Best last-minute winter holiday destinations for January sun

Looking to get away this month? Here’s our pick of where to head to escape the cold and soak up some vitamin D

Friday 13 January 2023 12:36 GMT
<p>A beach in Mexico, captured from above</p>

A beach in Mexico, captured from above

The post-Christmas slump is real; and nothing seems more appealing at this time of year than running off to somewhere warm and sun-drenched.

As the clouds gather and the temperature drops – and there seems little to look forward to until spring – what could be better than swapping the UK for somewhere brighter, whether for a few days or a few weeks?

Here’s The Independent travel team’s top picks for places where you can get some last-minute winter sun this January.


Bali has wild rural landscapes, as well as pristine beaches

This Indonesian isle is the thinking person’s Southeast Asia holiday. Packed into its 5,780 square kilometres are not only golden, wave-lapped beaches (with some frisky surf for board riders), but also tranquil, unspoiled temples, mountainous hikes, coffee plantations, healers, dozens of takes on fried rice, and some of the best spa culture on the planet. January sees average daily temperatures of around 27C, though you will get the odd tropical downpour. Don’t believe the headlines about Bali being spoilt by tourism, but do embark on some research and planning to ensure you’re going to the most naturally beautiful and least generic areas. Parts of the west coast and upper east coast are incredibly wild; in fact, the further north you go, the more locals and fewest tourists you’ll encounter (the airport is right in the south of the island). Don’t miss Ubud, its cultural and mystic capital towards the centre, and a crossroads for interesting digital nomads from all over the globe. Lucy Thackray


A cenote on Mexico’s Caribbean coast

Central America’s big-hitter is great for couples or families who don’t agree on the best way to spend a holiday: there are equal opportunities for beach lounging and intrepid exploration. Head to its Caribbean coast, around the Yucatan Peninsula, to find white and golden sandy beaches and bright turquoise shallows bathed in tropical sunshine, as well as palm trees and colourful hippie villages among the swathes of mega-resorts. Must-dos for itchy-footed adventurers include the Mayan temples at Chichen Itza, Coba or Tulum; visits to cities such as pretty Merida; plunging into a cenote, one of the area’s natural swimming holes; and swimming with whale sharks on a boat trip off the east coast. Got time for more? Fly back via Mexico City, one of the coolest food and art capitals in the world. LT


Chamarel Waterfalls, Mauritius

For pristine white beaches and aquamarine lagoons your eyes almost can’t believe are real, the Maldives and Seychelles are near-universally agreed upon as the most brochure-perfect winter destinations. But we like Mauritius, their southerly Indian Ocean cousin, for blinding-white beaches with a side of great local cuisine, live music and inland adventure – and it’s just as balmy, with 27-28C daily highs in midwinter. This is the sort of place you can have lobster and champagne in bougie beach club restaurants, but see a gang of happy local kids playing football on the sand in front of you. Hire a guide for at least one day off the beach to see some of the island’s natural wonders: giant lilypads at Pamplemousses Botanical Garden, say, or head-spinning views of its raw beauty from a hike up Le Morne Brabant peak. Some truly cool hotels top off the experience – try adults-only SALT for a high-style boutique number built around buying from local suppliers and engaging with local creatives. LT


Quy Nhon beach on the island of Phu Quoc

With winning flavours, beautiful cities and countryside, sobering history and idyllic beach resorts, Vietnam is a stellar holiday spot even without the added bonus of winter warmth. Thankfully, it also has this in abundance: the average daily temperature is 26C. For reclining on white sand beaches and paddling in bath-warm, turquoise waves, head to Phu Quoc, a formerly sleepy tropical island turned resort hotspot. Back on the mainland, it’s worth checking out the nation’s two biggest cities: Ho Chi Minh (formerly Saigon) to the south, Hanoi to the north. The temperatures in the latter will be cooler, but this time of year is also typically drier and sunnier than monsoon season. And it’s worth it to soak up the capital’s centuries-old architecture, complete with French and Chinese influences, plus explore its ancient temples and chaotic Old Quarter. Helen Coffey


Check out the city of Essaouira in Morocco

This north African nation is slightly cooler than heading for southeast Asia, but it still enjoys much milder weather in January than the UK, with average daily highs of 19C. And you can better your chances of upping the heat by picking destinations that are further south. Hit up laid-back, beachy Essaouira or culture-packed Marrakech for days spent exploring with little chance of rain and fewer crowds than in peak season. At this time of year it’s much easier to get out and discover the Sahara Desert – unbearably scorching in summer – with clear skies and less dust making January a prime month for stargazing. The lower temps also make for a better experience when trekking in the Atlas Mountains – just be sure to go with an experienced guide. HC

Canary Islands

The small, rugged island of La Gomera in the Canaries

This Spanish archipelago in the Atlantic, off the coast of Africa, is a British favourite when it comes to winter sun. The islands are warm, rather than scorching; expect average highs of 20C and average lows of 15 in January. Water temperatures are around 19C for pleasant sea swims, and only around 1mm of rain falls during the entire month, while sunny skies are still fairly common. Tenerife is the biggest island, but there’s also Lanzarote, Gran Canaria, Fuerteventura, La Palma and tiny La Gomera and El Hierro to pick from. The islands are known for their lunar-esque volcanic landscapes, with black and white sand beaches. And Tenerife even has its own active volcano, Mt. Teide, plus an astronomical observatory. HC


Dhow Harbour in Doha Bay

This extraordinarily rich Gulf emirate may have some regrets about, er, persuading Fifa to allow it to host the World Cup 2022: Qatar’s human rights have been as much in the spotlight as its shiny new stadiums. And once the final whistle blows on 18 December, the nation will have an absurd number of hotel rooms to fill – almost as many as Dubai, but with far less connectivity and profile. All of which spells winter sun bargains. On arrival, beaches are abundant. The main cultural attraction in the capital, Doha, is the stunning new National Museum, telling the Qatar story from pre-history to untold wealth from oil. A key exhibit is the vast 18th-century Baroda Carpet, embroidered with gems. The Museum of Islamic Art is also spectacular and well worth a visit. In the far southeast of Qatar, close to the Saudi border, the Khor Al-Adaid area – also known as the “Inland Sea” – comprises the nation’s biggest nature reserve. January is the coolest month in Qatar, but the average high is still 18C. Simon Calder


Hurghada has plentiful beach resorts

For several new years I have made a note to travel to Egypt the moment the Grand Egyptian Museum opens in new location close to the pyramids in Giza. I am still waiting to witness the entire Tutankhamun collection within a spectacular new structure, but meanwhile Egypt remains the most reliable location for guaranteed winter sun – with astonishing archaeology for those who seek an extra dimension to their trip. Luxor (average January high 23C) and Aswan on the Nile are the optimum locations for proximity to antiquity. Most British visitors, though, will be found on the Red Sea shores: either around Hurghada on the western side, or in the resort strip of Sharm el Sheikh (22C in January) on the Sinai Peninsula. SC

Sri Lanka

A Sri Lanka tea plantation

The tourism industry in this beautiful, teardrop-shaped island in the Indian Ocean has suffered dreadfully as political and economic strife continues. Reports from recent returnees say hotel occupancy is still extremely low, even though the Foreign Office lifted its warning against all but essential travel at the end of August 2022. Yet causes for optimism remain that this winter could see a revival of tourism. Most of the island’s places of interest are in the southwest quadrant. The capital, Colombo, the beaches of the southwest and the city of Galle are all on the tourism circuit, as are the handsome hill towns of Kandy and Nuwara Eliya. SC

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