If you live in the high latitudes of the Northern hemisphere, you may be thinking of escaping the cold this winter. Most North American have their sights on the Caribbean, Hawaii, or even Florida. Europeans tend to be more adventurous, but many won’t go any further than southern Spain, southern Portugal, or southern Italy, perhaps Morocco or Tunisia. Others may cross the ocean and join the North Americans in the Caribbean.
But here at Big Travel Nut, we try to stray off the beaten path a little. Below are some suggestions of great winter destinations you may not have considered. All of these countries or regions offer warm or hot sunny weather from November to March. I have been to all of those places and can attest that they also make fine destinations for solo travellers.
Whether you’re escaping the cold for one week or four months, one of these could become your next favourite winter getaway.
There are lots of places in Mexico outside of Cancun and the Caribbean Coast (which doesn’t feel very Mexican anyway). Mexico City, the Pacific Coast, and the colonial towns of the interior all offer genuine culture where the visitors don’t outnumber the locals.
Explore archeological sites, taste the delicious cuisine in Oaxaca and Mexico City, swim and surf in the blue Pacific, or learn Spanish. This will make your vacation a lot richer than just lazing around a resort.
Mexico is one of the cheapest and easiest destinations to reach from both Canada and the USA. I also love the friendliness of its inhabitants and how colourful everything is, from the handicrafts to the houses.
Mexicans won’t bat an eye at the sight of a solo traveller and many regions don’t suffer from the drug-induced problems reported in the media, providing plenty of safe options, even for solo women.
Thailand / Laos / Cambodia
All of Southeast Asia, with the exception of Indonesia, has hot and sunny winter weather and is great for solo travellers. I especially like Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia because, while they have quite a different feel from each other (and different food) they can easily be combined to provide weeks or months of travel discoveries.
Temperatures are also less steamy here than in Malaysia and Singapore, if you go before March (although the gorgeous beaches of southern Thailand, Cambodia, and northern Malaysia will help you cool down). All three are Buddhist nations, and the gracious and gentle people make everyone feel welcome, including solo women.
If you only want to see the highlights, I would suggest Bangkok, Siem Reap (for Angkor Wat) and Luang Prabang, with a little bit of beach time on the south-western coast of Thailand. And foodies take note: in my opinion, this region has the best (and most affordable) food in the world!
While it’s winter in the Northern hemisphere, it’s summer in the Southern hemisphere, which means not only mild or hot weather, but also long hours of daylight!
Argentina / Chile / Uruguay
Due to their elongated north-to-south shapes, neighbouring Argentina and Chile give you a choice of climate ranging from hot in the north, to quite cool in the extreme south (Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego). Iguazú Falls and the Perito Moreno Glacier are two jaw-dropping sights you can enjoy in those areas respectively.
Uruguay is a short ferry trip from Buenos Aires, and shares many features of its larger neighbour: wineries, some of the best beef in the world, a large population of European descent, and a love of the tango. You can watch shows or free performances on the street, and even take lessons. Some schools in Buenos Aires welcome solos who get to practice with a variety of other solo partners.
String bean Chile extends from the Atacama desert to snow-capped granite peaks and also makes great wine. It’s a little pricier than the above two, but the economy is also more modern and plastic-based.
This region (the “cone” of South America) is especially convenient for North American travellers, who can get there in around 12 hours. Although you won’t find fine white sand and turquoise water here, Uruguay offers decent and readily accessible sub-tropical beaches, which is where the Argentineans go!
In which other country can you both visit wineries and go on safari?
South Africa is to Europeans as Argentina and Chile are to North Americans in terms of distance. You could spend two weeks in and around Cape Town, exploring this stunning city and spending time in both the wine region around Stellenbosch, and near the ocean in Hermanus (with shore-based whale watching from August to November) like I did in 2006. Or you could try to spot the Big Five in Kruger National Park in the eastern part of the country.
Following the “Garden Route” from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth (with the nearby Addo Elephant National Park), and hiking in the Drakensberg Mountains are other possibilities. South Africa also has beautiful beaches (Cape Town, Durban) although the water near Cape Town is very cold, due to water currents from Antarctica.
Being lowered in the water in a cage and come face to face with great white sharks is a popular activity here, and great for adrenaline junkies. If you’re more history-minded and prefer calmer pursuits, you can visit Robben Island where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned (don’t forget to reserve in advance) or take the cable car to the top of Table Mountain.
South Africa is a very multicultural country, with several African ethnic groups as well as people of British and Dutch descent. The food and languages spoken here reflect this diversity.
New Zealand / Australia
If you live here already, “good on you” as they say. You’re all set for the beginning of summer. True, Australia and New Zealand are really far from everywhere else, but if you can take a longer vacation (say at least two or three weeks), and perhaps are hanging onto some airline reward miles, you should consider it. There are direct flights from Los Angeles to Auckland (NZ) that take only 13 hours.
The advantage of New Zealand and Australia for anybody from an English-speaking country is that they will feel really familiar and comfortable, while having just enough exoticism to keep things interesting. Think bizarre animals and birds, trees and flowers not found in northern latitudes, and cute accents.
Australia is a huge country, so if you only have a couple of weeks, I recommend sticking to a single state. Victoria State and New South Wales in the south have sunnier and drier weather from November to March. Or check out Western Australia, which is more than just Perth.
New Zealand is a paradise for hikers and nature lovers. Australia is great for beach bums. Lots of wine (and beer) to be found here too!
I hope these great winter destinations have given you some food for thought and a starting point to start planning an exciting and sunny winter adventure!
(If you had the time and money to go to any of these destinations, where would you go and why? Please share in the comments.)