Canada’s winter season can be long; we’re talking many months of ice storms, polar vortexes and general frostbite and misery. With that in mind, many Canucks plan a much-needed trip south during the winter months to escape the below-freezing temperatures and stock up on some much-needed vitamin D (and vitamin sea).
The postcard-pretty settings of the Caribbean Sea are a popular destination for North Americans thanks to their warm climate, crystal blue waters, white sand beaches, and laid-back island vibes. Beat the cold-weather blues this winter and check out these popular Caribbean destinations for some fun in the sun!
Whether you’re looking for outdoor adventure, vibrant nightlife or a relaxing beach getaway, Jamaica offers something for everyone. With a few distinctly different tourist regions on the island, it’s best to do some research ahead of time and plan to stay in an area that suits your vacation style. Ocho Rios and Montego Bay are both family-friendly tourist hotspots that offer scenic beach resorts alongside world-class shopping, gourmet restaurants, reggae bars, and plenty of activities for adventure sports enthusiasts and nature lovers. On Jamaica’s West Coast, Negril is home to pristine white sand shores, picturesque cliffside hotels, and arguably the most gorgeous sunsets in the country.
Kingston offers the best of both worlds: a buzzing urban centre with the lush Blue Mountains to the north and calm beaches to the south. From day to night, the island capital offers plenty to see and do, including historic landmarks, contemporary restaurants, art galleries, bars and nightclubs, and more. Meanwhile, Jamaica’s laid-back South Coast is perhaps the most romantic spot on the island thanks to its natural beauty and authentic Old-World charm. A string of sleepy fishing villages, golden beaches, sparkling aquamarine waters, and rustic beach shack eateries, the South Coast’s much-loved Treasure Beach is a true unspoiled island hideaway that’s well worth a visit.
- Floyd’s Pelican Bar: Perhaps one of the world’s coolest (and most remote) bars, this humble driftwood bar has been built on stilts in the middle of the Caribbean Sea and is only accessible by boat. Head here for a Red Stripe beer with a seriously good view.
- Rose Hall Great House: A majestic former plantation house just outside of Montego Bay, this colonial ruin is surrounded by tropical gardens and unique folklore. The Georgian-style mansion is rumoured to be haunted by former owner Annie Palmer, aka: The White Witch.
- Jake’s Hotel: A longstanding boutique hotel along Treasure Beach, Jake’s is adored by visitors and locals alike. The charming family-run resort features colourful oceanfront cottages, bungalows and villas, as well as a few different on-site restaurants and bars.
More than just mojitos and cigars, Cuba’s capital of Havana is a historic gem and a not-to-be-missed destination for travellers looking for a true cultural experience. The Instagram-worthy Old Havana is a labyrinth of narrow streets, overhanging balconies, historic churches and castles, colourful markets, and a distinct mix of architecturally unique buildings that range from Moorish to Baroque to Art Deco. Culture buffs will appreciate the wealth of museums, art galleries and performing arts centres in the city centre, while foodies can flock to the outdoor cafes for a café cubano and visit roadside street vendors hawking crispy plantains (tostones), churros and pressed pork Cuban sandwiches.
If you really want to see Havana in style, arrange for a guided tour in a classic ’50’s convertible to cruise through this historic city while posing for a photo with your open-air vintage ride. A two-hour drive east of the capital, Varadero is Cuba’s go-to beach destination, and is one of the largest resort areas in the Caribbean, attracting 1 million foreign visitors a year. Along the 20-kilometre coastline, you’ll find white sand beaches dotted with luxurious all-inclusive resorts, golf courses, amusement parks, a dolphin wildlife centre, and tour operators offering everything from catamaran outings to deep sea fishing and kite-surfing. For an “off-the-beaten track” getaway, plan to stay in Trinidad. This colonial beach town on Cuba’s south side has been deemed a UNESCO World Heritage site thanks to its historic architecture, cobblestoned streets and picturesque pastel-coloured buildings and churches.
Must see spots:
- Hotel Nacional: A national monument in the centre of Havana, this iconic five-star hotel has been in business for almost 100 years and has served as a hotspot for visiting movie stars and politicians. With a beautiful view of the harbour, the elegant Art Deco landmark hotel an idyllic spot to sip a mojito while watching the world go by.
- El Floridita: Legend has it that this historic cocktail bar and fish restaurant in Old Havana is the birthplace of the daiquiri. The local institution was also a favourite watering hole of writer Ernest Hemmingway.
- Viñales Valley: Head east from Havana to hike through the scenic foothills and valleys of this small rural village known for its rust-coloured tobacco fields, which produce the world’s top cigars.
Bordered by the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean on either side, Panama is a hub of biodiversity that is teaming with wildlife. Due to its unique geographical location and microclimates, the region boasts a diverse variety of animal species and exotic flora and fauna that make up dense rainforests, mangrove wetlands and mountainous forests. A bird lover’s paradise, the idyllic archipelago is also home to more than 900 indigenous bird species. And the animal life isn’t just confined to the land; Panama also offers some of the best diving and snorkelling in Central America with an unusual under-water ecosystem that features colourful aquatic life, vibrant coral reefs and deep ocean valleys. Looking for something a little more cosmopolitan? Panama City charms visitors with its modern attractions, world-class shopping destinations and a historic old town, featuring Spanish architecture, colonial-era landmarks and gorgeous public plazas.
- Panama Canal: This 80-kilometer artificial waterway was built to connect the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Tour the world-renowned feat of engineering by boat or check out the Miraflores Locks in Panama City
- Soberania National Park: You’ll find this gorgeous nature reserve located on the banks of the Panama Canal about 20 minutes east of Panama City. Hidden within the lush old-growth forests are more than hundreds of species of rare birds, reptiles, amphibians and mammals, including parakeets, monkeys, sloths and iguanas.
- Boquette: This small mountain town offers breathtaking views of the surrounding highlands and is an excellent spot for hiking and coffee enthusiasts, with many of the world’s most exotic and sought-after beans grown on the slopes of the nearby Barú Volcano.
With all these postcard destinations, you’re sure to find your much needed sunshine (and more) this winter. Before you leave for your trip, don’t forget your travel insurance!