Winter is one season that you either love or you hate. Some travelers embrace the cold and head for the mountains. Other travelers want nothing to do with the snow and head south for the winter. This list divides the best winter travel destinations into two categories: warm-weather destinations and cold-weather destinations. Hopefully, it helps you find your winter paradise, whether that’s in the snow or the sand.
The Best Warm Weather Winter Travel Destinations
If you live in a cold climate, you’ll probably prefer to get away from the snow and spend your winter vacation somewhere warm. The following destinations are sunny and warm during the months of December, January, and February.
After hurricane season ends in November, winter is the perfect time to head the Caribbean. Cuba is an affordable, historic, and beautiful winter travel destination. Take a step back in time and visit the beaches, sip on mojitos, and smoke an authentic Cuban cigar on the Malecon.
One of the biggest draws to Cuba is the fact that it’s so close to the US. This makes the country convenient for American travelers. Unfortunately, traveling to Cuba for Americans has some hassles. Officially, your trip must fall into one of eleven categories of travel. Restrictions were recently tightened back up. The ‘people-to-people’ and ‘education’ categories were removed. Even then, travel to Cuba is still fairly easy.
One way to get around all of this is to simply schedule a stopover in a third country. I flew to Cuba from Cancun. That way, I didn’t have to deal with any restrictions. For more info, check out my guide: Visiting Cuba as an American.
Carnival in Rio de Janeiro
December through March is high season for Rio de Janeiro as it’s summer in the South American city. If you’re traveling to Rio during this time of year, you might as well schedule your trip during Carnival to experience one of the biggest parties in the world. Spend the week dancing, drinking, and enjoying the show.
One drawback to traveling to Rio for Carnival is the fact that everything goes up in price. This includes accommodation, food, and transportation. To stay on budget, book well in advance. For help planning your trip, check out this great guide to Carnival on a budget from Destination Less Traveled.
Miami and The Florida Keys
South Florida is one of the best winter travel destinations in the US. The weather during this time of year is perfect. The heat and humidity are manageable. South Florida offers some of the best beaches in the country as well as phenomenal food, nightlife, and atmosphere. Miami is just cool.
After enjoying the city, take a road trip through the Florida Keys to get a taste of island life. The drive itself is spectacularly beautiful. Each key offers something different. Go diving, fishing, or Kayaking on Key Largo. Grab some drinks in Key West. Don’t forget to enjoy a piece of authentic key lime pie.
I made this trip with my dad a few years back. We flew into Fort Lauderdale, rented a car, and spent a week driving down to Key West. Along the way, we enjoyed the beach, food, and the beautiful 113 mile drive down the highway through the Keys.
Baja California Peninsula
This narrow stretch of desert separating the Pacific Ocean from the Sea of Cortez is one of my favorite travel destinations in the world. The winter climate in Baja is perfect.
Highlights of the Baja Peninsula include:
- Whale watching- The best viewing happens between mid-January and mid-March. The Gray Whales migrate to the region to give birth.
- Camping- You’ll find countless deserted beaches along the shores of the peninsula where you can camp under the stars.
- Fishing- Go out on a half-day or full-day deep sea fishing trip and try your luck at catching some tuna.
- Road trips- Driving the length of Baja is a classic road trip. Highway 1 runs the entire length of the peninsula. You’ll pass through beautiful colonial towns such as San Ignacio, Mulegé, and Loreto. Be sure to stop by the Valle de Guadalupe to experience one of Mexico’s best wine regions.
- Beaches- This region offers world-class beaches. Many of them are completely deserted. Go swimming, kayaking, or surfing in the Pacific or Sea of Cortez.
- Food- Baja is famous for its seafood. Particularly fish tacos. They were invented here in the city of Ensenada, after all.
- Cities and nightlife- Baja is home to Tijuana, the 6th largest city in Mexico. Having lived in Tijuana for over a year, the city has grown to be one of my favorite places in the world. For an overview of the city, check out my Ultimate Guide to Visiting Tijuana. or info on spending the holidays in Tijuana, check out My Christmas in Tijuana.
- Resorts and restaurants- If you’re looking for more of a luxury beach vacation experience, Baja has that too. Head to the Cabo at the southern tip of the peninsula. Here, you’ll find high-end accommodation and dining.
Las Vegas, Nevada
Sin City attractions operate 24/7/365. The casinos never close. Winter offers moderate weather and reasonable prices. Particularly in January and February when tourism is at its lowest for the year. During this time, you can score some killer deals on flights, entertainment tickets, and high-end hotel rooms.
In the past, I never had much interest in visiting Las Vegas. I visited as a kid when my grandparents lived there and didn’t think much of it. A few years back one of the bartenders at the bar I managed talked me into attending a nightclub and bar convention. He was a Vegas regular.
After the first night, I finally understood the appeal. The place is absolutely incredible. The quality and level of service is the best that I have ever experience. I stayed in a high-end hotel room for next to nothing, enjoyed a phenomenal steak, and watched Avicii perform at one of the top night clubs in the city. Even if you’re not a gambler or partier, Vegas is well worth a visit for the experience alone.
Mexico’s capital city and the largest city in North America has something to offer for everyone. Here, you’ll find world-class food, museums, and archaeological sites. Mexico City is also surprisingly affordable for being such a large, metropolitan city.
I spent the entire month of February in Mexico City last year. There is so much to do and see that a month wasn’t enough time to see all of the sites. The city is massive and packed with attractions. For some helpful tips, check out my guide: Mexico City Budget Travel on $20 Per Day.
The dry season in Central America runs from January through March. This makes winter is the perfect time to travel this entire region. Enjoy the beaches in Panama, Costa Rica, and El Salvador. Explore the fascinating Mayan ruins in Honduras and Belize. Visit the spectacularly preserved colonial towns in Nicaragua and Guatemala.
Central America is one of the cheaper winter travel destinations. Particularly for Americans as flights are affordable. Unfortunately, crime rates are higher here than most other destinations on this list. That doesn’t mean the region should be avoided. Simply exercise the proper precautions and you’ll stay safe.
Patagonia, Chile and Argentina
Winter in the northern hemisphere means it’s summer in the southern hemisphere. This is the perfect time to go hiking in Patagonia, the most naturally beautiful region in the world. Hiking options are endless. Thousands of miles of trails weave through the rugged terrain. You’ll see meadows of wildflowers, deserts, and some of the most spectacularly rugged granite peaks on earth.
Whether you’re a day hiker or thru-hiker, every trail offers spectacular scenery. Choose from Torres del Paine National Park, El Chalten, San Carlos de Bariloche, and more. For help choosing a hike, check out this excellent guide to hiking in Patagonia from Nomadasaurus.
For hardcore thru-hikers consider attempting the Greater Patagonian Trail.
January and February are the best months of the year to visit the Orlando theme parks such as Disney World, Epcot, Universal Studios, etc. These months offer the thinnest crowds and some of the mildest weather of the year. This way, you don’t have to spend an hour and a half waiting in line in 100 degree weather to go on a 5 minute ride. You can also score some great deals on hotels and flights due to reduced demand.
You may find it odd for me to recommend visiting a bunch of family theme parks on an adventure travel blog. While these parks aren’t adventurous destinations, they are something that every traveler should experience. Disney parks in particular. Whether you love them or hate them, the infrastructure and attention to detail that goes into building and running these parks is incredible. They’re as impressive as the 7 wonders. It’s worth going once to see what all of the hype is about, even if you don’t care for theme parks.
After the monsoon season ends in October, Southeast Asia enters the cool and dry season. The region offers excellent weather during the winter. This also happens to be low season so you won’t have to put up with the crowds that overrun the region during the summer. Southeast Asia has begun experiencing overtoursm during the busy season, unfortunately.
Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Malaysia, Singapore are all easily accessible by budget airlines. Once you’re in the region, an extensive bus network makes it easy to get around. Indonesia, and the Philippines well connected with budget airlines. Each country offers excellent food, historic sites, and culture. This is one of my favorite regions to travel.
Winter in the northern hemisphere means it’s summer in beautiful South Africa. Escape the cold and hit the beach, road trip through the Garden Route, hike table mountain, go on a safari in Kruger National Park, or check out South Africa’s famous wine region.
December through February is peak season in New Zealand. This adventure travel paradise has something to offer for every active traveler. Hike, surf, bicycle tour, view the wildlife, eat, or just relax.
For some New Zealand travel ideas, check out this great guide from Le Long Weekend.
The Best Cold Weather Winter Travel Destinations
Maybe you live in a region that’s warm year-round. Maybe you just like the cold and snow. Whatever the case, winter is an excellent time to travel if you want to avoid crowds, practice winter sports, or just go on a winter adventure.
View the Northern Lights in Fairbanks, Alaska
Traveling near the Arctic Circle during the winter may seem crazy but there is one good reason to go. That is to view the spectacular natural light show of the Aurora Borealis. This is one winter travel experience that is on everyone’s bucket list.
Solar wind causes disturbances in the magnetosphere. Under certain circumstances, these disturbances alter the paths of charged particles in the solar wind and the magnetosphere. Some of these particles enter the earth’s atmosphere and ionize. During this process, they emit light. Auroras occur in both the polar regions of both the northern and southern hemispheres.
Your options are pretty limited in terms of where you can travel to view the Aurora Borealis. Popular viewing destinations include Northern parts of Alaska, Iceland, Canada, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Scotland, and Russia. Some destinations are better than others. Whether or not you’ll see them is kind of a matter of luck.
One of the best places in the world to view the Northern Lights is Fairbanks, Alaska. Here, you can see the show an average of 4 out of 5 nights between August 21st and April 21st according to this article from explorefairbanks.com.
Rome, Paris, Amsterdam, Barcelona, London, Prague, Venice, Santorini, Etc.
Much of Europe has gotten to the point that it’s just overpacked with tourists during the busy summer season of July and August. Overtourism is a real problem many cities in the region face. In fact, it’s gotten so bad in some cities that locals are starting to lash out against tourists. For example, check out this article about overtoursim around the world from Citylab.
You can still visit popular tourist destinations like Rome, Paris, and Venice without adding to the problem by traveling to these beautiful cities during the winter. For the most part, all of the attractions remain open year-round. You can also score some killer deals on hotels during the slow winter months. European cities are beautiful during this time of year as well. Particularly during the holidays.
I took my first trip to Europe in 2011. Several years later, I returned and noticed a major increase in the number of tourists. I can’t even imagine how packed the tourist sites are getting these days and I have no interest in finding out. My future trips to Europe will happen during the winter.
Take a Cruise to Antarctica
Winter in the Northern hemisphere means it’s summer in the Southern hemisphere. This is the perfect time to check that 7th continent off of your bucket list and visit Antarctica.
November to March is the best time of year to visit the frozen continent. In fact, it’s the only time outside of scientific expeditions. The reason is that the ice breaks up allowing cruise ships to pass into Antarctic waters. During these months, the sun stays above the horizon for up to 24 hours per day.
Unfortunately, Antarctic cruises are incredibly expensive. Expect to pay between $5000-$20000 depending on the length of your trip and the type of cruise that you choose.
This trip has been on the top of my bucket list for a long time. Hopefully, I’ll get to set foot on the icy continent at some point in my life. At this time, the trip is just out of my budget range.
Head to the Mountains to Go Skiing, Snowboarding, or Snowshoeing
These days, you can ski year around with the new resorts opening up in the Andes. Still, winter is the best time of year to hit the powder as the world’s top ski resorts are found in North America and Europe.
For some destination ideas, check out this of the 16 top-rated ski resorts in the world from planetware.com.
Iceland in the winter offers smaller crowds and lower prices. Temperatures aren’t as bad as you’d expect for such a high latitude island due to the insulating properties of the surrounding Atlantic ocean.
Spend the short winter days hiking and viewing glaciers, waterfalls, and fjords. In the evening enjoy a nice sauna or dip in a hot springs like the famous Blue Lagoon. If you’re lucky, a winter trip to Iceland offers the perfect opportunity to view the Northern Lights as well.
Trans Siberian Railway
This 9288-kilometer train journey from Moscow to Vladivostok is adventure travel at its best. Many travelers argue that winter is the best season to tackle this trip. During the winter you’ll experience the famously harsh climate of Siberia. You’ll see endless miles of frozen lakes, forests, and tundra.
Most travelers tackle this trip during the summer. By going during the winter, you’ll avoid the crowds of tourists and see Siberia during the season that it’s famous for.
For help planning and booking your trans-Siberian journey, check out this excellent guide from Seat61.com.
Final Thoughts- The Best Winter Travel Destinations
No matter where you choose to travel during your winter trip, you’ll enjoy reduced crowds and lower prices. January and February tend to be some of the slowest months for airlines and hotels. You can score some great deals on flights and accommodation as long as you avoid the busy holidays.
To help you plan your trip, check out my guide: Winter Travel Tips for Cold Weather Destinations. Here, I outline the best tips to help you stay warm, enjoy the holidays, and stay safe during your winter trip.
What are your favorite winter travel destinations? Share your itinerary in the comments below!
More from Where The Road Forks
- How to Stay Healthy While Traveling: Tips for Diet, Exercise, Sleep, and Avoiding Sickness
- Down Vs. Fleece Vs. Wool for Winter Travel: My Pros and Cons List
- 19 Common Travel Scams and How to Avoid Them
- How to Avoid Pickpockets While Traveling
- Travel Money Tips: Banking, Saving, and Scams
- The Ultralight Travel Packing List
- 21 Winter Hiking Tips