Powder-white snow certainly adds an element of magic to travel, but sometimes the long winter nights bring a sense of longing for what’s missing: sunshine. From the coast of Spain to the desert of the U.S. Southwest, plenty of places still see the sun and experience warm weather deep into the winter.
As a lifelong snowbird who’s spent Thanksgiving in Türkiye and end-of-year breaks in the Caribbean, I agree that migrating south is an excellent way to spend those last hard-earned PTO days. So take it from me—and other AFAR staff—and consider these 10 places for some sun during the winter holiday season.
1. New Zealand
- Where to stay: Flockhill
Considering New Zealand’s seemingly endless collection of natural sights, the country is an ideal holiday getaway for outdoor enthusiasts. New Zealander and AFAR writer Elen Turner argues that some of its best sights are found on a road trip, and its expansive EV network makes a sustainable trip even that much more possible.
Drive two hours from Christchurch and relax surrounded by the majesty of the country’s Southern Alps, or opt to head to the southwest corner of South Island and take on one of New Zealand’s “Great Walks” at Fiordland National Park. When Christmas rolls around, come prepared with a grill to “barbie on the beach.” From December to February daytime temperatures average 68 to 77 degrees Fahrenheit, so picnics and trips to the coast are common then.
- Where to stay: Ritz-Carlton Orlando
Disney, beaches, Miami, oh my. It’s a no-brainer that the Sunshine State is one of the best options for U.S. travelers looking for a domestic getaway. Ample direct flights from major hubs in Orlando and Miami as well as temperatures in the range of 60 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit make all sorts of adventures accessible. (North and central Florida are usually cooler but rarely snowy.) Stroll through the Nights of Lights in St. Augustine, or enjoy the annual Winterfest Boat Parade that takes place off the waters of Fort Lauderdale—and be grateful you can do it all in a light sweater.
- Where to stay: Andaz Scottsdale Resort & Bungalows
Winter is a great time to visit Southwestern sights like the Grand Canyon, which experiences roughly half the crowds of summer. But be aware that, due to the elevation, the park can expect a few inches of snow each winter. For some nature in Arizona’s sun, consider going desert side to places like Saguaro National Park, when winter makes its cacti-surrounded trails easier to explore. You can’t go wrong with many locales in the state because you’re guaranteed time in the sun most of the year. Spend your holidays golfing it up in Scottsdale—which gets more than 330 days of sunshine—or taking in the rugged landscapes of the Verde Canyon Railroad’s four-hour journey.
4. Puerto Rico
- Where to stay: Ritz-Carlton Dorado
Puerto Rico’s temperatures consistently remain in the 70-degree range, even in December, drawing snowbirds to its shores for a U.S. passport-free adventure. The holiday season brings specialties like pasteles (root vegetable patties typically stuffed with meat) in addition to spirited decorations like pascua flowers and Nativity scenes. Remember: The majority of Puerto Ricans are Roman Catholic.
Puerto Rico gets more crowded from December through April during the destination’s dry period. But there’s plenty of festivity during this time as celebrations Fiestas de la Calle San Sebastián and Fiesta de los Reyes Magos take place on the streets of San Juan. That’s not to say getting away from it all isn’t an option—there are plenty of underrated beaches and quirky cities outside of the capital.
- Where to stay: Park Hyatt Sydney
Travel to the Land Down Under during the end of the year, and you’ll visit during a time where a working A/C unit is far more important than a parka. It’s summer in the Southern Hemisphere from December through February—and temperatures throughout the continent get hot, with highs nearing 80 degrees Fahrenheit during December.
It’s almost guaranteed you won’t be snowed in, which is welcome news considering there’s plenty to do in the country as of late. For first-timers, AFAR editor and longtime Australia fan Laura Redman suggests staying in Sydney and doing a circuit of Aussie landmark classics like the Harbour Bridge, Bondi Beach, and the Opera House, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. If you’re feeling that Thanksgiving dinner has become oh-so routine, fly to Tasmania; it offers a gastronomy scene of seafood so fresh that you may never settle for that run-of-the-mill turkey again.
6. Valencia, Spain
- Where to stay: Caro Hotel
If the golden-sand beaches of Valencia weren’t enough to convince you to spend your last PTO days in this Spanish comunidad, here’s a fun fact: One of its cities, Alicante, was named Europe’s sunniest city, averaging nearly 350 hours of sunshine a month. The Mediterranean-flanked comunidad averages 40 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit from December to January, requiring only a light jacket for those walking through Old Town or going out for paella in the saffron-laced rice dish’s hometown. If you ring in the New Year here, don’t forget to bring a bag of grapes: Once midnight hits, the tradition is to scarf down one grape with each clock strike for good luck. It’s way harder than it sounds.
- Where to stay: Amanpulo
The months-long period from December to May coincides with the dry season in the Philippines, offering a sunny respite for those expecting holiday snowstorms in much of the Northern Hemisphere. With a holiday season that starts in September and doesn’t end until the beginning of January, the country hops on the festivity train early: Be on the lookout for multicolored stars known as parols hanging from shops and houses—they’re meant to symbolize the Star of Bethlehem.
Of course, there’s also plenty of nonholiday sightseeing to do on the archipelago’s more than 7,000 islands. Set course for Great Santa Cruz Island for the nation’s pink-sand beach, Siargao to surf, and Bohol for bug-eyed primates and hills that resemble chocolate truffles.
8. Charleston, South Carolina
- Where to stay: Zero George
Who says warm weather has to mean beaches? The only thing better than soaking up the sun while strolling by the historic pastel houses of Charleston’s Rainbow Row is doing so en route to happy hour at one of the city’s fantastic cocktail bars, like Proof or the Gin Joint. A trip to Charleston is less about working on your tan and more about slowing down and enjoying some Southern hospitality. Get lost in the back alleys of Harleston Village, wander Waterfront Park, or browse the many charming downtown boutiques. And if you spend most of your time dreaming about where you’ll enjoy your next meal—Chasing Sage or Lenoir?—well, then you’re doing it right.
9. Isla Holbox, Mexico
- Where to stay: Náay Boutique Hotel
Mexico’s greatest secret is that if you head north or south of any of the big-name beach cities, you’ll soon find a gorgeous, low-key, hidden gem of a beach. In this case, you’ll have to head two to three hours north of Cancun to Chiquila, then hop a ferry to set foot on Isla Holbox. This spot still has that off-the-grid desert island vibe—expect pristine sands and cerulean water, a handful of thatched-roof hotels, and an incessant desire to be in a hammock.
10. Lake Atitlán, Guatemala
- Where to stay: Casa Palopó
Guatemala is one of those spots you might just not leave—especially once you’ve seen Lake Atitlán. Start in Antigua, a small city that has gained popularity as an adventure travel base, then head a few hours northeast. There are a number of small villages around the lake, each with a distinct personality. Get your “om” on in the hippie enclave of San Marcos La Laguna, learn about local weaving techniques at San Juan La Laguna, or explore the coastline and hunt for the hot springs in Santa Catarina Palopó.
This article originally appeared online in October 2023; it was most recently updated on December 7, 2023, to include current information. Maggie Fuller contributed reporting.