Warm up: Eight great winter sun holiday destinations

Yearning for a mid-winter fix of vitamin D? From budget fly’n’flops to dreamy tropical locations, these deals have you covered

As the nights draw in and spring feels too far away, a sun-drenched winter holiday becomes all the more tempting. From budget fly’n’flops to dreamy tropical locations, here are the best choices for a mid-winter fix of vitamin D.

Puerto Rico

One of the largest islands in the region, Puerto Rico carries a different flavour of Caribbean. Its indigenous, Hispanic and African influences merge within its action-packed, colourful towns. But step elsewhere on the island and it’s a different world entirely – you’ll encounter enormous mountain ranges, the expansive El Yunque Rainforest and limestone ridges.

Puerto Rico’s appeal doesn’t stop at its beach-lined coast, although that’s why it attracts five million visitors a year (most of whom are American – Puerto Rico is a US territory). It also boasts three of the world’s five bioluminescent bays and the best time to see this natural wonder is from December to May, when the water is pristinely clear. Plus on land, temps don’t dip below 20C, making it the perfect winter sun destination.

Book it: American Airlines fly indirect from Dublin to San Juan from €610. Seven nights at the five-star Wyndham Rio Mar Resort and Spa Hotel (room only) from €955 per person sharing; aa.com and travelrepublic.ie.


Santander, Spain

With flight-free holidays growing in popularity, not even a winter sun getaway needs an airplane. Brittany Ferries launched its winter-only Rosslare to Santander route this week, which temporarily replaces its Bilbao service and runs three times a week until next March. Yes, it takes one or two nights to journey across, but once there, southern France, northern Portugal and Spain are yours to explore in the comfort of your own car or campervan.

It’s also worth settling in Santander, an ancient port city with pretty boulevards, magnificent architecture and a hopping bar scene. Even in the depths of December, it maintains a better-than-home average of 13C and up to three hours more sunlight than Dublin. In its lower season, you can pick up cut-price accommodation and seats in the city’s best tapas restaurants – reason enough to venture over.

Book it: Return ferry with reserved seating from €438 per couple with a car; brittany-ferries.ie.

Taghazout, Morocco

Forty minutes from Agadir’s airport, the bohemian fishing village of Taghazout has become a surfer’s paradise, thanks to its reliable Atlantic waves fit for both novices and pros – try Killer Point, named after the killer whales that are spotted in the area rather than its perilousness. Taghazout’s range of surf schools and reasonably priced accommodation have helped foster a strong surfing spirit in the area and happily for winter sun seekers, the most popular time to surf is November and December. After a few hours on the waves, the dreamy climate and ample sun means you’ll dry off quickly, leaving plenty of time to relax and enjoy the chilled vibes. Even in our winter, it’s t-shirt weather in the day and light jumper temperatures in the evening.

Book it: Seven nights at the five-star Hilton Taghazout Bay Beach Resort & Spa (B&B) including Dublin flights from €838 per person sharing; sunway.ie.

Costa Mujeres, Mexico

Torn between a fly’n’flop and a cultural adventure? The Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico excels in both – with exquisite culinary offerings to boot. Costa Mujeres is a newer extension of Cancun’s ever-popular stretch of coast. Set a little back from the action, its many large hotels are nicely suited to families and those who don’t intend to make the most of Cancun’s vibrant (slash-messy) nightlife.

The lure of staying poolside with a margarita in hand and the sun beaming down is strong and the Grand Palladium’s spa is worth the airfare alone. But you’ll feel compelled to make the most of the unique attractions in the area, like the Mayan site of Chichen Itza ­– one of the new seven wonders of the world – and the area’s many cenotes: naturally-formed swimming pools of turquoise waters, found in beautifully secluded settings.

Book it: Seven nights at the five-star Grand Palladium Costa Mujeres Resort and Spa (all inclusive) including Dublin flights and transfers from €1,868 per person sharing; tuiholidays.ie.

Gran Canaria

Gran Canaria is the most southerly eurozone destination and also the furthest south that Ryanair fly from Dublin, Cork and Shannon – which means maximum sun with minimum fuss. Happily, there’s more on offer than sunny days and warm temperatures (February, the coldest month, still averages 20C). Las Palmas is the biggest city in the Canary Islands, offering an urban buzz – think oodles of restaurants and rooftop bars, an urban beach and a charming old town. Far from the madding crowd, inland adventures revolve around forests and mountains. Meanwhile, the south of the island is privvy to better weather and thus more popular; be sure to explore Maspalomas Dunes – it’s like stepping into a desert that’s moments from sea.

Book it: Seven nights at the five-star Seaside Palm Beach Hotel (B&B), including Dublin, Cork or Shannon flights, from €1,401 per person sharing; sunway.ie.

San Diego, USA

Away from peak season, the coastal city of San Diego charms with a run of events that only add reasons to go. November is a month of libation, with San Diego Bay Wine and Food Festival and the San Diego Beer Week (it is known as the craft beer capital of America after all). Next month, Balboa Park December Nights sees entertainers and stalls gather in the park, while its world-class museums and galleries throw open their doors for free at the start of the month. In January, foodies continue the seasonal indulgence with Restaurant Week, offering special-priced meals from the area’s renowned restaurants. The weather over these months might be mild (expect the mercury to hover in the teens), but the sun is still out to play – so bring sunnies and a sweater.

Book it: Seven nights at the three-star California Suites (room only), including flights from Dublin or Shannon, from €783 per person sharing; budgettravel.ie.


Surrounded by year-long warm waters, Mauritius is a dreamy destination that’s ripe for visiting in November and December in particular. Peel yourself away from the brown sugar beaches to explore the multi-coloured sand dunes of Chamarel Geopark, the wild trails of Black River Gorges National Park, or try out its many delectable street foods in its heaving market towns (don’t leave without trying the spicy chickpea dish of dholl puri, which costs only pennies). With so much to do (or ignore in favour of switching off), it’s a wise choice for multi-generational or large groups who pull in different directions.

Book it: Seven nights at Club Med La Plantation d’Albion (all-inclusive) from €2,972 per person sharing, including Dublin flights and transfers; clubmed.ie.


With 25 national parks, 18 national reserves and six marine parks, Kenya is one of the world’s best spots to see the likes of lions, rhinos, elephants, leopards and buffalo in their natural habitats. The famous Great Migration isn’t until June, but over our winter and especially in the drier months of December and January, visitors benefit from prime wildlife-spotting opportunities (including baby animals and migratory birds), along with reasonable prices if you’re outside of the holiday weeks. Round off a safari with a beach break in Mombasa. At around 32C, it’s swimsuit weather with an added shower or two, but nothing that will stop play.

Book it: Seven nights at a beach resort in Mombasa (all-inclusive) and four nights in game lodges (full-board), including Belfast flights and safaris, from £3,704 (€4,264) per person; newmarketholidays.co.uk.

Shilpa Ganatra

Shilpa Ganatra

Shilpa Ganatra is a contributor to The Irish Times specialising in popular culture and travel