When you have to pull on four layers to feel your fingers, when you slip and slide on ice wherever you walk, and when your car is piled a foot deep in snow whenever you park, it is time to head to warmer climates. As the mercury drops, it is time for you to dig out your swim suit and flip flops for a much-needed winter getaway to the Caribbean. Only one question remains: Where should you go? Here are eight exceptional (and unconventional) destinations to escape the snow and see the sun in a warm, tropical paradise.
St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands
The U.S. Virgin Islands is comprised of three main islands as well as a halo of minor islands, but St. Thomas is inarguably the best. With two big cities full of shopping opportunities and bustling nightlife, St. Thomas is bursting with activities, but the island also features Magen’s Bay, which is annually lauded as one of the best beaches in the world. Plus, due to its popularity with cruisers, St. Thomas is inordinately inexpensive in comparison to nearby islands, which means your winter vacation to the tropics doesn’t have to replace Christmas.
Isla de Mujeres, Mexico
Some people believe Cancun holidays are overdone, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Cancun has something for everyone. For example, just a short boat ride away, the Mexican paradise of the Island of Women (Isla de Mujeres) is well worth a visit. Nearly always deserted — like your own private Caribbean island — the beaches on the island are divinely serene, with spotless white sand and crisp turquoise water. Even kids will love this quiet retreat, which is frequented by sea turtles.
Due to the recent lifting of the U.S. trade embargo, Cuba is now open to American tourists, which means you have a totally new winter destination available to you this year. Cuba has yet to fully acclimate to the influx of vacationers like other nearby islands, which means you still have the chance to see the true culture of this unique and moving country. You should explore as much of Havana as possible, walking the Malecon and the Vieja; however, you should be wary of remaining rules regarding spending money in Cuba.
St. Martin — St. Maarten
This one Caribbean island is touched by two powerful colonial powers, which makes it feel like two adventures in one sophisticated package. A combination of Dutch in the north and French in the south, St. Martin — St. Maarten is remarkably European from its flawless food to its pristine beaches. You can spend the day sailing to nearby islands, like high society’s St. Barts, or you can enjoy the view at any of the island’s many clothing-optional beaches.
Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
The Dominican Republic boasts the highest number of Blue Flag beaches — coasts that meet stringent environmental standards — in the entire Caribbean, so you don’t have to miss out on a winter trip to the Caribbean if ecotourism is your thing. Punta Cana’s Playa Juanillo and Playa Punta Cana are perhaps the most popular environmental spots on the island, which isn’t particularly surprising considering their crystalline waters and beautiful marine life.
Though this island is one of the more expensive places in the Caribbean, Aruba’s beautiful beaches and busy city life make the trip worthwhile. There are dozens of family-friendly activities to please all ages, including a tour of the cave petroglyphs at Arikok National Park and the multitude of diving spots not far off-shore. For a full week of adventure, you can start on Aruba and make your way to the following two destinations, all of which comprise the Caribbean’s ABC Islands, which lie just outside the dangerous hurricane belt.
So small you’ve likely never even heard of it, Bonaire is a wonderful hidden gem in the Caribbean. Boasting one of the most plentiful fish populations in the surrounding sea, the island has become a hotpot for marine-life lovers. There are hundreds of precious snorkeling and scuba diving locations around Bonaire, and you hardly even need to ask directions to find a colorful school of fish.
Along with A and B, the C island of the Caribbean’s ABCs is also a paradise for those who love to spend time in the water. Because it is surrounded by bustling reefs, Curacao is never-endingly popular amongst swimmers and divers. However, other watersports, like sailing, jet skiing, wakeboarding, kayaking, and more, are also common off Curacao’s beautiful white beaches.