Winter is coming. Some of you will be looking to escape the cold in tropical hotspots like Maui, Turks and Caicos, and Riviera Maya. Others will embrace the elements in snowy Aspen or the Swiss Alps. Whichever winter traveler you are, read on for the best reasons to take a vacation this winter, and find out how to maximize your time away from home.
Why visit in winter? Whale watching season! After a long summer, humpbacks migrate to Maui’s warm waters for peak whale viewing season between January and March, and so do some clever travelers. Maui’s winter months are known as Ho’oilo, which in Hawaiian means “wet and cooler.” It’s true that Maui gets more rain and is slightly cooler in the winter than it is in the summer with temperatures ranging from the mid 70s to low 80s during the day, and mid 60s at night. But it’s the island’s strong winds and big waves that have won the Valley Isle—nicknamed as such because of the two large mountains flanking central Maui—its reputation as the windsurfing capital of the world, so surfers of all sorts would be remiss to miss out.
Visiting Maui during the holidays? Witness one of the annual tree lighting ceremonies—in particular the Banyan Tree in Lahaina, the largest tree in Hawaii at 60 feet tall and with roots covering 66 acres. Just after the New Year, the PGA Tour opens its 2019 schedule with the Sentry Tournament of Champions in Kapalua. This event features only players that won a tournament the previous year, meaning January’s tourney should feature high profile names like Justin Thomas, Bubba Watson, and of course, recent winner, Tiger Woods. Pick your favorite beach, grab a delicious Kona coffee, and escape the cold in Maui this winter!
Turks and Caicos, Caribbean
Why visit in winter? It might be cold and snowy back home, but sunshine is in full throttle here on the Caribbean islands. Turks and Caicos’ tropical climate keeps it hot all year round, so escape the harsh winter and find your way toward a relaxing break in the action. Several events fill the winter calendar: On January 1st, the entire island participates in Junkanoo by forming groups that compete against each other for the most outrageous costumes. Each February, the annual Valentine’s Day Cup takes place at Bambarra Beach, where skilled artisans build their model sailboats from branches and then race them.
No TCI visit is complete without a taste of its favorite local dish: conch. Island Fish Fry is one of the best places to do so, as local vendors display and serve regional faves like conch salad and crab ‘n rice plates to the tune of live music every week. And don’t leave the island without getting out on the water: Clear waters and active marine life make for some exceptional snorkeling, scuba diving, and paddleboarding right on Providenciales. And since water temperatures dip less than 10 degrees from summer to winter, the water is still refreshingly comfortable.
Why visit in winter? A better question would be: Why not visit in winter? Any proper chionophile finds their bliss in the snowy Colorado mountain town known as the Hollywood of the Rockies. In the mid-20th century, the former silver mining town transformed itself into one of the country’s top ski destinations—and we sure are glad it did. The booming Aspen Snowmass—named Ski Magazine’s 2019 Best of the West Resort of the Year—encompasses four distinct mountains, covering a whopping 3,000+ acres and satisfying all types of skiers. From Aspen’s steep runs and Highlands’ deep bowls to Buttermilk’s family-friendly snow parks and Snowmass’ extreme winter conditions, Aspen Snowmass has something for everyone. Plus, each mountain has a vibrant local après-ski experience at its base. Some of downtown Aspen’s original redbrick buildings are still there and are worth checking out during a stroll outfitting high-end brands like Gucci and Prada, cowboy-style swag from Ralph Lauren, or custom-fit ski boots from Surefoot.
Over the holidays, the town is transformed into a Winter Wonderland during what’s known as 12 Days of Aspen, an action-packed itinerary filled with film screenings, winter yoga classes, and Christmas dinners. In mid-January, Wintersköl descends upon Aspen, a four-day celebration that includes an Olympic qualifying for skiers and snowboarders, a concert series, and a bonfire party. And of course, the biggest extreme sports event of the year: the X Games. This year, the world’s best athletes migrate to Aspen January 24-27, along with popular musical artists the Chainsmokers and Lil Wayne for what’s sure to be a can’t-miss event.
Riviera Maya, Mexico
Why visit in winter? Name a better winter destination than Mexico’s sunny Riviera Maya—we’ll wait. The fall/winter season from October to December is a relatively quiet time to enjoy the area, while January through March is more popular among travelers—and for good reason. There are so many draws to Riviera Maya, starting with beautiful beaches. No matter what you’re looking for, there’s beach for that—spot sea turtles at Akumal, relax on Paraiso Beach after a trip to the nearby Tulum Ruins, and visit Playa Akun on your way into the Sian Ka’an Biosphere. Each visit to the beach in Riviera Maya brings you one step closer to cancelling that return flight.
There are several Riviera Maya staples important to explore on any trip to the region. Cenotes are explorable sinkholes and underwater cave systems that date back to ancient Maya (they believed they were entrances to the underworld!). Riviera Maya has lots of them, but if you only have time to see one, a good choice would be Cenote Yokdzonot. As it’s one of the newer cenotes to be visitor-ready, not many travelers know about it yet (shh!), so the smallish crowds are typically locals. Just 11 miles to the west of the 1,000-year-old sacred Mayan town of Chichen Itza, this cenote surrounds you with birds, fish, and dragonflies in clean water—an unforgettable experience. Traveling families shouldn’t miss Xcaret Park, a child-friendly eco-theme park where the kids can make friends with butterflies, flamingoes, dolphins, and more. Along the way, don’t miss the chance to stop by a traditional Mexican hacienda, take a cultural tour through a Mayan village, and walk the corridors of the Vino de Mexico Wine Cellar.
Swiss Alps, Switzerland
Why visit in winter? World-class slopes in one of the most beautiful wintry settings in which you’ll ever find yourself. Surrounded by delicate snowfall and powdery mountains, the Swiss Alps embody the European winter wonderland, punctuated by peaks like the iconic Matterhorn—a near-symmetrical, pyramid-shaped mountain straddling the Swiss-Italian border and one of Europe’s tallest. Top notch skiing and snowboarding (and other winter sports) are found especially in Switzerland’s south. Verbier is especially popular for challenging off-piste areas like Bruson you can only reach by gondola. Zermatt’s skiing is just as good, but is less crowded and quieter, thanks to its quirky but quaint distinction as a car-free town. Enter by train, and relish the vast variety of ski runs in relative peace.
The kicker is that there’s so much more to these destinations than their sparkling ski reputations would suggest. Start with some scenic outdoor thermal pools: take a day trip to The Gruyère Baths in Charmey and soak in the outdoor pool with bubble jets and massage beds, all while 900m high and surrounded by the mountains of la Gruyère. In Verbier, the annual Verbier Art Summit attracts key figures from the art world to speak to a captive audience of art-lovers. This winter’s event takes place February 1-2, 2019. Of course if you want to enjoy the snow a different way, Verbier owns the world’s longest toboggan run, called Savoleyres, which drops 834 meters (2736 feet) in altitude. In Zermatt, known as the sunniest corner of the country, Zermatt Fashion treats visitors to four days of pop-up stores and fashion shows.