As the nights draw in and the clouds roll over, it’s all too tempting to head off to warmer, sunnier climes. Many destinations come into their own during our winter months, offering sunbathing and snorkeling, as well as cultural experiences and wildlife encounters. We’ve put together a few of the best places to visit for a winter break to help your daydreaming become a reality.
From mid-November onwards, the Indian monsoon has passed, leaving Kerala rich and green with balmy temperatures and clear skies. A laid-back, unhurried pace of life makes it an ideal place to laze under sunny skies. Cruise along the palm-fringed backwaters on a traditional houseboat, watching the farmers and fishermen at work. Spend a few nights on the shore of Lake Vembanad at a traditional Keralan resort to enjoy Ayuvedic spa treatments and yoga. Follow this with some time on the beach – hotels range from the luxurious to more traditional thatched-roof options.
If you’re looking for something a little more active, the tea region around the town of Munnar is a refreshing contrast to the coast. A former British hill station with some of the highest tea plantations in the world, Munnar offers views right across the rolling hills. Stay in a colonial tea plantation and you’ll find your hosts are keen to tell you about the history of the area and guide you on walks to explore further.
Traditionally a summer destination, some parts of Indonesia are actually better in our winter months. The Raja Ampat Islands are an Indonesian archipelago of more than 1,000 islands off the coast of Sorong. In November and December, you’ll find temperatures averaging 30C (86F) and cloudless skies. A chain of jungle-covered peaks, sandy coves and hidden lagoons, few islands are inhabited and you can only explore by boat. A number of cruises are aboard traditional timber schooners with billowing sails and gleaming wooden decks.
Most cruises sail for between seven and ten days, stopping off to discover a variety of islets along the way. Considered one of the best dive spots in the world, the islands support a flourishing population of marine life and pristine coral gardens. The water is so clear you can see turtles and rays from the seat of a kayak (kayaks are available on board). You’ll also have the chance to explore on land, trekking one of the many island trails, or searching for rock art in the limestone caves.
Experiencing far more manageable temperatures than the 40C+ (104F+) seen in the summer months, but still offering guaranteed sunshine, visiting Oman between November and February lets you squeeze out every hour of your stay.
Soak up Middle Eastern culture in Muscat, Oman’s capital. Here you can explore the dark, chaotic lanes of Muttrah Souq – one of the oldest Arab marketplaces in the world – and barter for traditional lamps, embroidered bags and silverware. Also pay a visit to the beautiful Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, whose radiant white walls hide intricately decorated interiors and the world’s second-largest hand-woven carpet.
Out in Wahiba Sands, you can meet nomadic Bedouin tribes, take an exhilarating ride through the dunes in a 4×4 and sleep beneath the stars in a desert camp. Alternatively, venture into Jebel Akhdar Mountains, where walking trails lead to abandoned villages and ancient tombs pre-dating the Egyptian pyramids.
The country’s long stretch of coastline is a mix of sweeping sandy beaches, secluded coves and rugged headlands. Snorkeling and diving are excellent here, giving you the chance to spot leopard sharks, green and hawksbill turtles, several ray species and a variety of fish living among the coral.
With its dry season lasting until December, Mozambique makes an excellent choice for an early winter break. It offers warm sunshine, pristine white-sand beaches and clear, calm waters filled with swirls of tropical fish.
This time of year can be very rewarding for wildlife enthusiasts: up until November you may be able to spot humpback whales offshore as they have their young before migrating to Antarctica. Between October and December, you can swim almost within touching distance of whale sharks and manta rays in the warm waters of the Indian Ocean. And, from November to March, Mozambique’s coastline is visited by five species of turtle, which come ashore in the evenings to lay their eggs in the soft sand.
Ibo Island, off Mozambique’s northern shore, was once an important Swahili trading post. Wandering through the streets, you’ll pass crumbling colonial buildings and 18th-century forts left over from Ibo’s former Portuguese, Dutch, Chinese, Arab and Indian inhabitants. The island is just a 25 minute light aircraft flight from Pemba.
Uruguayans like to say that their country is ‘open to the sea’. The majority of Uruguay’s infrastructure is built along the coast, embracing as much beach as possible. Sometimes snubbed as a winter sun destination in preference for Brazil and Argentina, Uruguay’s beaches have been a playground to Latin America’s elite for decades. The year-round hot weather and burgeoning culinary scene exerts a magnetic pull.
Head west from the capital to José Ignacio. Just 40 minutes’ drive from the more glamorous and showy , José Ignacio has a laid-back, small-town feel. Its beach faces west and is known for its sunsets. Well-heeled Latin Americans have their private residences here, hidden among the trees. Nearby, you’ll find some of the best restaurants in South America, such as Parador La Huella and Michelin-starred Restaurante Garzon.
For somewhere a little more intimate and bohemian, there’s Punta del Diablo, surrounded by a huge coastal wildlife conservation area that makes it even more secluded.
At first glance, Australia might not seem an obvious ‘winter sun’ choice. Its summer, which falls during the Northern Hemisphere’s winter, sees the mercury reach uncomfortable highs in some areas of the country. Meanwhile, Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef are in the grip of their rainy season. However, a winter trip is still ideal – and there’s a lot more to do than simply relax on beaches.
Lord Howe Island, a two hour flight from Sydney, is a mountainous volcanic islet curled around a lagoon and carpeted in kentia palms, banyan trees and cloudforest. As well as exploring its many walking trails, it offers a reef experience comparable to the Great Barrier – bright, phantasmagorical corals, clear waters and an array of marine life.
South of Perth and the Margaret River, the southern corner of Western Australia lends itself to sedate self-drives, stopping off to visit vineyards producing some of Australia’s best wines and traversing forests of indigenous karri and marri trees.
Finally, there’s Tasmania – a year-round destination. It’s a place for anyone seeking untameable, untouched wilderness. Visit Freycinet Peninsula and kayak around its wild beaches, headlands and coves, keeping an eye out for sea eagles.
Craig Burkinshaw is Founder of Audley Travel.