6 holidays to help you beat the winter blues
Go local in Vietnam
Vietnam is a firm favourite among travellers, and for good reason too! You can pack a hefty amount into one single trip: mouthwatering foodie experiences, culture and crafts, historic memorials, natural wonders and beaches too. Plus, if you like doing as the locals do, then Vietnam is the perfect place for an immersive holiday.
In Ho Chi Minh City, one of our favourite experiences is taking an evening Vespa tour with a local guide. It’s a totally memorable way to see the city from a local’s perspective (on the back of a scooter!) and you’ll stumble upon some, otherwise hidden, streetside food spots and hole-in-the-wall cafes.
For a totally different pace of life, far away from the swarms of buzzing scooters, venture to the Mekong Delta. And if you think the Mekong Delta is just a busy maze of floating markets, then think again. Head away from the throngs of market sellers trading their wares and travel deeper along the waterways, and you’ll enter a world of diverse communities and industries. Spend the night in the home of a local family and you’ll get the unique opportunity to experience life on the Mekong; learn how to rustle up the finest Delta specialities and watch life unfold.
In Hoi An, you’re in a prime spot for some pottering about. Amble the lantern-lit streets, stopping for the occasional Vietnamese coffee, before getting crafty in a lantern-making workshop- souvenirs anyone?
No Vietnam holiday would be complete without a couple of nights in the characterful capital of Hanoi, where you can learn the local lingo with a guide and sip on a bowl of freshly steaming pho as life passes by. Bliss.
Take a break in Thailand
Thailand is another destination with its pages well-worn in the backpacker guide books. But don’t judge a book by its cover, there’s more to experience here than Full Moon Parties and throngs of beach-bathers. Choose the right spots away from the tourist crowds and you’ll be rewarded with the perfect setting for a blissful break.
Once you’ve had your fill of Bangkok’s glitzy temples and backpacker markets, the River Kwai is an ideal spot to take in some history and find a little peace too. The famous bridge over the River Kwai is reason enough to visit, but where better to lay your head at night than a cosy riverside resort, illuminated by flickering oil lamps?
In Khao Sok, you can find solace in the jungle, surrounded by limestone cliffs, bamboo cottages, and shimmery lakes. But if the beach is calling, Ko Pha Ngan is just a ferry ride away. It’s not famous for its deserted beaches, but there’s a place on the northeastern side that boasts just that; a world away from the Full Moon parties on the other side of the island.
To complete the island hopping experience, why not pop over to Ko Samui? Here, you can enjoy a sunny stint on pretty Bo Phut beach; a laid back alternative to bustling Lamai and Chaweng.
Find culture in Cuba
Cuba has received a heck of a lot of hype in recent times, with travellers compelled to visit before ‘it all changes’. Well, the buzz may have hushed, but that doesn’t mean the West has taken hold of this Caribbean gem just yet. Cuba remains a living museum, with vintage cars, old timely traditions and revolutionary history running through its veins.
If culture is your bag then there’s no better place to escape the winter blues than here. Explore Havana in style on a classic car tour, where you can feel the breeze roll off the sea, peer up at the faded grandeur of the city’s characterful buildings and find shade among the mossy overgrown forests, just outside of the city.
If the countryside is calling then Vinales is the place to go next; famous for its guajiro life, tobacco hills and terracotta-red soil, it’s like a land stuck in time. If you want the ultimate Cuban countryside experience, it doesn’t get much better than learning the art of cigar rolling before saddling up for a plod on horseback through the hills.
Journey to Las Terrazas and you’ll find eco-tourism at its best, not to mention a thriving art scene. It’s home to a hub of creativity, with a scattering of artist studios and workshops – the perfect place to buy a hand-crafted keepsake.
If you fancy dusting off your dancing shoes, venture to the cobbled streets of Trinidad. Here, you can also bed down in a family-run casa particular and enjoy home-cooked comforts and an insider glance at life in this colonial town.
Get spiritual in India
From the banks of the Ganges to the Himalayan foothills, India is rich in holy places, sacred traditions, and ancient rituals. Not surprising really, considering it’s home to some of the world’s biggest religions and is the birth-place of Buddhism. If you’re looking for a spiritual start to 2020 then this is the place to go.
The Taj Mahal steals the limelight, of course. But that’s no surprise. Before the daytime crowds surge, those lofty pillars and high, sloping domes are a sight for sore eyes in the morning light of dawn.
Hop on a train from Agra to Orchha and you’ll find a riverside haven, free from the usual tourist touts, where sleepy villages and erotic temples (!) await. If you amble along the riverbank, you’ll find a scattering of ancient ruins, and intricate palaces which only add to the air of spirituality.
In Varanasi, which is one of the oldest and holiest cities in India, you’ll be greeted with an overwhelming yet beautiful jumble of sights that’ll really awaken your senses. Watch kids play cricket next to funeral pyres and set flower candles afloat in twilight ceremonies – there’s nowhere on Earth like Varanasi.
Soak up Indonesia’s incredible sights
Huge, diverse and utterly amazing – that’s Indonesia. Made up of more than 17,000 islands, it’s home to some breathtaking sights, from tropical forests to coral-strewn archipelagos and smouldering volcanoes.
Java and Bali are next-door neighbours and pairing them together makes for an exciting adventure. If scenery is high on the list then dive right in when you arrive in Yogyakarta, the cultural hub of Java. Catching sunrise over Borobudur is a pretty special sight and photos don’t really do it justice, especially when the purple dawn sky gives way to the first beams of morning light.
Further east, more treasures await. Rumbling Mount Bromo – Java’s most photogenic volcano – dominates the horizon. Again, sunrise is the time to be here and the view you’re rewarded with is nothing short of staggering. Further east still, and you’re in a land of smoking calderas and azure lakes.
The Ijen Plataeu is packed with eye-opening natural beauty, from alpine forests to mist-cloaked mountain rims. Finally, a hop, skip and a ferry over to Bali is the best way to round off a trip like this, surrounded by reefs and mangroves of Menjangan island.
Go green in Costa Rica
Not only is Costa Rica the happiest country in the world, but it’s also one of the most eco-friendly. The jungles here are like something straight out of Jurassic Park (but, er, without the huge man-eating dinosaurs). Misty cloud forests and mangroves, castaway beaches, smoking volcanoes, scarlet macaws and incredible coffee – it’s a peaceful slice of paradise.
Winding rivers meander through the jungle to Tortuguero, where howler monkeys whoop from the treetops and tiny red frogs chirp in the grass. In La Fortuna, mountains claim the horizon and it’s here where you’ll find the country’s most iconic volcano; Arenal. If you like a bit of action on your holiday, then here’s the ultimate spot to hike through the lush landscape before dipping your toes in a bubbling hot spring.
Monteverde boasts canopy bridges and mossy cloud forests, where colourful birds dart through the treetops- a prime location for twitchers, so don’t forget your binoculars! The humid climate means the forest gives off a fairytale-like atmosphere, especially as the mist rolls over.
A few nights by the coast is a top way to round off your holiday. Head to the sleepy village of Samara to make yourself at home in a cosy lodge, just a few minutes walk from the beach and you’ll be perfectly positioned to hear the sounds of the jungle and roar of the sea.