accommodation and some activities. gadventures.co.uk
For Latin-tinged Caribbean
Classic: Riviera Maya, Mexico
Mexico’s most famous stretch of coast is a sun-washed medley of epic coral reef, white sand and ancient ruins. The Riviera Maya on the Yucatan peninsula (which you access by flying into Cancun), has appealed to A-list celebs and backpackers for years. Visitors flock to the ruins of Tulum – a showstopper site of ancient stone atop a cliff, while Coba, a Mayan city covering 50 square metres of jungle, is slightly further under the radar. When you’re done with the cultural stuff, kick back in a beach bar with an ice-cold bottle of Mexican lager – with lime wedge in the neck, natch.
How: Posada Margherita is a pretty, and pretty rustic, boutique guesthouse. The best bit? The airy setting, right on that beach. Nightly rates from £40pn. posadamargherita.com; Virgin Atlantic offers return flights from £620pp. virgin-atlantic.com
Alternative: Puerto Rico
New low-cost direct flights to Puerto Rico from London with Norwegian Air have opened up these islands to budget-conscious travellers looking for that heady combination of Latin culture and sun, sea and sand. Head to Old San Juan, where pretty old houses and tree-shaded plazas are enclosed in massive city walls (the fortress here is also mighty impressive). If activities are more your thing, then the interior of the island is covered in lush rainforest and scattered with waterfalls, while at night, the coast’s Laguna Grande is lit up with glowing microscopic plankton – you’re best off paddling through it in your kayak. Then, of course, there are the beaches – 1,200 of them, in fact.
Freehand hotel, Miami
For US food, nightlife and beaches
Classic: Miami, US
Miami’s a sprawling city packed with Cuban culture, art, pastel-hued art deco buildings and food so good you’ll be planning your next meal, and the next, for the duration (it ranges from fancy restaurants to Cuban canteens, so expect variety, as well as American big-portioned generosity). Party lovers should opt for Miami Beach and South Beach – a showy parade of hot, oil-slicked bods where the streets are marked by bold and bright beach huts (they’re all different, and all photo-worthy). Leave the sand at dusk and bar-hop/people-watch by Lummus Park for generous margarita-based happy hour deals.
How: The 1930s art deco Freehand Hotel is an über cool hostel for a ‘new generation of travellers’ – ie ones who want to save dollar with dorms but won’t forgo on style, or cleanliness; bunks from £25 a night per person. thefreehand.com; British Airways offers flights from £620 return. ba.com
Alternative: San Diego, US
America’s capital of craft beer has over 100 breweries (and counting) – between them they managed to win 14 medals at last year’s prestigious Great American Beer Festival. It’s known for its west coast-style IPAs and double IPAs – guzzle with your burritos, enchiladas and tacos – the city’s close proximity means both the local mentality and food has a heavy central American influence. Mission Beach and Pacific Beach offer old-school vibes while La Jolla, ‘the jewel of San Diego’, has varied scenery, from dramatic 300ft cliffs to reefs – a mile-long crescent that lends itself to active beach lovers, who can pick from surfing, Stand-up paddleboarding and more.
How: This is road-trip territory, so chuck your gear in a car and head along the coast. My American Roadtrip offers 14 days from £1,499 including flights and car hire. theamericanroadtripcompany.co.uk
Classic: The Maldives
More than 1.3 million people travelled to the Maldives last year, hypnotised by startling white sands, clear water and private villas. If you’re serious about your beaches and like them manicured, swept and lined with equidistant sunloungers all facing the same way (towards the sun), then the vibe at the majority of the Maldives’ resorts will suit you just fine. While the resorts are the most visited destinations for honeymooners and smooching couples, more intrepid travellers should make the effort to see the archipelago’s non-commercialised islands – where rich culture is about as far as you can get from your infinity pool. Though if you choose to stay and swim, we won’t judge you one bit.
How: Taj Exotica Resort & Spa suits sunbathers and restless sunbathers (activities galore). Kuoni offers seven-night stays from £2,370pp including flights and accommodation. kuoni.co.uk
Alternative: Reunion Island
Nothing says ‘romance’ like breaking into a sweat at the top of a volcano. Hold your horses, we’re talking hiking here – something you can do on Reunion island, 500 miles off the coast of Madagascar. You’re not going to catch much of a tan doing that, so kick back at this Indian Ocean island’s most luxurious resort, aptly named LUX* Saint Gilles, where colonial-style buildings are set within lush gardens. The location, right on the calm, coral-sheltered lagoon of L’Hermitage beach, will have you swigging cocktails alongside a very fashionable French pedigree clientele, but there’s enough privacy to escape other guests when you fancy it. Maldives what?
For closer-to-home sun
Classic: The Algarve, Portugal
Algarve residents will proudly remind you of two things: the region is one of the biggest producers of cork (yes, the cork in your wine bottle), that’s manufactured into anything from iPad covers to business card holders. The other? Three-hundred days of sunshine a year. Sure, come winter it’s not the kind of temperature that’s going to turn your skin mahogany, and there may be the odd rain shower, but the temperate off-season climate is ideal if you’re craving some short-haul vitamin D and fancy exploring more than just the sea in this part of southern Portugal, The region is scattered with pretty colonial towns and mountain villages – good luck finding anywhere more photogenic.
Cyprus is the sunniest island in the Med, and its location, not so far from the Middle East, means it’s as balmy as you’ll get without hopping on a long-haul flight. In fact, mid-winter temperatures of around 18ºC (a shade lower on the coast) make it the perfect destination for an active break. Cyprus in the milder months is ripe for exploring, and the island’s packed with compelling culture, so pop your head into the 16th-century Ottoman fortress, feast on halloumi and rice pudding and check out the staggering number of archaeological sites, including the sprawling Tombs of the Kings. These sites are distributed across the south of the island, while the north has plenty to offer visitors with more time on their hands: see both and you’ll experience two very different, equally intriguing cultures.
For the really long haul
Fiji’s been nailing the tourism business for decades, with its sizzling and impressive combination of sun-drenched beaches, rainforest and lively cities. For those who like spending their time in the water, there’s world-class surfing, diving (and freediving), white-water rafting and sea kayaking. The other draw is, of course, the beaches – try the pristine shores of Qamea, where not only will you find flawless curves of sand, but also the elusive lairo land crab. The flight time – just shy of 21 hours – is worth it. Plenty of opportunity to stretch the legs on arrival, too.
How: Trailfinders will help you find the best flight prices, routes and accommodation, with options to tag on elsewhere too. trailfinders.com
Alternative: Lord Howe Island, Australia
Officially, Lord Howe Island is part of New South Wales in Australia, although its location – almost 400 miles off the country’s coast in the Tasman Sea – combined with the virtually untouched rainforest interior, give it a rustic Robinson Crusoe vibe. Wildlife lovers will get their fill – along with over 90 coral and 500 marine species, the island is home to hundreds of birds (some of which travel as far away as Siberia to migrate – remember that next time you’re out for a long run/complaining about a long flight) and some of the resident animals, including the large forest bat, are only found on the island. Australians in particular love the island, and considering they’re not exactly short on pretty beaches in Oz, that says a lot about Lord Howe’s sandy stretches.
For urban South America (with added beach)
Classic: Rio, Brazil
You’ve seen the pictures right? If parties are as high on your agenda as tanning, then you can’t beat a week lapping up the caipirinhas and sunshine in Brazil’s hottest beachside city. The famous beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema are both vast and rammed with bronzed people wearing next to nothing, and people watching is almost as essential as a game of beach football. If you’re looking for a bit more excitement than you’ll find on the red-hot sand, then head over to the legendary carnaval in February for epic block parties. Most hotels and hostels will be able to tell you where to find the best parties each day. If the budget won’t stretch to that time of year (you’re likely to spend, spend, spend in Rio, and Brazil ain’t cheap), then any time between now and April (when the temperature is usually up in the high twenties) will do nicely.
Alternative: Cartagena, Colombia
Cartagena’s efforts are more subtle compared to Rio’s more obvious seduction techniques. The attractive old town is a maze of cobbled alleys, 13km of city walls and more bougainvillea than a whole posse of grannies’ gardens combined. The city will soon draw you in with its sensual Latin American charm, numerous open-air restaurants and plaza parties, while the beaches make the most of the Caribbean setting. Try a day trip to the Rosario Islands or head south to Bocagrande, the sophisticated ‘Miami of Colombia’, where it’s more about swanky cafés than donkeys and carts. If you have time and can extend your trip, consider the four-day guide-led hike to the Lost City. The uphill ramble to the ancient, jungle-clad ruins is both scenic and fun. Crossing multiple fast-flowing rivers with your backpack on your head? No biggie.
How: Latin America specialist Last Frontiers offers 12-night trips to Colombia including the five-day lost city hike from £1,196pp including flights and accommodation, lastfrontiers.com
For straight-up beach
Classic: Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt
Back in the day, Sharm was a small Egyptian town that only hardcore divers knew about, but the promise of year-round sunshine and a short flight time (around four hours) has brought tourists in their droves over the last few decades. And who can blame them? Sometimes holidays don’t need exploration, meticulous planning (beyond your next cocktail) and day trips: they just need a lounger, a good book and turquoise water to cool off in. That’s what you’ll find in Sharm, and along with five-star hotels, there’s plenty of apartments to rent, for those not keen to succumb to the all-in bars and buffets. British Airways has just launched direct flights to the destination, and with brands such as W hotels opening there over the coming years, it seems this classic option is getting hot again. Well, ‘hot’ as in ‘cool’ – the thermometers will always sit in the thirties. Toasty!
How: British Airways offers return flights from £180, ba.com; five-star hotels line the beaches – it’ll come down to how you like your interiors, and maybe price. Options at lastminute.com
Mountains? Check. Desert? Check. Beach? CHECK. Whatever your ideal winter sun holiday involves, Oman in the Middle East wraps it up into one warm, handy and spectacular-looking package. The country makes for a surprisingly good DIY road trip – petrol’s cheap and big 4X4s navigate mountain territory with ease. If you’re keen to do more basking in the sunshine than poking your head out the passenger window to catch some rays, then head to the Musandam Peninsula, where dramatic cliffs tumble down into calm azure water. The remote enclave (better reached from Dubai airport than Muscat) is home to some of the best diving in the Middle East – it also offers incredible marine biodiversity, including the odd whaleshark and sun fish.
How: ITC Luxury Travel offers seven nights from £1,965pp including flights. itcluxurytravel.co.uk