Ten Great Winter Escapes
Partying & relaxing
Temperature averages for December & January: +24...25°C for water, +24...26°C for air
Usually noisy Miami Beach becomes somewhat less crowded in winter, but its neighborhood of South Beach, or SoBe, stands out in that Ferraris and Bentleys navigate its streets year round, and parties run wild and wicked even in summer, the season of heavy rainfall and hurricanes. The blocks from the 5th to the 15th Street are packed with hotels, gourmet restaurants, and posh clubs. The local beach is wider than in other neighborhoods, its sand is several shades lighter, and the chances of encountering a celebrity here are higher. In December, the city hosts Art Basel Miami, one of the biggest contemporary art events in the world.
Ever-cool crispy quartz sand, an ambiance of relaxing idleness (with physical exercise limited to an occasional game of beach volleyball), and fantastic sunsets: there are many reasons Siesta Beach of Siesta Key, Florida, made it onto Tripadvisor’s list of the world’s best beaches this year.
The temptation of the Caribbean
Temperature averages for December & January: +24...25°C for water, +24...26°C for air
The archipelago of Jardines del Rey stretches some 200 km along Cuba’s east coast. One of its largest islands is Cayo Coco: there is even an international airport here, but tourists generally prefer traveling to the island using the road built right above the sea surface (you can watch wild flamingoes without even leaving your car). By far the longest and most beautiful beach is Playa Larga, with its powdery soft sand, picturesque cliffs, and smooth lagoons that are ideal for kiteboarding lessons (there is even a Russian kiteboarding school named Cuba-Kite). Right beside the beach is Acuavida Spa Talaso, a public spa.
One of the largest resort areas of the Caribbean, Varadero has been named as one the world’s best more than a few times. Apart from its famous beach and a dozen of all-inclusive hotels, it is also home to art galleries, museums, cabarets, nightclubs, dance shows, artisan markets, cigar&rum shops, the caves of the Varahicacos Ecological Reserve, a golf club, and a gazillion of places for water fun.
✈ Tel Aviv
Pure & healthy
Temperature averages for December & January: +22...23°C for water, +16...17°C for air
The Red Sea in winter is a great destination for those who have an aversion to the constant heat (in the morning and in the evening, you’ll likely need something warmer than shorts here) and welcome a refreshing breeze from time to time. Between swimming sessions, it is highly recommended to stay out of the beach chair and take a walk along the sea front to admire the color harmony created by inky water and brick-red mountains. When it’s cloudy, your best bet will be a guided tour or a desert safari. Eilat is an expensive resort city mostly popular with rich retirees, but it is a great place for yachting and diving. And if you are too lazy to learn the numerous intricacies of the latter, you can familiarize yourself with flora and fauna of the coral reefs by visiting the submarine observatory.
The Dead Sea is slightly warmer: the temperature of its oily, viscous water reaches +23°C at times. The air temperature is also higher, up to +18°C, but it is still more suitable for walks than swimming. Ein Bokek is considered the region's only full-fledged resort area, possessing about a dozen hotels, as well as several wellness centers and spas. If it’s still not quite enough for you, try visiting the Zohar hot springs.
Temperature averages for December & January: +18...20°C for water, +22...23°C for air
The Canary Islands in December are definitely no place for spending a holiday with little ones, and swimmers are few: the water in the many little bays does not heat up warmer than 20°C, and it’s often windy. Kitesurfers and windsurfers, on the other hand, will definitely love it here. The main surfing spots are at El Médano, which attracts surfers from all over the world. Here, the winds stay strong for 300 days a year on average, and in winter they get so strong you can leave big sails and kites at home. Right at the center of the island, there is Teide, the archipelago’s highest volcano and a nice place to go for trekking in order to get accustomed back to the land after surfing.
It will probably be too difficult to start learning kiteboarding in winter, but you can still try your hand in regular surfing. There are over a dozen great spots at the island of Lanzarote, but beginners should try Famara Beach, located next to the eponymous fishing village. Perks include the abundance of schools and surfboard rentals, calmer waves in comparison to other spots, and the six kilometer-long stretch of sandy coast devoid of stones, corrals, or nasty sea urchins.
Fun for the whole family
Temperature averages for December & January: +22...24°C for water, +24...26°C for air
The most popular beach is the public Jumeirah Beach Residence in the neighborhood of Dubai Marina. The calm water is ideal for swimming, and further out in the sea, you can do some parasailing or wake-boarding. In 2016, an inflatable amusement park was installed on the water, and anyone over five is allowed in to jump and horse around on slides and cushions – surmounting all the obstacles will be an interesting challenge even for an adult.
Located just an hour’s drive away from Dubai is Ras al-Khaimah, the northernmost emirate of the UAE, which boasts lush vegetation and a calmer ambiance. This emirate also has everything for an eventful holiday: paddleboats, windsurfing, parasailing, fishing, and many other activities. For those who stay on land, there are golf, horse-riding, and the Iceland waterpark. History buffs should go see the ruins of the Al Jazirah Al Hamra. A little further away are the hot springs of Khatt, and the Al Hajar Mountains, where you can do some climbing or mountain biking.
The ocean, for her and for him
Temperature averages for December & January: +28...29°C for water, +30...31°C for air
Picking the best one among the numerous Maldivian atolls scattered in the Indian Ocean is not easy. There are as many as 1,192 islands in total, and not all of them are actually inhabited. Moreover, an unofficial ‘one hotel per atoll’ rule is in effect, and, with some very few exceptions, it is generally upheld, creating an air of intimacy that is particularly appreciated by honeymooners. Almost every island has its own spot for diving and snorkeling; sometimes, you don’t even have to swim anywhere – simply putting your snorkel on is enough to admire the sea life. In places, manta rays come close to the pier. However, if you want to see a whale shark, this harmless spotted giant of the ocean, you’ll have to travel to Southern Ari Atoll, in winter, from November to December. While there, you can also dive around sunken ships.
Age-appropriate for everyone
Temperature averages for December & January: +27...28°C for water, +30°C for air
Hua Hin is one of the oldest, safest, and most prim resorts of Thailand. The reason is simple: the summer residence of the country’s monarch is located within the town’s limits. It’s not nearly as humid here as at some other Thai resorts, but it is often windy in winter, and the sea gets fairly stormy sometimes. The Khao Takiab beach is a lifesaver for such days: protected from bad weather by a cliff, it is always calm and ideal for young children. At the foot of the cliff, there is an impressive Buddha statue, while the cliff itself is crawling with monkeys — their shenanigans make for a great show as you walk to the local temple. During your stay, you might also want to visit the Vana Nava, the largest water park in all of Southeast Asia, opened three years ago.
The bustling city of Pattaya may seem way too noisy and restless to some, but you can find pleasant and tidy places to rest even there. Wong Amat Beach is considered the best one: a smooth slope to the sea, fenced swimming areas, tree shade (in case there won’t be enough parasols for everyone), and a plethora of cheap cafes. Local families love it, too – they come here for picnics or to fish near the boulders, and the southern part of the beach becomes an improvised dance floor for Thais after hours.
A degree of refinement
Temperature averages for December & January: +28...29°C for water, +27…31°C for air
With the dry season in full swing, Phuket is teeming with tourists in winter. Local tourism industry offers all kinds of activities besides seaside leisure sites, including dance floors and nightclubs, a water park and a zoo, zip-lines and adventure parks, as well as elephant, crocodiles and orchid farms. Kata Beach usually stands out of the three dozen local beaches in various ‘best of’ lists, by virtue of having the clearest water on the island. The Kata Yai part of the beach remains popular from May through October, with numerous surfers flocking here to ride the waves. The Kata Noi part is the spot of choice for families with children as well as a romantic destination for couples. As for the Kata Bay itself, it serves as the starting point of Phuket King’s Cup Regatta, which begins in early December.
The province of Krabi is the quiet counterpart to Phuket, but in order to make it to the most heaven-like beaches of the Andaman Coast, you’ll have to travel by boat or along a hiking path. One of these secluded spots is Phra Nang Beach, located on the Railay peninsula. Make sure to have enough storage space on your camera: the place is rife with scenic cliffs, mysterious grottoes, and charismatic food vendors (who are here to make up for the absence of eateries).
✈ Hong Kong
Oases of tranquility
Temperature averages for December & January: +19...20°C for water, +18…20°C for air
The beaches of Hong Kong become almost completely deserted in winter, but it only adds to their charm. Getting away from the city bustle is possible even on a thin stretch of golden sand in the posh residential area of Repulse Bay on the island’s southern coast. If you dare go into the water, be prepared for some improvised photo ops in the company of jacket-clad Chinese. On the plus side, the December coolness is great for a stroll or a bike ride along the sea front. You can also climb the mountains: there are a lot of beaten paths there just for that.
Or you could go for a little adventure and set off for the remote Tai Long Wan Beach, located on the peninsula of Sai Kung. An hour-and-a-half’s walk through a natural reserve or, if the sea is calm, a 40-minutes’ journey by boat from the town of Sai Kung will get you there. There are a couple of small restaurants near the entrance to the beach. You can rent a tent and spend the night there, listening to the waves splashing right beside you.
✈Ho Chi Minh City
Waiting for spring
Temperature averages for December & January: +25...27°C for water, +31…33°C for air
The many-kilometer-long coastal area between the provincial city of Phan Thiết and the fishing town of Mũi Né is probably the most famous tourist destination of Vietnam. But the reviews are mixed: strong winds and high waves make swimming challenging and sometimes even dangerous – you should either do it in the morning (and go to one of the cheap local spas afterwards) or simply wait until spring. Kite-boarders will be happy, though, all the more so because this coast is suitable for beginners, too. Another important perk is the availability of cheap and fresh seafood.
During the season of storms which lasts from November to mid-February, violent waves two to three meters high strike the beaches of Nha Trang, and you can often spot a red flag hoisted over them, which means no swimming is allowed. Pick a calm, sunny day (over a third days of December are like that) and set off for the secluded Bai Dai Beach, located about thirty kilometers to the south of the city. Plan for a day-long trip: the relaxing atmosphere is likely to compel you to sit in a café for many hours, sipping juice or beer.
Published on: September 25, 2018
Text: Elena Vodneva