I visited my parents in South Dakota this holiday and was reminded of how harsh the Great Plains can be in the winter. Winter in the mid/northern US is like living in a deep freeze, it’s only natural to look out that frosted-up window and dream of the warm sun hitting your face and basking in the golden glow. Here in North America, it’s time to start thinking about the best places to travel in winter where we can warm up and have an adventure!
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Run Away from North American Winter For Some Sun
I might be the only person who doesn’t really dream about beaches, I actually like traveling to places when they are at their most harsh, so winter doesn’t bother me that much. As long as the sun is out, I’m happy; which is a great reason to live in sunny Denver! But I know I’m pretty unusual that way – most people dream of warm places to travel to in the winter.
I have put together a few of my favorite warm-weather destinations for those of you who have the frosty winter blues. Since it’s me, and you know I like to always be a little different – this isn’t your normal list of Caribbean islands or Aruba-like destinations. Instead, they are a mix of active, warm, unusual, cultural destinations where you can get a tan, and get a much-needed break from winter.
Some are more of a trip than others and will take you over oceans. And unlike most roundup lists, all have been tested out by the author – me!
7 Best Places to Travel to Escape Winter
1. Mexico’s Sea of Cortez
Are you looking for winter places to visit in North America? Consider a getaway to Mexico – one of the best countries to visit during winter. But, don’t go where everyone else goes. Do Mexico differently by small ship cruising through the Sea of Cortez with UnCruise Adventures! This isn’t some big stuffy cruise – this is a small ship adventure cruise and it was one of my favorite winter vacation getaways I’ve done! It’s such an unknown place full of snorkeling, kayaking, beaches, hiking, and whales! This was the absolute best whale watching I’ve ever done…and I’ve done a lot.
Thinking of taking an Uncruise? Get $500 off your booking when you use the code OTT500! It’ll be the best Un-cruise you’ve ever taken!
2. Hawaiian Islands
I’ve actually been to all of the Hawaiian islands – so if you are trying to decide which one – let me help you! Hawaii is one of the best places to visit in the winter. When I go to Hawaii I love to find unusual tours and local experiences that you wouldn’t normally associate with Hawaii. That’s what I love about Hawaii – it’s surprising – it’s not just about beaches.
Unusual Things to do on Each Hawaiian Island:
Big Island: Become an authentic Hawaiian cowboy and drive cattle with other paniolos! This is one of my favorite experiences on the Big Island and even beginner riders can participate. You’ll also enjoy Exploring caves, lava tubes, and craters at Volcanoes National Park.
A Big Island Itinerary
Kauai: The first thing I recommend on Kauai is to go to Thursday Poi Day and have a completely local experience and get introduced and welcomed into the Hawaiian culture. After that, get out your hiking boots and your camera and go explore. Check out the photography hiking tours so you can really get the most out of your Kauai adventures!
Things to do in Kauai
Lana’i: This little-known island is packed with things to do and with a small-town local culture that you will fall in love with! This is a great island to slow down on – there is no glitz and glamour here (except for the 2 Four Seasons Hotels!) The landscapes there will surprise you from the orange moonscapes to the towering pine trees!
Things to do on Lana’i
Maui: Maui was my water playground, it was where I first learned to surf and row a dugout canoe. But my favorite thing I did on this adventurous island was to take a drive on the Kahekili Highway full of twists, turns, views, and the simple Aloha culture.
Things to do on Maui
Molokai: Molokai is a gem among the islands, and it isn’t for everyone; it’s not like the rest of Hawaii. It’s slow, it’s not touristy, and it’s original Hawaii. It’s for people who really want to slow down and experience the old Hawaii and its culture. Those people will fall in love with Molokai. But if you are looking for tours, resorts, and decadent restaurants – you won’t find them here.
Things to do on Molokai
Oahu: You can do adventure, war history, and incredible food (high-end and budget) all on Oahu. But most of all I just love to drive around this island, find secluded beaches, and stop for some of those incredible hikes! One of my favorite local things I did on Oaha was attending an authentic Luau. No – it wasn’t the tourist luaus they have at hotels, this was at someone’s home.
Things to do on Oahu
You’ll find lots of sand in Morocco to make you forget your winter blues! I went to Morocco solo but traveled on a small group tour with Intrepid Travel. It was a great way to really experience the culture of Morocco without worrying about the logistics or being on my own!
I find Morocco to be high on everyone’s travel list these days and for good reason. It’s a colorful, vibrant country with a culture vastly different than ours in America. It’s safe and full of bucket-list experiences like wandering the streets of Fez, seeing the leather dying vats, and taking a camel safari into the Sahara Desert. Not to mention spectacular hiking!
Check out all of the great Morocco offerings by Intrepid Travel – I loved my tour there and made some lifelong friendships out of it!
The perfect mix of beachy turquoise waters, and green, lush jungle, Belize has a variety of warm weather adventures to take. I went with my teenage niece as part of the Niece Project, where we did caving, hiking, snorkeling, and biking; all while sweating profusely and soaking up the sun. Palm trees hanging over the water, little sand islands full of white sand, glowing sunsets with a margarita in your hand – this will make your winter blues disappear! We did a mix of jungle and beaches on our trip, but I can easily see how you might just get stuck on the beach and never want to leave!
Adventure Life can help you recreate this trip and more! See their customizable tours and travel to Belize!
5. Sri Lanka
This little island has a little bit of everything for the winter months, this is another of the best countries to visit in the winter. Warm, sandy beaches with surfing, turtles, and golden sunsets. Enjoy the tropical life and foods or go inland for ancient culture and spiritual hikes. Plus, you can get your safari fix in Sri Lanka at one of their safari parks and spot leopards and see hundreds of elephants migrate. I’ve been there 3 times and still love it! I’ve done it luxury and I’ve done it budget – both are great.
Learn more about Sri Lanka Intrepid Travel Tours!
6. Saba Island Caribbean
If you want to get away to the beautiful Caribbean this winter – but don’t want to fight the crowds, I have just the island for you…Saba.
Surrounded by well-known neighbors like Saint Martin, Saint Kitts, and Antigua, the island of Saba is a secret in the Caribbean. It’s actually easier to describe Saba Island on what it doesn’t have than what it does have. You won’t find a stop light, bugs, fast food, buildings over 4 stories, crime, cruise ships, or even a beach.
In the 5 square miles of the island, you’ll find diverse ecosystems, challenging hikes, glass art galleries, and delicious Saba Lobster. The entire area around the island is a National Marine Park known for its world-class diving full of pinnacles, drop-offs, and caves that start 40 feet deep. Finally, you don’t want to miss trying the super-secret Saba Spice, a homemade spiced rum that is only made on the island in people’s homes. Each family has their own secret recipe.
You can get there by ferry from Saint Martin. Or for a thrill, go by air and land on the shortest commercial runway in the world at only 1,300 feet (just a few feet longer than some aircraft carriers!)
See more Things to do on Saba
7. El Salvador
You don’t often hear too much about El Salvador when it comes to travel, but it’s one of the best countries to visit in winter. If you are looking for secluded beaches and want to test out your beginning skills at surfing, it’s a great place to start! I went on a women’s surf and yoga trip to Punta Mango Beach. We stayed at a little boutique hotel and had the huge beach entirely to ourselves! We practice surfing twice a day in a progressive surf camp. In addition, you’ll get to stretch out those sore muscles by doing yoga daily with a local yoga instructor.
Steamy rainforest, smoking hot volcanoes, coffee, and stunning reef-fringed shorelines, El Salvador, is a playground for the adventurous. Learn more about future surf and yoga trips here!
Hopefully, this gave you a few unusual ideas for your next escape from North American winter for some beach and sun – and fewer crowds!