We have chosen 10 destinations that will answer the needs of holidaymakers who have but one thing in common: they like it hot. Who doesn’t long for an intense dose of heat and sunshine at this time of year? To satisfy those cravings, we have come up with 10 holiday spots, where the weather in February is near perfect and there is little likelihood of rain.
Rather than pick 10 destinations that are simply somewhere to flop on the beach, we have chosen places to suit the more discerning winter-sun seeker. So while Anguilla is a classic beach lover’s paradise, Dominica is for nature lovers, Cuba is for adventurous culture seekers, Egypt is for classical culture lovers and Baja California is for desert fans and sports fishermen.
This flat and scrubby little island boasts some of the finest beaches in the Caribbean – long curvaceous stretches of dazzlingly white, sink-as-you-step, talcum-powder sands. And, although you will not have them entirely to yourself, they will be far from crowded: Anguilla is a very exclusive place to holiday.
The island has many gourmet restaurants (rustic-chic Scilly Cay, which serves barbecued lobster on its own minuscule island, is the most fun); several of the region’s best upmarket hotels (Cap Juluca, strung along a mile of sublime beach, is particularly good); and some of the most luxurious villas imaginable.
Bear in mind, however, that aside from beaches, delicious food and good snorkelling and diving, Anguilla offers few other distractions.
Experience the Caribbean’s natural landscapes at their most dramatic. Rent a Jeep, put on your walking boots and you will discover a towering interior covered in dense rainforest, thundering waterfalls and hidden, boiling lakes. Guides will take you to spots where you can view rare wild parrots and agouti (giant rodents), but you can also rely on visits from hummingbirds at the island’s eco-friendly guesthouses.
Dominica does have spectacular beaches on its north coast, but they are likely to be a long drive from where you will be staying. The beaches and the island’s welcoming Caribs – the Caribbean’s last remaining indigenous tribe, with its own protected territory – appeared in the recent Pirates of the Caribbean films.
This year should be a good one to visit Dominica, as the island is celebrating 30 years of independence from Britain, with events, such as a national hike, running throughout the year.
However, Dominica is not green for nothing – even in the dry winter season, expect some rain most days.
It is the Caribbean at its most fascinating – an unlikely mixture of arcane Communist ways, decrepit vintage Cadillacs, faded Spanish colonial architecture, fantastic music everywhere you go and the world’s best cigars.
Do not hole up in a resort: they are bland and isolated, and you can find better beach hotels elsewhere. Visiting Cuba should be an adventure.
With a week to spare, spend a few days in Havana. Stay in the renovated mansions in the old part of the city, which is gradually being restored to its former magnificence; hang out in classic bars once frequented by Hemingway.
The South Beach section of Miami Beach is a compact, walkable adult playground, filled with gorgeous art deco hotels, fashionable restaurants, hip bars and cool nightclubs. In short, it is party central. Sip cocktails in the see-and-be-seen bars of hotels such as the Shore Club, the Delano and the Standard. Refer to www.cooljunkie.com/miami for the hottest clubs – they can be pretty snooty, so ask your hotel concierge to put you on teh guest lists.
During the daytime, skip the beach, which has all the charm of a sand-covered motorway.
Instead, café and gallery hop along pedestrian Lincoln Road Mall, or learn about South Beach’s art deco architecture on informative walking tours conducted by the Miami Design Preservation League.
Try a little Robinson Crusoe escapism, but with 21st-century comforts. Almost all the 90 or so hotels in the Indian Ocean archipelago occupy their own mini tropical island, ringed by sandy beaches and a milky blue lagoon. Moreover, the diving and snorkelling are fantastic – it can feel like swimming in a giant, natural aquarium.
Choose a hotel on one of the bigger islands, where you are less likely to go stir crazy. One of the largest is Soneva Fushi, which offers casual-chic, eco-friendly luxury, outstanding food (much of the fruit and veg comes from the hotel’s own organic garden) and a new astronomical observatory (free for guests to use).
If you are after somewhere cheaper, the three-/four-star Meerufenfushi – which is encircled by a mile of stunning beaches and has room for a football pitch (weekly matches between staff and guests) and even a golf driving range – is a good bet, as long as you go for a superior room or better.
Visit top-notch upmarket resort hotels; try the shopping – the city has more than 40 malls; sample the buzzing nightlife and first-rate restaurants. Verre tops the bill; and for the weather, which is normally as good as it gets for a winter-sun destination – in the mid- to high 20 Celsuis, sunny, with just the very occasional shower. If the heat gets too much, head for the slopes of Ski Dubai, in the Mall of the Emirates.
Baja California (Lower California) is that long, narrow arm of Mexico that dangles southwards from the United States border between the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of California. On the Pacific coast there are excellent long, wide beaches in the far north, while the calm inland Sea of Cortez laps some beautiful bays. A highway runs from end to end, which makes for a great driving holiday – you can explore the whole length easily in 10 days.
Away from the beaches there are stunning deserts, colonial towns (Loreto and La Paz are lovely), world-class diving and sport fishing, vineyards – and little traffic.
Islands in the Sea of Cortez have empty, white-sand beaches as well as impressive marine life (turtles, dolphins, seals).
Winter is the most pleasant and the Cortez, while still warm, is not bath-water sickly. In central Baja, between February and early April, you can see grey whales that have migrated from the Arctic; they bask in the shallow, protected waters and calve off Ojo de Liebre, southwest of the town of Guerrero Negro.
Nothing can compare with learning about the bewitching world of hieroglyphics and jackal-headed gods among the tombs and desert sands of Egypt itself. Luxor, with winter temperatures in the mid-20s, is slightly warmer than Cairo and the best base for exploring the Valleys of the Kings and Queens and the great temple at Karnak, or for joining a cruise down the Nile to Aswan and Abu Simbel. Spend a few days on the beach at a Red Sea resort such as Sharm El Sheikh (pictured above), where there is superb snorkelling and diving - although it can be windy occasionally.
For an exhilarating blend of marvellous scenery, multicultural cities and vast game parks beset by the Big Five, all seasoned with some of the best food and wine in the southern hemisphere, take a trip to South Africa. January and February, the hottest months in Cape Town, are when the city moves outdoors. Nose around the shops on Long and Kloof Streets, zip up Table Mountain for startling views over the Cape, and join the beautiful people for a chilled glass at Camps Bay. Sober up with a dose of Apartheid history on Robben Island, or head inland for more spectacular Michelin-starred meals surrounded by the rugged peaks of the Winelands.
More fabulous beaches stretch along the Garden Route, while the best wildlife viewing is in Kruger Park, where private lodges provide the ultimate secluded bush experience, again with superb food and, yes, wine. The jagged Drakensberg mountains provide excellent hiking, while the languid wetlands of St Lucia are a sultry draw for bird- and hippo-watchers.
With its palm-fringed beauty, golden-templed spirituality, colourful cuisine and wonderful beaches, Thailand is a firm favourite of the winter sun-seeking fraternity. February and March are two of the best months of the year in which to visit, particularly the resorts along the Andaman coast. Temperatures are warm (without being uncomfortably hot).
Head for the island of Phuket or resorts such as Ko Lanta, Krabi, Phi Phi and Khao Lak. In addition to larger luxury hotels, there are a growing number of reasonably priced boutique-style properties. Farther north, the weather is bright and crisp in Chiang Mai and the “golden triangle” close to Chiang Rai: perfect for elephant-trekking, walking in the hills or dipping a toe into Laos and Burma.
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