As cosy and festive as winter is, it can leave you desperate for some sunshine. A winter sun holiday will warm you right up. There are some questions to consider: If you have to fly 20 hours to get there, is it worth it? If there’s nothing to do but lie on the beach, will you get bored? And do you want to go somewhere a bit new, rather than the tried and true favourites?
Sun-seekers – rejoice! We’ve come up with four alternative winter sun destinations, complete with flying times and average winter temperatures. These sunny spots are all easy direct or one-stop flights from Birmingham. While it’s cold and grey in the UK, you’ll be away basking in the sun.
Barbados and Cuba are two gems of the Caribbean – energetic but tranquil, relaxing but not boring, developed but authentic. While Barbados has long been a tropical winter paradise, Cuba has recently been opening up as a major travel destination. If you love the sunshine and pulsing nightlife of Barbados, you’ll enjoy Cuba just as much.
Feel the beat: Spanish, Caribbean and African influences merge to create son, salsa, rumba and more. In Havana, hear salsa at the beachfront Jardines del 1830 and jazz at the intimate La Zorra y el Cuervo. Elsewhere on the island, listen to music at Trinidad’s soulful Palenque de los Congos Reales and Santiago’s tucked-away Casa de las Tradiciones.
Hit the beach: What’s a Caribbean holiday without the beach? Magnificent strips of sand line Cuba’s shores and clusters of cays dot its waters. You can go swimming, snorkelling and diving to your heart’s content. Popular spots include the resorts at Playa Guardalavaca and Varadero, and the more secluded beaches of Cayo Sabinal and Isla de la Juventud.
See old and new collide: Its political history and communist government have preserved Cuba’s heritage while the entrepreneurial spirit and widespread diaspora are bringing in new life. Check out architectural treasures in Havana Vieja, or Old Havana, then head to one of the latest galleries or restaurants.
These two small island nations have a lot in common, with beautiful beaches, vibrant underwater life and a welcoming atmosphere. Cape Verde’s topography is more varied, and its blend of Portuguese and African influences makes for a unique culture. If you’re dazzled by the Maldives’ aquatic riches and friendly people, Cape Verde will wow you too.
Go island hopping: Cape Verde is made up of 10 islands, each with its own personality. Sal has tourist resorts and incredible diving; Boa Vista has pristine beaches; São Vicente has music and carnival; and Santo Antão has hiking and green valleys. If booked in advance, travelling between the islands is fairly easy, with regular ferries and small flights.
Enjoy the sun: Boa Vista’s beaches are spectacular – over 55km of mostly undeveloped white sand and emerald green water. Santa Monica, Curralinho and Sal Rei are top spots. In winter, you’ll miss turtle nesting season (June – October) and whale watching season (March – May), but you’ll still see dolphins, tiger sharks, manta rays and flocks of migratory birds.
Indulge in the arts: São Vicente is the country’s cultural hub, where many artists, musicians and writers make their home. You can hear local musical styles like the poetic morna and the accordion-based funaná throughout the island. Head to the city of Mindelo for a Brazilian-style carnival in February.
History, heat and culture blend to perfection in Marrakesh – colourful souqs full of spices and crafts, renovated riads clad in intricate tiles, desert day trips on camels or 4x4s. If this sounds like your ideal winter sun holiday, why not visit Dubai instead? It’s warmer than Marrakesh in winter and offers another lively version of Arabic culture.
Wade in the water: There are many ways to enjoy the water in Dubai. Children will love the water playgrounds at the Wild Wadi and Aquaventure waterparks. Two enormous aquariums mesmerise with their sharks and schools of bright fish. Sunset Beach and Al Mamzar Beach Park are great for swimming. If you’d rather not get wet, enjoy an Arabian Gulf view from a rooftop lounge.
Go on a shopping spree: Shopping is a must in Dubai. You can get deals on luxury items at Dubai Mall or Mall of the Emirates. To find one-of-a-kind items, wander around the souqs. Haggle over carpets and pashminas at Bur Dubai Souq; saffron and sumac at Deira Spice Souq; and necklaces and bracelets at Deira Gold Souq.
Explore the desert: Sand is as much a part of the Dubai experience as sunshine. Massive sand dunes are just outside the city, where you can go sandboarding, dune bashing and camel riding. You can even camp overnight to get a taste of the nomadic lifestyle. Book a tour with an operator who can provide all the gear.
The Canary Islands are very popular for winter sun holidays. With seven large islands to choose from, however, there’s a lot to explore in this archipelago. If you always go to Gran Canaria or Tenerife, venture to Fuerteventura, the second-largest island. It’s known for its breath-taking beaches, consistently sunny climate and laid-back vibe.
Soak up the sun: Beaches are the star of Fuerteventura – long stretches of sand with warm blue water perfect for swimming. Corralejo in the north is most popular with Brits, while Germans frequent Jandia in the south. Beaches outside the towns offer more peace and quiet. Playa del Matorral, Parque Natural de Corralejo, and the secluded Lobos Island are great options.
Ride the wind: Fuerteventura is a windsurfer’s paradise. With reliable trade winds, sizeable waves and lots of places to take lessons and rent equipment, it’s easy to get active. If the professional windsurfers are too intimidating, you can also surf, kiteboard, snorkel and sail.
Tour rural villages: Slow down and chill out as you wander through the island’s small villages. Photograph whitewashed stone houses; eat fresh fish and majorero – the delicious local goat’s cheese; and visit one of the several lovely art museums on the island.