In search of the sun

Life's a beach when you escape the winter blues to one of these exotic hotspots.

Escape the winter blues with these exotic holiday destinations.

As the days grow shorter, the skies turn a dreary shade of grey and we trade in our sandals for rubber boots, it’s hard not to dream of warm, sun-soaked beaches and sweet tropical breezes.

If you’re lucky enough to be able to make a break for it this winter – and the more typical tropical destinations of Mexico and Hawaii aren’t quite alluring enough for you – consider expanding your horizons to a more diverse holiday spot this year.

Whether you’re looking to hike through a rainforest, explore ancient ruins or bask on a beach in the middle of nowhere, here are some of Indulge’s picks for sun-seeking destinations that are anything but ordinary.

Guatemala

This diverse Central American country has everything a traveller could hope for – culture, beauty, history, majestic ruins, gorgeous streetscapes and plenty of adventure.

Highlights range from the cosmopolitan centre in Guatemala City – where you’ll find renowned golf courses, world-class shopping, museums and more – to La Antigua, the pinnacle of Hispanic colonial heritage, surrounded by three volcanoes, mountains and coffee plantations. In this historic town – known for its sense of romance – you’ll find cobblestone streets, boutique hotels, picturesque churches and bustling markets.

If you’re an active traveller, your days spent in Guatemala will be busy. Hike jungle trails and to the tops of volcanoes, seek the thrills of world-class white-water rafting, explore ancient caves and enjoy the natural beauty from some of the country’s hundreds of ziplines.

And with coasts on both the Pacific and Caribbean oceans, your beach-lounging options are plentiful. On the Pacific side, Monterrico is revered as the country’s most popular beach, with black volcanic sand, strong currents and breathtaking views. On the opposite side of the country, the funky town of Livingston is wedged between the Caribbean and the rainforest. A short hike along the coast will take you to some remote spots, a favourite of which is Playa Blanca, with warm water, white sands and coconut trees.

U.S. Virgin Islands

The epitome of a tropical locale, the U.S. Virgin Islands, located about 200 kilometres off the coast of Puerto Rico, boast not one but three major islands to visit, each with a unique character of its own.

St. Thomas is home to one of the most beautiful harbours in the world, site of the most-visited port in the Caribbean. The main city, Charlotte Amalie, offers elegant dining, bustling night life and submarine rides. Though the island is only 50 square km, it has the most to offer of the three islands, including the awe-inspiring Skyride, a cable car that travels 700 feet about the city (inset photo).

For a true sense of the Carribean’s natural beauty, the island of St. John features more than 5,000 acres – two-thirds of the island – of designated national park. In addition to several of the region’s most beautiful beaches, St. John is famous for Trunk Bay, one of the US Virgin Island’s most popular destinations. With crystal-white sand and turquoise water, the bay also includes an underwater snorkeling trail with submerged signs providing information to visitors.

Travellers looking for a more laid-back experience will find that on St. Croix, the largest of the three islands, with spanning mountains, eclectic rainforest and fertile coastal plain. A tour of the Cruzan Rum Distillary will uncover the secrets of how the islands’ popular elixir is made, or if it’s history you’re in the mood for, Fort Christiansvaern, built in 1749, tells the tale of pirates, hurricanes and slave revolts hundreds of years ago. St. Croix is also home to Buck Island, one of only three underwater national monuments in the U.S. Numerous tour companies operate excursions to Buck Island, where the surrounding coral reef ecosystem supports a large variety of native flora and fauna, including the hawksbill turtle and brown pelican.

Greece

When it comes to destinations chock full of history, it doesn’t get much more historic than Greece.

The first hints of human habitation in Greece appeared during the Paleolithic Age, in approximately 10,000 B.C. And traces of centuries-old history can be found in every corner of this European country.

The city of Athens boasts several of the country’s must-see historic sites, including The Acropolis, an ancient citadel located on a high rocky outcrop of the city; the Parthenon, a temple dedicated to the Goddess Athena; and Plaka, a historic Athens neighbourhood incorporating labyrinth-like streets and neoclassical architecture.

But a trip to Greece isn’t just ancient architecture and historic ruins – the Mediterranean landmark is also well-known for its gorgeous and diverse beaches.

Santorini, likely the most popular destination of the Greek isles, boasts a combination of beaches, restaurants, spectacular scenery, ancient cities and an active volcano. The city curves around a giant lagoon in the Cyclades islands, south east of Athens, creating stunning views both from above the city and from sea level.

Also part of the Cylades island group is Mykonos, one of the more glamorous of the isles, known for its non-stop party atmosphere. A popular stop for cruise ships in the Mediterranean, Mykonos is booming, with luxury hotels, beach bars, fine-dining restaurants and massive night clubs.

In the northern end of the country is Thessaloniki, Greece’s second-largest city, cited as the cultural capital of Greece. Comprised of a historic city and centre and commercial district, the city offers attractions both old and new, from Turkish baths to colourful food markets and a range of options when it comes to night life. The nearby area of Halkidiki, a trident-shaped peninsula, offers several beaches ranging in size and popularity.

Maldives

If it’s seclusion you seek, the Maldives – a cluster of tiny islands in the Indian Ocean – provides the perfect atmosphere of privacy.

Although at first glance this country appears to be in the middle of nowhere, it’s accessible via a major airport in the capital city of Male, where international flights arrive daily.

The airport is situated on an island of its own, so travellers need to venture by boat or seaplane to their Maldivian resort of choice.

Once you arrive, the tangerine-tinted sunsets and unmatched topography will be worth the venture.

Many visitors spend a large portion of their time at their private resort – most of which are on islands of their own, boasting luxurious villas directly above the crystal-blue ocean – but there is plenty to do should you have the opportunity to venture beyond your resort.

A scuba-diving trip to the wreckage of the Maldives Victory – a 60-metre long cargo ship that ran aground in 1981 – makes for a unique, if not chilling, experience.

A day-trip to Male can include visits to some of the country’s largest mosques, as well as the national museum and the Male Fish Market, ranked in the top 10 fish markets in the world.

The majority of resorts in the Maldives also boast first-class spas and wellness centres, if basking in the sun with your toes in the white powdered sand isn’t enough for you to feel relaxed.

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