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9 alternative winter sun islands

Photo of Anna HardyPhoto of Anna Hardy
By Anna Hardy

13 January 2023 | Updated 30 November 20237 min read

From the water shot of the Otemanu mountain on Bora Bora island

Think of a winter island break in the sun and you’ll probably imagine Barbados, Tenerife or the ultra-luxe Maldives.

But venture beyond the tourist hotspots and you’ll find tropical paradise on other far-flung sunny shores. From the secluded beauty of the Seychelles to picture-perfect Palawan, here’s nine alternative winter sun islands that should be on your radar.

1. Bora Bora, French Polynesia

Is there a more dream-worthy destination than Bora Bora? One of the best-known islands in French Polynesia, this idyllic island is famed for white-sand beaches, stunning cobalt waters and castaway vibes. Temperatures average a balmy 28C during the low season months of December to March but expect short bursts of rain this time of year. The upside is hotels slash prices, so it’s easier to find a cheap deal.

Once you’ve had your fill of sun and sand, fill your belly with the island’s favourite eats. It won’t be a surprise that fish, such as mahi-mahi and the raw poisson cru dish, is the order of the day here. Beyond the beach, go in search of waterfalls and lagoons, snorkel with reef sharks* or take a guided hike of Mount Pahia’s jungle trails.

2. Bermuda

Known for its pastel pink-sand beaches and candy-coloured houses, Bermuda’s string of islands makes for a more-than-idyllic island getaway. And with winter temperatures sticking around the mid-20s, it ticks the box for winter sun too.

Alongside pristine sands and topaz waters, you’ll find historic forts, art galleries and museums galore, as well a food scene that showcases Bermuda’s vibrant blend of cultural influences. Make sure to try freshly caught snapper and sample Bermudian rum.

As for activities, golfing and hiking are popular – tee off at the highly rated Port Royal Golf Course or wander between sheltered coves and lush tropical greenery on the Railway Trail – as are the spectacular stalactites of Crystal Cave. Offshore, extensive reefs and a treasure trove of shipwrecks provide world-class diving opportunities.

3. Hawaii

Home to some of the best beaches and most impressive volcanic landscapes in the world, a winter sun holiday in Hawaii is hard to beat. While rain isn’t unlikely between January and March, temperatures average 24C and grey skies tend to pass quickly.

Spend your days lounging on sugar-white sand shores (Oahu’s Waikiki Beach is the most popular), hiking rainforest trails and admiring the islands’ magnificent wildlife – January and February are the best times to go whale-watching* in Maui.

Of course, a trip to Hawaii wouldn’t be complete without getting up close to an active volcano. Walk up lava fields and see Mauna Loa, Earth’s largest shield volcano, on Hawaiʻi island.

4. Malta

Closer to home, Malta enjoys a warmer Mediterranean climate in the winter months, with temperatures that hover in the high teens. And at just a three-and-a-half-hour flight from the UK, it’s a great choice for a quick island break in the sunshine.

Days are sunny enough for strolls along Malta’s gorgeous beaches – Gozo’s Ramla Bay is frequently named as the best – and for al fresco lunches at harbourfront cafes. In pint-sized capital, Valletta, it’s worth ditching the map to get lost in pretty cobbled streets and admire its beautiful baroque architecture.

This tiny island has its fair share of activities too – visit St John's Co-Cathedral, swim in St Peter's Pool or join a boat trip* to explore caves and lagoons.

5. Seychelles

Vast stretches of glistening white sand, shaded by coconut palms and gently lapped by sparkling blue waters, come as standard across the Seychelles’ 115 islands. Regularly crowned as the most beautiful beach in the world, the Anse Source d’Argent is a bucket list destination for any holidaymaker.

If you can prise yourself away from the breathtaking beaches, there are verdant jungle paths to hike, giant Aldabra tortoises to spot and a wonderland of coral reefs to snorkel.

The Seychelles is blessed with year-round heat and sunshine. While the winter months coincide with the rainy season here, temperatures remain pleasant in the high 20s and showers pass quickly. Plus, winter has the perk of cheaper prices compared to peak summer months.

6. Thai Islands

Laidback beach breaks and off-the-beaten-track adventures* are what holidays to Thailand were made for. Picture jungle-bordered beaches, turquoise lagoons and endless ocean views – the only thing more idyllic is the weather. Winter is Thailand’s dry season so expect nine hours of sunshine a day and tropical heat topping 30C.

As for which island to choose, Koh Samui has moved on from its backpacker days so you can add a touch of luxury to your roster of full-moon parties. For old-school partying the night away, Koh Pha-Ngan is the place to be. Elsewhere, Koh Phi Phi is activity central with diving and boat trips aplenty and the sleepy sands of Koh Chang and Koh Yao are proper island paradise

7. Palawan, Philippines

Palawan is in a league of its own when it comes to unforgettable island getaways: its translucent emerald waters and endless expanses of unspoiled sand are the stuff of dreams. You could beach hop all the way from El Nido’s exquisite shores to Balabac’s stunning sandbars and never tire of its beauty. Winter is a great time to make the most of them too, with the dry season bringing 30C temperatures.

Puerto Princesa is the capital, and its happy-go-lucky spirit is infectious. Dine on fresh crab, spot dolphins and visit the astounding limestone caves and underground river at Subterranean River National Park. Inland, there are hidden mountain trails and waterfalls to discover. Offshore, Tubbataha Reef is the best diving destination in the Philippines.

8. Cape Verde

An underrated archipelago off Africa’s west coast, Cape Verde’s magnificent landscapes, year-round hot climate and Creole hospitality are certainly worth raving about.

Sal and Boa Vista are the country’s most popular islands, their heavenly shorelines and beachfront hotels making for ideal fly-and-flop holidays. On Sal, you can spend your days kicking back on sandy shores, spotting lemon sharks and windsurfing. Less developed Boa Vista, meanwhile, is ideal for off-road desert adventures*, shipwreck diving and loggerhead turtle spotting.

Elsewhere, São Vicente’s Mindelo is the hub for culture and music, Maio is an oasis of unspoilt beaches, and the green valleys and volcanic peaks of Santo Antão are a haven of hiking trails.

Cape Verde’s dry season, typified by warm sunny days, runs from October through to May with winter temperatures hovering around the mid-20s.

9. Zanzibar, Tanzania

Zanzibar’s powder-soft sands, swaying palms and aqua-blue waters deserve to be on any island wishlist. The months of January, February and March benefit from being hot and dry so your sun-drenched winter getaway is all but guaranteed.

Although tourism is on the rise here, you won’t find it hard to find tranquil, empty beaches. Nungwi and Jambiani are two of the best, perfect for lazy days, romantic strolls and watching fiery sunsets.

If you’re up for exploring, spend a day in historic Stone Town, browsing the local markets and food vendors or spot red colobus monkeys in Jozani-Chwaka National Park’s indigenous forest.

Out on the water, sailing, snorkelling and diving are the best ways to enjoy Zanzibar’s incredibly clear waters and spot marine wildlife.

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