When you imagine escaping the winter doldrums of home, do you picture yourself lying on warm sand under a clear blue sky or bundled up against the elements, enjoying snowy mountains? What about strolling through the streets of London or Paris, enjoying the sights without the tourist crowds?
Whether you want to travel to the cold or get away from it, winter travel can bring respite from the season's dark days and offer some of the best travel value of the year. Find inspiration with these ideas for hot and cold vacation destinations for the luxury, moderate, and budget price ranges.
As a luxury traveler, you may spare no expense, but it's likely you still want to get the most for your money.
The people have spoken, and for tropical Hawaiian luxury, there's a clear choice. The Four Seasons Maui in Wailea topped the Conde Nast Traveler's "Readers' Choice Awards" list for best Hawaii resort. Tucked into its 15 oceanfront acres are a spa, three acclaimed restaurants, and large, recently renovated guest rooms. In addition to a pool, tennis courts, and golf course, the resort offers free introductory scuba lessons, plus other activities such as reef dives, snorkeling, surfing, parasailing, kayaking, jet skiing, and more. Rates start at $440 per night, and the hotel offers packages such as the Bed and Breakfast package from $590 per night or the Romance for All Seasons package, which includes dinner, massages, a convertible car rental, daily breakfast, and more, from $827 per night.
For less action and more relaxation, you can take rustic luxury in Mexico to the next level at the Amuleto Resort in Zihuatanejo, near Ixtapa, on Mexico's Pacific Coast. With just five suites, the small boutique hotel offers guests a tranquil and exclusive experience. Private infinity plunge pools and terraces, hammocks, and views of Zihuatanejo Bay take the place of in-room televisions and alarm clocks. Guests can also enjoy the swimming pool, make the 15-minute walk to the beach, get a massage or take yoga, or dine at the resort's small restaurant. Tranquility is further ensured by the resort's policy of not allowing children under 16 unless the party books the entire hotel. In winter, rates range from $400 to $675, depending on the room type.
Ambergris Caye, Belize
Still farther south, on Belize's Ambergis Caye, the palapa-chic Mata Chica Resort is a boat ride away from the town of San Pedro, along a quiet stretch of the island where you can feel simultaneously indulged and undisturbed. Distinctive villas and casitas are set among the palm trees, and guests have access to the swimming pool, spa featuring natural ingredients from Belize's ocean and jungle, the award-winning Mambo restaurant, a beach-front bar, and various relaxation spaces. The resort is equipped to help guests do as little or as much as they like, whether it be simply relaxing on the beach or something more adventurous like taking a kayak out for a little snorkeling above the world's second longest barrier reef. Winter room rates start at $265 per night. There are also packages available, including the $2,560 four-night Taste of Paradise package, which includes accommodations in a sea-view suite, daily breakfast and dinner (including a private candlelight dinner), a spa treatment, a fishing trip, and snorkeling at Hol Chan and Shark Ray Alley Marine Reserves.
It doesn't get much colder than Antarctica, but for the luxury traveler willing to brave the elements, an Antarctic expedition is the trip of a lifetime, the chance to visit places few have ever laid eyes on. This winter, National Geographic Expeditions is leading a 25-day trip to Antarctica, Chile, South Georgia Island, and the Falkland Islands. In January and February, the height of summer in the Southern Hemisphere, Antarctica's nearly 24 hours of daylight means there's lots of time to explore the Antarctic Peninsula and its surrounding islands. Whale and penguin watching, hiking, kayaking, and even swimming (in a cove heated by an underwater volcano) are all possibilities. This trip departs on February 7; other dates are already sold out for this upcoming winter. Prices start at $17,590 per person.
Jackson Hole, Wyoming
Closer to home, Jackson Hole, Wyoming offers a decidedly more decadent experience than you'll find in Antarctica. Dramatic natural beauty and cosmopolitan offerings draw visitors, the rich and famous among them, to the town. The Amangani Resort, one of the hyper-luxurious Amanresorts, perches dramatically atop a bluff, offering views of the surrounding Grand Teton mountain range. Guests can spend entire days soaking in the elegant surroundings and myriad amenities, or use the resort as a home base for winter activities such as cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, dogsledding, and visiting Yellowstone National Park. In winter, suites range from $565 to $1,200 per night.
Yosemite National Park
Yosemite's Ahwahnee Hotel's inviting, rustic elegance and its unforgettable location has been drawing presidents, queens, and well-heeled nature lovers for close to 100 years. Guests can choose between hotel rooms or suites in the main building, or cottage rooms located under the pines on the hotel grounds. Interpretive events at the hotel bring the marvels of Yosemite to the hotel's comfortable fireside, and plenty of winter activities such as snowshoeing, ice skating, and skiing keep active visitors busy. Rates at the National Historic Landmark range from $426 to $984 per night.