Winter escapes with a difference
If the short days and relentless cold have you itching to escape, we’ve rounded up some of the most exciting destinations for grabbing some winter sun – and adventure.
Fernando de Noronh
Two Brothers Rock, Fernando de Noronha Archipelago, by CCINTRA (CC SA 3.0)This volcanic archipelago of 21 tiny islands, 220 miles off the north-east coast of Brazil remains a mystery to many Brazilians, let alone the rest of the world. However, its tropical climate, where the dry season runs from September to March, makes it a perfect destination for soaking up some winter sun.
The islands form a marine park as well as being a UNESCO World Heritage Site. On arrival, you’ll be asked to pay an Environmental Protection Tax and visitor numbers to the islands are limited. Those who make the list can enjoy amazing snorkelling and scuba diving, glorious sunsets and spankingly fresh fish suppers.
Top tip: Baia do Sancho has been voted best beach in the world. If you plan to visit however, you’ll need a head for heights, as it can only be reached via ladder down a sheer cliff.
Praia Grande do Calhau” beach at São Vicente island, Cape Verde, by Manuel de Sousa (CC SA 3.0)Island chain Cape Verde (or Cabo Verde) is located 300 miles from the west coast of Senegal. October to June is its dry season, when temperatures run a little cooler, aided by winds blowing in from the Sahara.
Cape Verde offers an exciting blend of Portuguese, Brazilian and African cultures, reflecting its geographical location and history. Morabeza or hospitality is a big deal here and you’ll experience it wherever you go, from the friendly welcome, to the constant throb of its lively music scene.
Those in search of a more active trip can choose from water sports like windsurfing, kitesurfing or scuba-diving, while land-based action can be found on the many hiking trails, across dramatic volcanic terrain.
Top tip: The waters around the islands are a breeding ground for humpback whales, and from February to May, tours will get you up close and personal with these mighty creatures.
Considered one of the Caribbean’s best-kept secrets, the tiny island of Saba is part of the Dutch West Indies. With a land mass of barely five square miles and a population of 2,000, it’s no surprise if you haven’t heard of it before.
But it’s worth knowing, especially if the Caribbean usually conjures thoughts of cruise-ships and large chain hotels. You’ll find none of that here, where there’s just one road, appropriately known as ‘The Road’, and where locals say the best way to get around is to stick out your thumb.
Its known for its ecotourism, and activities include incredible hiking and climbing, as well as some of the world’s best diving. There are also a number of festivals and cultural activities to enjoy on the island.
Top tip: If you arrive on Saba by air, brace yourself for an exhilarating landing, as its airport has one of the shortest commercial runways in the world, at a mere 400 metres, with a drop into the sea at either end.
The smallest country on mainland Africa, The Gambia is just a six-hour flight from the UK as well as being on the same time zone. And with temperatures reaching around 30°C during our winter, it’s an ideal winter sun destination.
It has just 50 miles of coastline, but what a coast it is. Fringed by palm trees and studded by pretty lagoons, there’s sure to be a beach to suit everyone, from buzzing Senegambia, Kololi or Paradise to more secluded choices such as Nginki-Nganka or Fajara.
As well as the coast, a major focal point of the country is its namesake river, The Gambia River, which is teeming with wildlife. You can spot around 600 species of birds, plus hippos, crocodiles and many types of monkey. You’ll also discover a growing number of eco-lodges and small wildlife parks appearing alongside the river.
Top tip: Surprisingly, The Gambia has a bustling street art scene. The Wide Open Walls project was started by British artist Lawrence Williams and now covers over 400 murals across 14 villages.
Sand Waves, by Nicolas Rénac (CC BY-SA 2.0)What Oman lacks in the glitz and glamour of neighbours such as Dubai, it makes up for with its beautiful, dramatic landscape. From wide deserts, peppered with oases and desert towns, to golden beaches such as Zighy Bay, its hard to know where to start.
One of the best ways to experience the country is to hire a 4WD and set off to explore the many wadis (dry valleys) dotted across the landscape. Alternatively, grab your boots to experience some of the amazing hiking, climbing and caving Oman offers. Water babies will appreciate the kitesurfing, snorkelling and some of the Middle East’s best dive spots.
Top tip: Oman boasts its own ‘Grand Canyon’; Wadi Ghul, in the north of the country, plunges more than a kilometre into the earth in places. It sits alongside Oman’s highest mountain, Jebel Shams. which boasts incredible views from the top.