American Sun Destinations

americasunintroThe ultimate travel experience has to be taking off in the bleak midwinter and landing in glorious summer. From October on, however, the sun becomes more elusive in Europe, and you’re as likely to be dodging showers and gales as downing cocktails on the beach. For a more reliable dose of sunshine, try a winter trip to North, South, or Central America. In this instalment of our Winter Sun series, we take you to the resorts of the Americas.

Miami, Florida

Florida’s weather forecasters may get bored with their “mostly warm and sunny” reports throughout the winter, but, for those of us used to more inclement conditions, this consistent pleasantness is more than welcome. Orlando is the destination of choice for families with persuasive children, but Miami should be the focus for anybody with a taste for the quirky and the cool (and by that we certainly don’t mean the weather).

 
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Avg Temp29C/83F 28C/82F27C/81F
Avg Rainfall80mm 90mm80mm
Avg Hrs Sun776
Sea Temp27C/80F 28C/82F27C/81F

americansunmiamiIf Florida is in a different world to the rest of the United States, then Miami occupies its own separate universe. Once a citrus farming region, Miami is now a melting pot of Latin, Caribbean, and Jewish influences, with a thriving gay party scene and enough celebrity sightings on South Beach to fill a year’s worth of OK! magazines. Yes, Miami is wild and wacky, but it’s also undoubtedly beautiful.

americansunmiami1Take a Vespa tour of Miami’s lesser-known art scene with Roam Rides. Your guide will show you galleries such as the Rubell Family Collection, as well as street art projects around this intensely creative city. The clean lines of the Art Deco hotels on Miami Beach are world-famous, but watch out for MiMo (Miami Modernist) architectural gems such as the International Inn on the Miami Beach side of 79th Street Causeway and the New Yorker hotel on Biscayne Boulevard. Miami is a haven for sun, sea, and partying, but it has a less well-known but equally impressive vintage shopping scene. Try Las Tias on North Miami Avenue and C Madeleine’s and Divine Trash on Biscayne Boulevard.

When you get tired of lounging on the beach and spotting celebrities, take a day trip to the even wilder sides of Florida. West of Miami is the Everglades, one of North America’s most unique ecosystems, a flooded wetland where you can watch alligators rise from the water, anhingas diving, and great blue herons gliding over this beautiful oasis of calm.

A good three-hour drive south of Miami, the world becomes even weirder. Among the sandbars and mangrove islands of the Florida Keys, you’ll find a doggedly independent, eccentric, and downright alluring way of life among the exiles who have made their home on these 45 sun-baked islands.

It’s impossible to compare Miami with anywhere else, but other warm winter destinations in the same general area include Key West and the Bahamas. If you want a dose of winter sun on a different continent, check out our installments on Asia, Africa, Europe, and the Middle East.

Hawaii

It may not be paradise, but it certainly feels like it. Hawaii is more than 2,000 miles from any continent, so it takes a little work to get to, but you’ll agree that the effort was worth it when you’re watching surfers catching magnificent waves off Hanalei Bay or sipping a mai-tai beneath rustling palms at sunset.

 
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Avg Temp27C/80F 25C/77F 24C/75F
Avg Rainfall80mm124mm85mm
Avg Hrs Sun998
Sea Temp27C/80F26C/79F 25C/77F

americansunhawaiiHawaii is probably the world’s most perfect holiday destination. An impossibly lush and breathtaking collection of emerald islands strung out across the turquoise Pacific, it is a natural paradise. With influences from Polynesia, Asia, North America and Europe, a multicultural society has infused everything from food to music with the warmth, fragrance, and exoticness of their home. Whether you choose to stay at the more upmarket resorts of Oahu’s Waikiki or West Maui, or the cheaper and slightly wilder Big Island or Kaua’i, you will experience heaven with a hula flavour.

americansunhawaii2If you’re staying on Maui, choose from the mellow surfer vibe of the Paia Inn in Paia, the homely family-run hospitality of Napili Kai, or the all-out beach resort feel of Mekena Beach Resort. An adventurer’s dream, Maui offers everything from kiteboarding near Paia and snorkelling at Makena to the rapidly growing sport of stand-up paddle boarding at Napili Kai. Reward yourself with fine cuisine and entertainment as you look out at scenery you couldn’t make up.

With snow-capped mountains, volcanoes, black sand beaches, and ranches, Big Island is like nowhere on Earth. For heavenly views and friendly service, stay at the Mauna Lani Bay Hotel & Bungalows, or try the fairytale-perfect Mauna Kea Beach Hotel. Marvel at Nature’s power to create and destroy with a visit to the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Home to the hyperactive Kilauea volcano, and the more sedate Maunaloa, this is a sacred site for native Hawaiians and a 333,000-acre wonderland of volcanic craters, arid deserts, rainforests, and even a walk-in lava tube.

Luscious Kaua’i is the most ancient of Hawaii’s main islands, home to the incredible rippled cliffs of the Na Pali Coast and the magnificent Waimea Canyon. Heaven for outdoor enthusiasts, it is not the place for pampering resorts, high-end shopping, or pulsating nightlife, but a sublime exhibition hall for Nature’s masterpieces, which you can enjoy armed only with a pair of hiking boots and a taste for adventure.

Hawaii really is in a league of its own when it comes to holiday resorts at any time of the year, but if you’re after winter heat in this part of the world, you could also try Martinique or Barbados. For a blast of unseasonable sun on a different continent, see our installments on Asia, Africa, Europe, and the Middle East.

Cancun

There’s nothing discreet about Cancun. Planned in the 1970s as a shiny new resort to eclipse Acapulco, this party city on the Yucatan Peninsula is unashamedly brash, but if you’re looking for winter heat with all the extras, and you don’t mind a bit (make that a lot) of kitsch, Cancun is for you.

 
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Avg Temp27C/80F25C/77F24C/75F
Avg Rainfall218mm97mm 109mm
Avg Hrs Sun888
Sea Temp27C/80F28C/82F27C/80F

americansuncancunThe advantage of being purpose-built is that Cancun has clustered most of its hotels in the same place – a 15-mile strip between sea and lagoon helpfully called the Zona Hotelera. Many are all-inclusive, with every amenity provided. They range from the sedate Ritz-Carlton to the hip, adults-only Le Blanc Spa Resort, where every suite offers toll-free calls to the United States, butler service, and a double whirlpool bath.
You don’t have to confine yourself to the hedonistic pleasures of the resort, however. Tear yourself away from the party capital and its great beach, and take a day trip to Chichen Itza, the ancient capital of the Mayan Empire. One of the modern wonders of the world, its setting and architecture are extraordinarily beautiful. It’s also fascinating, with massive temples, a ghoulish Platform of Skulls, an observatory, and a vast ball court. The most puzzling feature is the enormous Pyramid of Kukulcán, constructed with such precision that, during the spring and autumn equinoxes, shadows form in the shape of a snake slithering down its northern flank.

americansuncancun2There are more Mayan ruins in the jungles of Cobá, a fascinating place that reeks of adventure. Stay the night at Tulum’s coastal Maya site. With the Maya Reef on its doorstep, Cancun is a paradise for snorkelers and divers. The Maya Reef ranks second only to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef in terms of the world’s biggest reefs. Translucent waters, abundant coral, and some of the prettiest sea life in existence will transport you to new extremes of diving heaven.

If you’re looking for sun and fun, with all amenities at your fingertips, Cancun is the place for you. But if you the thought of mass-market tourism leaves you cold, despite the shimmering heat, you might prefer to head to nearby Belize. For winter sun outside of the Americas, have a look at our installments on Asia, Africa, Europe, and the Middle East.

Aruba

With endless sandy beaches, abundant package resorts, and a picturesque little capital, Aruba is the most popular of the ABCs (Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao). Admire the pastel-hued colonial buildings of Orangestad and snap up designer “bargains” in this duty-free shopping haven, where day-tripping cruise-ship passengers stroll and spend lots of money.

 
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Avg Temp29C/83F 28C/82F27C/81F
Avg Rainfall 80mm 90mm80mm
Avg Hrs Sun776
Sea Temp27C/80F28C/82F27C/80F

americansunarubaJust 20 miles long, Aruba is easy to explore by bike or moped, but once you see the incredible beaches, you may never want to move. Away from the turquoise waters and white sands of the resorts, however, you’ll find wild, windswept beaches to north and east and an arid desert-like interior. Arikok National Wildlife Park is a lunar landscape of cacti, caves, twisted divi-divi trees, disused gold mines, and old plantations. It’s home to several indigenous species, including the Aruban rattlesnake, the Aruban parakeet, the Aruban burrowing owl, Aruban whiptail lizard, and the Baker’s cat-eyed snake. See rock paintings by native Indians in the Fontein and Quadirikiri caves.

americansunaruba2On an island so small, it’s impossible to find somewhere really off the beaten track, but if you tire of beaches, you could take in a relatively easy climb to the top of Hooiberg mountain (there are 562 steps) and enjoy wonderful views of the whole island. Watch out for parrots and blue-tailed lizards around the rock formations at Ayo and Casibari. Go snorkelling at Boca Catalina, a small but flawless beach that is never crowded.

Arguably the best thing to do in Aruba, however, is as little as possible. Make the most of the sugary sand and warm water on the island’s west side, where Palm Beach, Eagle Beach, Arashi Beach, and Malmok Beach are popular. The idyllic Eagle Beach is a particular favourite for watersports enthusiasts. Home to the most exclusive resorts, Palm Beach is included among Conde Nast Traveller’s 12 best beaches in the world, combining ideal swimming conditions with powdery sand. Try the Bucuti & Tara Beach Resorts for friendly, attentive service or the relaxing and perfectly situated Amsterdam Manor Beach Resort. For a more tranquil retreat, drive to Aruba’s southeast side, where you can snorkel in the translucent waters at Baby Beach. (Remain within the safe area, however, as there are dangerous currents and swells further out to sea).

Uruguay

If you think of Uruguay at all, it is probably as a place of vast open plains, but the Uruguayan coast is one of the glitziest destinations in Latin America. The pristine shore offers golden beaches, rolling sand dunes, emerald peninsulas, and wildlife-packed lagoons reaching all the way to Brazil.

 
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Avg Temp20C/68F23C/73F26C/79F
Avg Rainfall73mm 79mm 77mm
Avg Hours Sun81010

americansunuruguayThe Uruguayan Riviera extends along a 150-mile stretch of coastline, stringing together the former farming and fishing villages of La Juanita, José Ignacio, Cabo Polonio, and Punta del Diablo to create a glamorous haven of Modernist beach houses, gourmet beach restaurants, pop-up art galleries, and a bohemian, laid-back feel that evokes 1960s Hamptons. Relatively unknown for 20 years, it’s now packed from December to early February with South Americans, New Yorkers, and Europeans.

Punta del Este, at the southern tip of Uruguay, is one of South America’s most dazzling resorts and by far the most expensive location in the country. A hit with Argentines and Brazilians, it teems with stunning beaches, chic seaside homes, elegant yachts, and exclusive hotels and restaurants. Once you’ve had a taste of the Punta mystique, keep an eye out for celebrities, as this is the place where the beautiful people go to see and be seen.

americansunuruguay2For a truly remarkable arty retreat, you have to check out Playa Vik in José Ignacio, one of two boutique hotels in Uruguay owned by the Norwegian entrepreneur Alex Vik. Six Modernist houses (casas) with glass walls and roofs planted with sea grass encircle a lawn anchored by a futuristic titanium-and-glass sculpture and look out over the stunning Atlantic. If you are planning on staying here, however, be warned: Rates start at $1,000 per night for the casas.

Once you venture a few miles beyond José Ignacio, the coast of Maldonado turns into the untamed shores of the Rocha Department, where colonies of sea lions loll in the sun. The remote fishing village of Punta del Diablo here is becoming increasingly popular among those seeking stunning beaches and great fish restaurants. This growing popularity has not spoiled the beautiful shoreline, however, and the crowds of visitors have injected an infectious dose of exuberance, but don’t bother to travel inland, as intensive development is beginning to erode the region’s charm.

While here, try to get to the hippie hangout of Cabo Polonio, a settlement without electricity or running water that is accessible only on foot, on a horse, or by 4-wheel drive. A lonely landscape of sand dunes, it is one of the world’s final remaining utopias. Here you’ll find Playa de la Calavera (“Beach of the Skull”), Uruguay’s only beach to face east and north-east, so that the waves tumble to the shore from weirdly different angles. Cabo Polonio is also wildlife heaven, with everything from sea lions to penguins and seals, and whales visible offshore.

Uruguay is no longer South America’s best-kept secret, but it is still less of a visitor magnet than its neighbours. Consider Argentina or Brazil if you’d prefer your South American winter sun in a more prominent position on the tourist radar. Look out for our installments on Asia, Africa, Europe, and the Middle East for a blast of unseasonable sun on a different continent.

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