20 of the best winter sun holidays for travel in 2021


Now is the right time to plan your escape from the British winter but with so much of the world to choose from, how do you decide? Maybe sometimes it’s too easy to get fixated by the weather, rather than the destination or the type of holiday. We are so obsessed with getting some guaranteed warmth and sunshine that we risk forgetting about what we might want to do on arrival. 

It doesn’t matter so much if all you really want is to collapse on the sand and lie under a sun umbrella all day. But, even if you are only going away for a week, you might want to inject a little more variety into your winter break. Maybe you like to explore the local culture, or indulge in some special meals out. Perhaps you want more of an active time, or some out and out fun. 

We have come up with some solutions, covering all bases with a selection of holidays that caters for all tastes and budgets this winter – from an African safari, to a Nile Cruise; from the best restaurants in the Caribbean to a giant water park in Tenerife. And just in case all you really do want to do is to lie in the sun, we’ve also listed what we call Islands in the Sun: our pick of places where you can find some really proper relaxation, at secluded resorts on tiny islands where peace and quiet reigns supreme.

Remember that where we can go depends not only on our own government, but on whether the country concerned welcomes tourists. A few, like Australia and New Zealand remain closed, others have other restrictions on arrivals. Things are changing fast, so before you book and just before you travel, check the latest local rules. Gov.uk is the best starting point.

Prices given below are per person for seven nights based on two sharing, including transfers and flights unless stated otherwise and are subject to availability. Weather stats are for the month recommended in the holiday example and are the daily maximum temperatures followed by average daily sunshine hours.

Sun and Food

1. Cape Town Cooking

25C, 10 hours of sunshine

South Africa is now open to British visitors – great news for this immensely popular winter sun destination and even better news for sun-loving foodies. They should head for Cape Town, which not only has the finest concentration of restaurants on the African continent, it also offers a stunning seaside location – and that, perhaps, is its culinary secret. The fish comes straight out of the South Atlantic, the meat from the fertile farmland just inland, and the wine from the Cape Winelands, just a cork’s pop beyond Table Mountain. No wonder so many talented chefs find such inspiration in the city. It offers exceptional value for money too – you can eat like a king here for £30 a head. Our Cape Town expert, Pippa de Bruyn, is your guide to the best restaurants in the city.

How to do it: Trailfinders (020 7368 1200; trailfinders.com) offers stays at four-star Kloof Street Hotel from £1,099 b&b, including a private Constantia Wine Tour with lunch, Cape Town Food Tour and Cape Point and Peninsula Tour. Departs on selected dates in February 2022.

2. Indulgence in Dubai

24C, eight hours of sunshine

Michelin doesn’t produce a food guide to Dubai, but many of chefs whom it has awarded stars to in other parts of the world have set up restaurants here, or make occasional guest appearances. It has become the foodie epicentre of the Middle East, offering a huge variety of high class menus: you can read our guide to the best here. After a searingly hot summer, winter is peak season here, both for locals and visitors – so book your tables early.

How to do it: Tui (020 3451 2688; tui.co.uk) offers stays at five-star Fairmont The Palm from £1,769 half board, based on a deluxe room. Departs January 13, 2022. Its Ossiano seafood restaurant is one of the city’s best.

dubai best winter sun holidays middle east foodie epicentre

Dubai has established itself as the foodie epicentre of the Middle East

Credit: Getty

3. Cruising the Canaries

21C, six hours of sunshine

Cruises are all about travelling in the most relaxing way possible, about meeting people, enjoying the sun deck – and, for many passengers, they are also about the food. We’ve picked out a Cunard itinerary on the Queen Elizabeth, which departs Southampton in December and includes stops at Lisbon, Lanzarote, Gran Canaria, Palma, and Funchal, combined with an enticing and classical onboard menu. You might start one evening with salmon gravlax with poached quail’s egg and the next with croquette of suckling pig. For your entrées maybe Dover sole meunière or a Chateaubriand steak. And, at extra cost, you could also try several different on-board restaurants specialising in a variety of cuisines.

How to do it: Cunard (cunard.co.uk) offers a 12-night cruise to the Canaries from Southampton, based on a Britannia balcony statement on board the Queen Elizabeth from £1,789 full board, including US$100 onboard spending money. Departs December 1, 2021. 

4. Feasting in Barbados

28C, nine hours of sunshine

Of all the Caribbean islands, Barbados is surely the food-lover’s top choice. Its long tradition of catering for sophisticated winter sunseekers – many of whom come back year after year – has generated a thriving restaurant scene, from celebrity favourites to fried fish shacks on the beaches. Covid has had an impact: The Cliff – the most famous of them all – closed in 2020. But it is expected to re-open in December under new ownership, while other top names like Champers and the restaurant at the Coral Reef Club continue to thrive.

How to do it: Elegant Resorts (0124 489 7581; elegantresorts.co.uk) offers stays at four-star Coral Reef Club from £3,380 half board, based on a superior junior suite. Departs December 4, 2021.

Active in the Sun

5. Sharm’s undersea charms

22C, seven hours of sunshine.

One of the key Egyptian resorts on the Red Sea and a long, long desert drive from the sights and history of the Nile, Sharm’s primary offering is sea, sand and the most reliable winter weather you can get within a five hour flight of the UK (above are the figures for January). But those who prise themselves off the beach and head out to sea get the greatest rewards. This is one of the world’s best diving and snorkelling destinations and just off the coast you will find astonishingly colourful reefs and a rich array of marine life, from delicate butterflyfish and luminescent angelfish to lumbering whale sharks, turtles and languid manta rays.

How to do it: Regaldive (0135 365 9999; regal-diving.co.uk) offers stays at Sharks Bay Umbi Diving Village from £995 b&b including a ten-dive package. Departure dates from November to February, 20220.

sharm el sheikh diving egypt best winter sun holidays

Sharm el Sheikh’s colourful reefs provide some of the world’s best diving

Credit: Getty

6. Meanders in Madeira

18C, five hours of sunshine

Madeira isn’t a beach destination. Nor is it tropically hot – in fact November (figures above) is the best bet for warm sunshine, rather than mid-winter when it can get decidedly cool. But as well as being wonderfully mild and lush, it is extremely scenic and a wonderful place for a walking holiday. There is an excellent network of well-maintained footpaths and its unique “levadas”, or ancient irrigation aqueducts, lead you on some extraordinary, and sometimes vertiginous routes around the steep terrain and mountains which soar to over 2,000m.

How to do it: Headwater (0160 636 9400; headwater.com) offers a “Marvels of Madeira Walk” from £1,589 half board including luggage transfers. You walk between five and nine miles per day and stay in three different hotels, all four- and five-stars.

7. Costa Rica Cycle

24C, seven hours of sunshine

Costa Rica is one of the most rewarding destinations for active sunseekers. It might not be the first destination you think of for a cycling holiday, but it’s wonderful to experience the amazing landscapes from the saddle. You will be cycling through a backdrop of volcanoes, mountain lakes and cloud forest, from the Caribbean coast to the Pacific shoreline and the beaches of the Manuel Antonio National Park. And as you pedal quietly through this natural wonderland you will have the best chances of seeing the rich wildlife, from sloths and monkeys to the exotic birdlife.

How to do it: Explore (0125 224 0642; explore.co.uk) offers a two week biking itinerary in small groups (total about 200km of “easy to moderate cycling”). Cycle Cost Rica costs from £2,399 b&b including “comfortable” hotels and cycle hire, but excluding flights. Departures from late January onwards.

8. Safari so good 

26C, nine hours of sunshine

Tanzania is another great destination which gets the green light from Monday and it’s an excellent choice for anyone who wants to combine stunning weather with an active holiday. Those great African skies, the sunsets, the game drives at dawn – they are both the function of Tanzania’s wonderful climate and setting for its safaris. Travel in, say, February, and you can either enjoy the weather and the wildlife-watching simultaneously, and even – if you have time – add a week on the beach afterwards. The package we’ve chosen allows you to explore both the famous Ngorongoro Crater and the great Serengeti reserve where you have an excellent chance of sighting lions, leopards, cheetahs and elephants.

How to do it: The Ultimate Travel Company (020 3733 5715;  theultimatetravelcompany.co.uk) offers a seven-night itinerary with three nights all-inclusive at Entamanu Ngorongoro and four nights at Serengeti Safari Camp, including flights and transfers. From £6,575 in February. Optional beach resort stay after the safari would cost extra.

tanzania africa best winter sun holidays destinations

Tanzania is one of the Africa’s greatest safari destinations

Credit: Getty

Sun and Culture

9. Mayans in Mexico

30C, eight hours of sunshine

The huge Mexican beach resort of Cancun, may not immediately jump out as a destination for culture vultures. But if you are interested in ancient Mayan culture, some of the best archaeological sites including the ruins of Tulum (1 hour 45 min by road), Coba (just over two hours) and Chichen Itza (about three hours) can all be reached on day trips from the beach. All have their different appeal, but if you visit just one it should probably be Chichen Itza with its great central pyramid, the Temple of Kukulcán.

How to do it: British Airways Holidays (www.britishairways.com/mexico) offers stays at the four star Allegro Playacar from £794 all-inclusive. Departures on selected dates in November.

10. Journey through Jordan

24C, eight hours of sunshine

From the wonderful Roman sites at Jarash and Amman in the north, to early Christian mosaics at Adaba, the Dead Sea, the amazing red-stone city of Petra and the desert landscapes of Laurence of Arabia at Wadi Rum – Jordan offers a wonderfully varied cultural tour. And, if it’s winter sun you are after, you can round it all off with a couple of days by the Red Sea at Aqaba. You do need to time things carefully though. While the Red Sea coast is always warm, it can be cool in the north from December to February. So, I would go for a November departure, when Amman temperatures are still peaking at about 19C and it’s 24C in Aqaba.

How to do it: Exodus Travels (020 8131 1855; exodus.co.uk) offers an eight-night “A Week in Jordan” tour from £1,869 b&b including two dinners. Departs November 17 and 20, 2022. 

11. Sunshine on the Nile

23C, nine hours of sunshine

In my humble opinion, the upper stretch of the Nile, between Luxor and Aswan, has the world’s most perfect winter climate. The sun shines strongly from dawn to dusk, and the desert humidity is so incredibly low that you always feel comfortable. The nights are refreshingly cool too. Combine that with the astonishing sights of the Valley of the Kings, Karnak and Edfu, and the insight they give into the Ancient Egyptian civilisation, along with the sheer pleasure of soaking up the sun on the deck of a river cruiser as the amazing desert landscape drifts past, and you have pretty much the ideal winter holiday.

How to do it: Abercrombie & Kent (0124 254 7760; abercrombiekent.co.uk) offers a five night “Classic Nile” tour from £2,295 full board on five-star Sanctuary Nile Adventurer. Departs on selected dates in January 2022.

Abercrombie Kent Egypt nile cruise best winter sun holidays

Little surpasses the sheer pleasure of soaking up the sun on a Nile cruise

Credit: A&K Egypt – Sarah El Akkad

12. Historic Sri Lanka 

31C, eight hours of sunshine

Sri Lanka’s long history is ingrained in the fabric of this lushly beautiful tropical island. It has ancient archaeological treasures, like Sigiriya, the site of the 5th century castle built by King Kashyapa, and the 1,000 year-old city of Polonnaruwa. There are some exceptional and historic Buddhist temples and monasteries – like those at Sinhala, Kandy and the Dambulla caves. And then there’s the colonial heritage of Galle, where the Portuguese built the fort, the 18th century walled town was constructed by the Dutch and the cricket pitch by the British. It’s a fascinating historical mix which is best enjoyed after December when the rainy season peters out. 

How to do it: Ampersand Travel (020 7819 9770; ampersandtravel.com) offers stays at five-star Amangalla from £3,145 b&b. Departs on selected dates from January 11, 2022. Read more: A complete guide to the best hotels in Sri Lanka.

Sun and Fun

13. A bigger splash in Tenerife

21C, six hours of sunshine 

Ok, so it might seem as though we are appealing to the child in you – but Tenerife’s Siam Park on the Costa Adeje seems to be just as popular with fun-loving adults as with the kids. It’s one of the world’s most lavish water parks, with 15 different pools and a huge variety of slides, tubes, waves and rapids all set in a slightly bizarre Thai-themed playground. There are also slow, lazy rides down the “Mai Thai River”, and a white sand “beach” with cabanas to recover in, just in case the excitement has got too much. 

How to do it: First Choice (020 3451 2688; firstchoice.co.uk) offers stays at five-star Guayarmina Princess Hotel, which is about five minutes’ drive from Siam Park, from £640 half board based on a room with a balcony. Departs late November, 2021. 

14. Abu Dhabi: Yas Island

30C, 10 hours of sunshine

Yas Island is all about fun. At least that is the intention. It was conceived about 20 years ago as a way of giving Abu Dhabi city a focus for leisure as well as business activities. Separated from the centre by a network of canals and waterways, it has three impressive theme parks: super-hero themed Warner Bros World, supercar-themed Ferrari World (which has the planet’s fastest roller coaster at 149mph), and Yas Waterworld, which has world-beating artificial surf. There’s a golf course along one side of the island and the Yas Marina Circuit which is built next to it hosts a variety of motorsports, including the season-ending Formula 1 Grand Prix, which this year is on December 12 and could be a thriller. Oh, and it is also home to the du Arena – the island’s open-air concert arena, which regularly hosts star performers.

How to do it: Travelbag (020 7001 4112; travelbag.co.uk) offers stays at five-star W Abu Dhabi – Yas Island from £1,259 b&b based on a room with balcony. Departs on selected dates in November 2021 (book by October 15, 2021).

miami south beach best winter sun holidays

Miami’s vibrant South Beach matches decadence with elegance

Credit: Getty

15. Miami vibe

24C, eight hours sunshine

Forget about the vice – few beachside cities have quite the vibe of Miami, especially the South Beach with its famous Atlantic sands, Art Deco architecture, Latin subculture and pulsating nightlife. Our expert in the city, Shayne Benowitz, adds that it “is in the midst of a decade-long cultural renaissance. Neighbourhoods such as Wynwood, the Design District, Downtown, Little Haiti and Little Havana have injected the city with newfound energy, buzzy homegrown restaurants and hipster bars.” In short for those looking for fun after a few hours on the beach, there is no better place to come.

How to do it: Virgin Holidays (0344 472 9446; virginholidays.co.uk) offers stays at four-star Eden Roc Miami from £1,754, room only, based on a deluxe room. Departs February 26, 2022. 

16. Family fun in Mauritius 

29C, eight hours of sun

If you are into the Club Med all-inclusive concept of lots of activities, children’s clubs if you need them, and all the facilities you could dream of on site, then the Club’s La Pointe aux Canonniers in Mauritius could be an excellent winter fun spot for you. It borders the white sandy beaches of Grand Bay and is built in traditional Mauritian style with thatched roofs and gardens scattered with palm trees. Club Med considers La Pointe as its “flagship family all-inclusive hotel in Mauritius”. If you come in the school holidays, the children can join the young explorers kids’ club (ages 4-10) and there is a dedicated family pool. We’ve given a price in mid-January however, when you are likely to find couples enjoying water-skiing, wake-boarding, sailing and paddle-boarding. Note that you will get tropical downpours in the winter months – but they are short and there is still plenty of sunshine.

How to do it: Club Med (0345 367 6767; clubmed.co.uk) offers stays at four-star Club Med La Pointe aux Canonniers from £4,292 all-inclusive, based on a superior room. Departs January 15, 2022.

Sun and silence

17. Sun and Cerf

30C, seven hours of sunshine

The Seychelles archipelago comprises more than a hundred islands, but one of the most attractive from the holidaymaker’s point of view is the little Ile au Cerf. Just a couple of miles off the north-east coast of the main island of Mahé, this sand-fringed off-shoot is less than a mile long and the resort has just 24 villas. If you find the peace and quiet too much to bear then you can always snorkel in the lagoon or follow one of the trails through the coconut groves in search of giant tortoises and flying foxes.

How to do it: Kuoni (0800 047 3620; kuoni.co.uk) offers stays at four-star Cerf Island Resort from £1,668 half board for six nights, based on a hillside room. Departs March 7, 2022, flights are via Dubai.

bequia beach hotel friendship bay best winter sun holidays

Bequia Beach Hotel is tucked into the horseshoe-shaped Friendship Bay on the island’s south coast

Credit: Bequia Beach Hotel

18. Beachlife in Bequia 

28C, eight hours of sunshine

Bequia is one of the Caribbean’s smallest and most laid-back holiday islands – part of a string which stretches between St Vincent and Grenada. It is has a smattering of resorts to choose from, but one of the best is the Bequia Beach Hotel, which is tucked into the horseshoe-shaped Friendship Bay at the south of the island. Its blissfully peaceful tropical gardens of  palms, mango, papaya and almond trees run down to the beach, and the 50 rooms and cottages are tucked in among them. If you can prise yourself off the lounger then you will probably head for the spa, the complimentary yoga classes or some gentle paddle-boarding across the bay.

How to do it: Caribtours (020 7751 0660; caribtours.co.uk) offers stays at five-star Bequia Beach Hotel from £2,175 b&b based on a junior plantation suite. Departs November 29, 2021. Read more: A complete guide to the best hotels in Canary Islands.

19. Marooned in the Maldives

31C, nine hours of sunshine.

The Maldives are about as close as you can get to fantasy desert islands: hundreds of idyllic coral cays, moored in the sandy shallows with the deep blue of the Indian Ocean all around. Almost all will give you a sense of peace, seclusion and escape from harsh realities. We have picked out Naladhu Private Island, which will re-open in November after six months of renovations. Its 20 beach houses shaded by palm trees are among the best places to stay in the Maldives. We’ve also picked a price in January – if you want to avoid the rainy season, you really need to travel in the first four months of next year.

How to do it: Tropical Sky (0134 254 7010; tropicalsky.co.uk) can offer a seven night stay at Naladhu Private Island from £5,299 per person. The price is based on two adults travelling in January 2022, sharing a Ocean House with Pool & Private Beach Cabana on Bed & Breakfast basis, including direct flights from London and in resort speedboat transfers.

20. Antigua off-shoot

January: 28C, eight hours of sunshine

This tiny, ultra-exclusive island just off the south coast of Antigua is largely the preserve of the rich and reclusive, who buy the villas which form a ring around the coastline and its idyllic white-sand coves. But it also has one very special small-scale resort hotel, with rooms and mini villas scattered among the gardens behind its own private beaches. The holiday price is eye-watering, but once you are here, everything is included, including champagne and high-quality wines as well as watersports in the bay.

How to do it: Scott Dunn (020 8682 5020; scottdunn.com) offers stays at five-star Jumby Bay Island from £7,750 all-inclusive, based on a beachside suite. Departing on selected dates between November 2021 and February 2022. 

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