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8 great destinations for winter sun with the family

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Frosty mornings and snow are one thing, but grey skies and chilly drizzle can get you down. In the depths of a dank winter, a family holiday in the sun is just the thing to lift everyone’s spirits. Yes, there’s winter sun to be found closer to home, but if you want proper t-shirt weather and a lot more certainty, then better set your sights further afield. From tropical beach life on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula to safaris in sun-drenched South Africa, we’ve chosen our top eight international destinations for a dose of winter sun with the family. 

Costa Rica: eco-tourism, wildlife and pristine beaches

Costa Rica is a trailblazer when it comes to conservation, so it’s a wonderful place for your children to learn about the natural world and the importance of protecting it. It’s a small country with excellent infrastructure, so it’s a breeze to explore. You’ll find tropical rainforests brimming with wildlife, smoldering volcanoes, wild Pacific beaches and mellow Caribbean shores. 

In the verdant cloud forests of Monteverde, kids can encounter a kaleidoscope of birds and butterflies. Forest night hikes in search of nocturnal creatures will ignite their imagination, and for close encounters with monkeys and sloths, Costa Rica’s animal sanctuaries are the ultimate. For older kids and teens, there are all sorts of adventures to be had in nature. Think jungle zip-lining, Pacific Coast surfing and river rafting. 

kayaking on a river

South Africa: safaris, road-tripping and dramatic landscapes

Occupying the distant tip of a faraway continent, South Africa is a world away from frosty winter weather. The sun blazes, the Big Five roam and the open road beckons. South Africa is ideal for a road trip, and if you’re visiting on a family holiday, a self-drive adventure is a great option. Yes, it’s a big country, but the classic route takes you from Cape Town along the Garden Route, then north to Johannesburg. So, you can fly into one city and out of the other. 

South Africa is diverse and has much to offer younger kids and teenagers alike, from watching penguins play on the Cape Peninsula to taking a graffiti tour in Johannesburg. The glorious beaches along the Western Cape will appeal to the whole family, as will wildlife safaris in South Africa’s many nature reserves and national parks. The thrill of catching sight of wild elephants, lions and rhinos will bring out childlike wonder in anyone. 

If it’s your family’s thing, South Africa has some great theme parks. There’s Gold Reef City near Joburg and Sun City in the North West Province, which combines an excellent water park with zip-lining and a nature reserve.

giraffe

Dubai, UAE: fun in the sun, polished entertainment and slick service

For pure ease and Disney-style fun, you can’t get much better than Dubai for a family holiday in the sunshine. As you might imagine, Dubai does things on a grand scale. The waterpark is the biggest and best, the aquarium is state-of-the-art, and LEGOLAND® has Bollywood-style flash mobs and six themed lands. 

Then there’s KidZania. Housed in the world’s largest shopping mall, it’s a whole city where kids can roleplay different professions. There is so much here to entertain little ones, but refreshingly the theme parks and attractions have been designed with adults in mind too. The hi-tech elements, such as VR simulations, are seriously impressive. 

Beyond the fun parks you’ll find pristine man-made beaches, complete with soft white sand, plenty of sun loungers and shallow, clean and calm waters. Staggering views can also be enjoyed from the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building. 

Outside the city, there’s fun to be had in the desert landscapes of the Empty Quarter, with camel encounters and traditional oasis villages to explore. It might not be for everyone, but with a flight time of just seven hours and a warm welcome for kids everywhere you go, Dubai makes for a stress-free winter sun escape with the family. 

silhouette of people in the desert

Sri Lanka: exotic flavors, diverse landscapes and wildlife

Exotic Sri Lanka is a great family holiday destination with guaranteed winter sun. Kids are welcomed everywhere, making it a hassle-free place to travel with a great breadth of things to do and places to explore. Along the coast are golden beaches and laid-back towns to relax in. Inland, the verdant highlands offer exciting train rides, tea and spice plantations to visit, and forest walks. 

When it comes to wildlife, kids will love meeting cheeky monkeys, seeing elephants in the wild, or visiting a turtle hatchery. Yala National Park is the place for spotting leopards, while Udawalawe National Park is home to crocodiles, peacocks and families of elephants cooling off in the river.

spider monkey in the trees

Maldives: underwater wonders and tropical beach perfection

For the ultimate tropical beach break, the balmy waters and soft white sands of the Maldives are dreamy. The Indian Ocean gently laps the shore while shallow turquoise waters harbor colourful corals, shoals of silvery fish and gliding sea turtles. All of this can be found within wading distance of the beach. To venture deeper, board a glass-bottomed boat or join a dive trip to swim with manta rays and whale sharks.

Consider visiting Sri Lanka and the Maldives together for an unforgettable family holiday in the sun, combining a little of everything. 

white sand beach

Cuba: history, color and Caribbean sands

With its unique revolutionary history, Cuba is an interesting place for kids and teens to learn about another view on life. Add Caribbean beaches, colorful wildlife and friendly locals to the mix, and you have the perfect cocktail for a family holiday in the sun.

The charismatic capital, Havana, is the natural place for starting any trip to Cuba. The city’s exuberant street life will have budding photographers snapping away, while musos will be tapping along to the irresistible rhythms of salsa and son spilling from cafes and bars. If you’re into motorcars, nothing beats cruising Havana’s El Malecon ocean road in a cherry-red Chevy.

Out in the countryside, the pace of life shifts gear, with bucolic farmland and small towns where you can stay in family homes known as casas particulares. In the Viñales Valley, explore a landscape of dramatic limestone karsts surrounded by tobacco and coffee plantations, by bicycle or on horseback. 

street with old fashioned car

Thailand: bountiful beaches, culture and culinary flair

Known as the Land of Smiles, Thailand is a famously friendly holiday destination with excellent infrastructure. The distances between hotspots may be long, but the roads are smooth, and the night buses and trains add novelty value. 

Hot, humid and frenetic, the sensory wonders of Bangkok are both exciting, and at times, overwhelming. Kids will love zipping along the river by longtail boat, seeing the giant Golden Buddha and learning how to make an offering at a Hindu temple. Make sure to cruise the floating markets and tuck into plenty of tasty street food. Then, when you’ve had enough of it all, head to the beach. 

Southern Thailand has an abundance of glorious beaches and a coastline dotted with tropical islands. This is the place for barefoot indulgence with powder-white sands, azure waters and excellent snorkeling. For culture and wildlife, head north to visit Chang Mai and the surrounding countryside. Don’t miss the magical night market where the hill tribes of Northern Thailand come to sell their crafts.

temple on a hill

Mexico: cultural exchanges, Mayan ruins and Caribbean shores

The Caribbean shores of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula are blissful, but there’s much more to discover besides. Explorers can forge a path into the jungle in search of ancient Mayan temples, seek out hidden cenotes (sinkholes of crystal-clear waters) for swimming, and duck into bat caves at dusk. 

There are also handsome colonial towns to wander and a cooking culture that’s second-to-none. Getting hands-on with a Mexican cooking class is a great way to learn about local flavors, with a visit to the market followed by cooking and eating together. To meet present-day Mayans, visit local communities in the forest and learn all about their unique traditions and crafts. 

rustic coast in Mexico

Make it happen

Feeling inspired to take your quest for winter sun further afield? Chat with our local experts and craft an adventure to suit your family.

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