If the thought of another British winter is getting you down, wake up to these great winter sun escapes, writes Katie McGonagle.
Short days? Dark nights? All-round miserable weather? There are lots of great things about Britain, but the damp, dismal winter isn’t one of them, so it’s no wonder so many of us have already started dreaming of an escape to sunnier climes.
It used to be pretty straightforward to get that burst of Vitamin D without breaking the bank – the shores of Sharm el Sheikh and Sousse were packed with people enjoying much-needed winter sun – but with tourists less keen on traditional hotspots such as Egypt, Tunisia and Turkey, now’s the time to look for an alternative escape to brighten up a British winter.
Egypt’s Red Sea resorts cornered the market on active beach breaks, with world-class snorkelling and diving plus a never-ending array of watersports. So if you fancy recreating that sporty action elsewhere, the Cape Verde Islands – a group of 10 islands off the northwest coast of Africa – are an ideal alternative.
With a sub-six-hour flight and only an hour’s time difference, there’s no jetlag to worry about, so you can dive straight into the action on main island Sal, or take it easier on the quieter beaches of Boa Vista.
Either way, the trade-winds that first attracted Portuguese settlers here in the 15th century now offer the perfect conditions for windsurfing, kitesurfing, sailing and more. There’s also top-quality diving for those who just can’t live without their fix of underwater action, with a good chance of spotting humpback whales, turtles and manta rays.
If the current political climate has put you off trips to Turkey’s Mediterranean and Aegean coastlines, the varied landscapes of Gran Canaria offer an even sunnier escape. The southern beaches of Playa del Ingles are most popular with sun-seeking tourists, but there’s more to do here than just lie back on the beach.
The nearby Dunes of Maspalomas look more like something out of an Middle Eastern desert than the shores of a Spanish island, and are a stunning spot for a picnic. Add a spot of culture in capital Las Palmas, which has oodles of character with colonial architecture in the old town, Vegueta, and a fascinating history to explore at the Casa de Colon museum, based in the house where Christopher Columbus stayed en route across the Atlantic to the New World.
Alternatively, liven things up with a Segway tour along the city’s seafront or a fun night out on Tapas Thursdays, when you’ll get tapas and a beer for about €2.
With the Foreign & Commonwealth Office still advising against all but essential travel to Tunisia, tourists need an alternative spot for good-value sunshine, and fellow African destination the Gambia can oblige.
Often called ‘the smiling coast of Africa’, west-coast country the Gambia ticks the boxes for both beach and culture, so you can intersperse days on its sandy stretches with a visit to a local village, a boat trip along the Gambia River, or a bird watching excursion to spot some of the Gambia’s incredibly diverse birdlife.
It’s impossible not to get a thrill out of theme park capital Orlando – whether your loyalty lies with Disney or Universal, or you flit about between its many other attractions, the US destination does it all. Yet that reputation for rollercoasters and fun-packed parks is rivalled by Dubai, which is constantly developing new ways to entertain visitors of any age.
Little ones can dream about what they want to be when they grow up at KidZania, which takes dressing up to a whole new level, while tweens take gaming as seriously as they like at Sega Republic and snow-loving teens speed down the slopes at Ski Dubai.
But you don’t have to be under 18 to get an adrenaline rush at Aquaventure or Wild Wadi waterparks, or to enjoy the new crop of new attractions at Dubai Parks and Resorts, made up of movie-themed Motiongate, India-inspired Bollywood Parks Dubai, and Legoland Dubai for under-12s.
The idyllic island of Mauritius has become a lot more affordable in recent years, as a crop of mid-market hotels make it accessible for those who find its five-star resorts a little out of reach. But if you’ve been there, done that in the Indian Ocean, the tropical beaches of Goa more than match up: like Mauritius, it’s a melting pot of multiculturalism, with 450 years of Portuguese rule showing through in its 15th century Catholic churches and colonial buildings, plus a fusion of Portuguese and Indian cuisine that is every bit as delicious as it sounds.
Goa’s northern beaches have attracted hippies since the swinging ‘60s, and are still the place to go for a party-filled beach break; while the south is the spot for quiet contemplation and chilled-out days by the sea.
Even if you’ve soaked up sun on the shores of Negril, Ocho Rios or Montego Bay, don’t think you’ve ticked off the Caribbean completely. Tobago is that dream winter sun destination, all white-sand beaches, swaying palms and beautifully clear waters, said to have been the inspiration behind Robinson Crusoe.
If all you want is to sit back in a hammock with a good book in one hand and a rum punch in the other, there are plenty of gorgeous spots such as Bacolet Bay or Pigeon Point. But if you fancy something a little more exciting, take a boat trip out to the turquoise waters of Nylon Pool or the protected marine reserve at Buccoo Reef, tour a rum distillery or the cocoa farm at Roxborough on the east coast, or visit the verdant landscape of Argyle Waterfall.
It’s got a reputation among American college students as the place to go for booze-filled spring breaks, but Cancun has much more to it than that. Not only does it offer a good-value alternative to the Caribbean, with its crop of high-rise hotels meaning prices are pretty competitive, but it’s just as well set up for watersports – think snorkelling or scuba diving along the reef, fishing for barracuda, grouper and blue marlin, or sailing its turquoise seas.
Those with a cultural bent are just as well catered-for, with the ancient Mayan sites of Chichen Itza and Tulum within easy day-trip distance of Cancun’s hotels.