What image does this evoke: A family vacation to Disney World in Orlando during the holidays? I’ll tell you what I see: Madness, chaos, and crying children. Making plans for winter travel can be essential to escaping the winter blues, but you don’t want to waste precious getaways standing in line or sitting in a cold-germ-carrying crowd. The Manual has decided you deserve better and that you won’t have to worry about these issues — we’ve got you covered. From Caribbean seas to warm streets down under, here are some of the best warm places to visit in December (or, if you need a post-holidays break, warm places to visit in January) to thaw out your frozen toes.
While the Florida Keys are an incredible spot to set up a beach chair during winter, you might find yourself crowded in by other sun worshipers. Or worse, you could be the victim of a spilled cocktail or two while you’re trying to just grab some peace and quiet. Don’t fret — There is an alternative on the tranquil Gulf: Pine Island.
This 17-mile skinny stretch is about an hour drive from the nearby Fort Myers airport. While most of the crowds flock to Fort Myers Beach and Sanibel Island, you’ll sneak away to this laid-back strip of sand with world-class fishing and lush natural environs. Hike through pine forests or catch sight of tropical birds and beautiful aquatic creatures on kayak trips through the mangroves. You can even take a boat over to nearby Fort Myers Beach, cruise down to Captiva, or stop in Sanibel for tasty seafood.
One thing might make Pine Island a bit cheaper, a bit more benevolent, and a bit less picturesque this year: Hurricane Ian. While Tampa was bracing for impact, the storm took a sudden right turn and crashed into Pine Island. An incredible recovery is in action, and you can likely give a hand or bring some needed dollars there as residents continue to clean up after the area’s worst storm in decades.
A jewel of Georgia, Savannah is not only an unblemished beauty; she is one of the most interesting and exciting towns to visit in the South. December and January can be a little more dicey weather-wise than the high-tourist season of February through March, but this also means that you can skip the crowds, get the most out of your budget, and still get the best of Savannah.
First off, December offers a number of seasonal festivals during the coastal city’s downtime. Mix in with locals and get a good view of the Hostess City by leaping into a running race, touring the incredible Christmas displays on land and on the Savannah River, or strapping on a pair of skates to cruise the Savannah Civic Center’s giant ice rink.
Bike tours are one of the most popular activities to take in this antebellum town, but if the weather is chilly over a day or two, simply stay inside by taking a tour of Savannah’s historic (and allegedly haunted) homes. For film buffs, there’s the Telluride Film Festival. For the literary folk, the Savannah Book Festival is one of the largest gatherings of emerging and established writers in the country. Of course, you’ll get hungry and thirsty doing all this sightseeing. Luckily, there are few better places for Southern grub and genteel cocktails than Savannah.
If it’s wind through palm trees, fine sand through your toes, and crystal water on your buns that your heart is set on, you can’t go wrong with the Caribbean. While places like Puerto Rico, the Bahamas, and Jamaica will be jammin’, the Dominican Republic offers an offbeat alternative.
The epitome of a winter getaway, the Caribbean island country (astride Haiti) is wrapped by 900 miles of beach after beach (highlighted by Punta Cana’s unspoiled coast) and crystal-blue waters. Inland, adventure and nature lurks. From rainforest sojourns through rolling green mountains to merengue dances, market shopping, and culinary merriment in the capital of Santo Domingo, there’s too much to explore in the Dominican for one trip. It’s less expensive and less touristy than most of its Caribbean brethren, and there’s no required COVID-19 testing or quarantine for American travelers.
Speaking of rain forests, the rain pours down in Costa Rica for almost six months of the year. At the end of November, however, the incessant water ceases, and the sun and 85-degree days hearken in the the dry season. Catching the critical December window is key as Costa Rica is quite busy in the late winter and early spring. During this period of little rain, you can also find stunning days on the beach, horseback rides through scenic trails, and hikes up to volcanic peaks with minimal crowds, making this one of the best getaways in winter.
Guanacaste is on Costa Rica’s Pacific side. This leads to some of Central America’s best surf, snorkel, and dive destinations. When you’re not plunging into adventure, Guanacaste also features some of the most beautiful beaches in this hemisphere. Kick back on the shore and dig into fresh seafood at any of the eco-friendly, cost-effective, or luxury resorts that you want to choose from. Nearby beaches are just short drives away, and for the Eastern-minded, there are multiple yoga and mindfulness classes and retreats to choose from. Per the U.S. embassy, there are no COVID-19 testing requirements to enter Costa Rica.
At the end of the coast is Patagonia, Chile. December and January aren’t typically considered warm weather primetime here, but they’re the heart of the southern hemisphere’s summertime. That means that though the weather may have a bit of bite, this is the absolute best time of year to enjoy some of the most spectacular, stunning places on Earth.
Torres del Paine National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with hundreds of miles of trails that pass by incredible (melting) glaciers and icefields, shining bright during the 17-hour days. Naturalist guides and boat tours can take you down to Magdalena Island to say hi to penguins. When hunger calls, you can check in at Punta Arenas, a stop that features local food and brews. Like Guanacaste, your bed can range from rustic cabañas to luxe resorts that are paired with boat and trek tours.
It may seem too late to organize a trip to the other side of the world, but last-minute plans often have the upside of last-minute accommodations — inexpensive and open because people made their plans six to 12 months ago. According to the U.S. embassy, vaccinated travelers do not have be tested for COVID-19.
Speaking of endless days at the southern tip of the globe, in December and January, Cape Town closes up its constant safari treks to shake out her skirt and dance out long, hot days during the height of the southern hemisphere’s summer. One of the African continent’s most cosmopolitan locales, Cape Town’s nightlife is at its best during the down season. In addition to incredible dining and summer concerts, South Africa’s winelands are bursting with grapes during the North American wintertime. Just a short jaunt away are regions like Stellenbosch, Franschhoek, and Swartland waiting for your palate to sample some of the best, freshest wines this side of the world.
In addition to all a city has to offer when the sun is high, Cape Town sits under Table Mountain and upon the Indian Ocean. Dive into indigo waters, hop into a cage to visit great white sharks, or cruise up to the green, rocky plateaus that surround the town. With endless outdoor adventures and urban exploration combined with some of the best prices you can find at any time of the year, you could do much worse than heading to Cape Town this winter. Travelers to South Africa do not have to present COVID-19 vaccination records or a negative PCR test.
We’re cheating a bit here, as December and January mark Perth, Australia’s busy season, when Aussies bask in the sun during summer vacations. The largest city on the country’s west side, however, remains 85 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit after the crowds thin and Australians return to work and school in February.
Being on the coast, Perth is one of the Great Down Under’s most popular places to visit. The laid-back town exudes a coastal cool that will make leaving an enclosed winter hubbub well worth traveling all the way across the planet. Get a surfing lesson from the locals, hike around the 42-acre Kings Park and Botanic Garden, or cruise the town to check out its colorful murals.
For indoor culture, the Perth Cultural Centre is home to the state ballet and opera companies. This central precinct also features theater, libraries, and the Art Gallery of Western Australia. For foodies, there’s plenty of red meat and seafood to be had. Perth’s bars range from seaside shacks to underground palaces that mix cocktails that will make your tongue sing. Per the Australian health authority, neither a negative COVID-19 test nor vaccination record is required to enter the country.
Wintertime can be one of the best times of year, but even the most hardy among us get tired of the snow and cold at some point. Whether it be a hop to a nearby city or a junket to faraway lands, make sure to take some time to yourselves this season before cabin fever sets in.
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