For many of us around the world, the cold has arrived. As much as we love sweater weather, mulled wine and cozying up around the hearth, we can’t help but start to fantasize about warmer climates and escaping for the beach. To help with your vacation dreaming, we’ve gathered our top five destinations for winter island vacations.
1. Mo’orea, French Polynesia
You’ve probably heard of Tahiti and Bora Bora, but Mo’orea is the lesser-known crown jewel in French Polynesia. Accessible by ferry or a short plane ride from Tahiti, Mo’orea, which means “yellow lizard” and is shaped like a heart, is the Platonic Ideal of a tropical island. White sand beaches, crystal clear water and laidback hospitality greet you on your arrival. Visitors can partake in world-class snorkeling and scuba diving among the world’s largest coral reef ecosystem, or simply hold hands while watching the sunset. Paradise.
2. Punalu’u Beach, Hawaii
Because of volcanic activity, Hawaii’s beaches come in all shades of white, green and even black. None is more breathtaking or mind-bending than Punalu’u Beach on the southeastern Kau coast of the Big Island. Inhabited by endangered species of turtles, seals and other flora and fauna, Punalu’u, also called Black Sand Beach, offers an unusual glimpse of some of the rarest creatures in the world. With a consistency closer to coffee grounds than sugar, the beach’s black sand is made of basalt, created by lava that flows into the ocean. So, pitch a tent (camping is permitted) and drift to sleep as you listen to the waves crash on shore.
3. Vieques, Puerto Rico
What’s better than horses frolicking on the beach? Frolicking puppies, of course. Vieques has both. Just a short 25-minute plane ride from Puerto Rico, Vieques is a world unto itself. Until recently, the 21-mile island was used as a bombing range and testing ground by the US Navy, which lead to massive protests, shutting down the operation in 2003. Because of that, tourism hasn’t infiltrated this gorgeous island in the same way it has other locations in the Caribbean. The W opened a luxury resort not far from the airport, but there are plenty of rentable beach cottages and apartments throughout the island. If horses and puppies aren’t your thing, you can take a nighttime canoe tour of Puerto Mosquito, considered the best example of a bioluminescent bay in the United States.
4. Tulum, Mexico
If Cancún is a party girl, Tulum is her hippie (or some would argue, hipster) sister. An hour and a half away from Cancún, Tulum is a gem of a town on the Yucatan nestled among Mayan ruins and pristine white sand beaches. In recent years, it’s been “discovered” by jet-setting fashion editors and media types drawn to the plentiful yoga classes and spicy cuisine. It’s the perfect destination for travelers who are torn between experiencing the scene and the scenery. In Tulum, you can easily have both and at prices that aren’t New York level. Yet.
5. Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Islands
The main attraction on Virgin Gorda, the sleepiest and third-largest of the British Virgin Islands, are The Baths. On the southern part of the island, enormous granite boulders emerge along the beach, forming natural tidal pools of warm water that visitors can tour for just a few dollars. When done visiting The Baths, relax on the beach and enjoy the quintessential breeze that can only be found in the Caribbean.