For most, the first signs of winter’s arrival lightly frosting our windowpanes and chilling our cheeks have us fine-tuning the thermostat and scouring the closet for warmer clothes. By the time we’re just a few days into December, our minds are already preoccupied with running away to those familiar warm-weather escapes. They’re the sandy beaches we know by heart and the tropical getaways we all imagine this time of year.
But what if there were a different destination for dodging winter weather? What if you could evade the cold and avoid the ordinary at the same time? It’s time to plan your next warm-weather getaway somewhere less familiar, somewhere under the radar. This month, leave the insulated underwear and puffy down coat behind, and make room for a whole new set of recollections far from the norm.
Rotorua, New Zealand
As part of the Taupo Volcanic Zone, Rotorua, on New Zealand’s North Island, is a geothermal paradise packed with volcanic crater lakes, geysers, mud pools, fumaroles and colorful sinter terraces. Known as “Nature’s Spa of the South Pacific,” Rotorua is also packed with soothing mineral hot springs like the 26 pools found at Polynesian Spa on the shores of Lake Rotorua and the country’s only mud baths found at Hells Gate Geothermal Park. Because it’s summertime in the Southern Hemisphere, adventure-seekers from the North can ride the world’s highest rafted waterfall, Tutea Falls on the Kaituna River, and enjoy New Zealand’s only native forest zipline canopy tour. The Rotorua experience is also enriched by the local Maori culture; visit a living Maori village or the New Zealand Maori Arts and Crafts Institute.
Patagonia, Chile and Argentina
Patagonia’s summer temperatures reach into the 70s and offer the best conditions for exploring the region, and the best exploration of the region happens within Chile’s Torres del Paine National Park and Argentina’s Los Glaciares National Park. Explore Torres del Paine’s W trekking trail for a multi-day adventure through lenga beech forests and some of South America’s most stunning landscapes. The region’s unique local wildlife includes condors, foxes, Andean deer and guanacos, but a guided puma-tracking tour with an expert guide is the best way to see the world’s largest mountain lions. Beyond the wildlife, the summer months are the best for experiencing the massive ice fields of Los Glaciares; visit the delightful town of El Calafate on your way to the area’s most accessible glacier, Perito Moreno.
Koh Lipe Thailand
In the South Andaman Sea, Thailand’s southernmost island offers a laidback island vibe with an average temperature of 78 degrees throughout the year. As part of Tarutao National Marine Park, Koh Lipe offers numerous dive sites in the coral-rich waters that surround the island. Afterward, take a boat taxi to the remote island of Koh Adang and hike to the top of Chado Cliff or trek to Pirate Waterfall. Then rent a sea kayak and head to the tiny island of Koh Kra for private swimming and sunbathing. But get back to Koh Lipe for the nightlife and fire shows at Pattaya Beach before taking a night swim amid the magical phenomenon of bioluminescent plankton that turn the water around
Koh Lipe aglow with blue sparkling lights.
Whether you’re flying over the stark and dramatic landscapes of the Kalahari Desert and the Makgadikgadi Salt Pans or paying a visit to the Khama Rhino Sanctuary, this southern African nation is guaranteed to astound. The region’s most popular adventure is the Okavango Delta — a wetland ecosystem packed with palm-fringed channels, lagoons, islands and unique fauna like pods of wallowing hippopotamuses. Chobe National Park is the best place to view classic African wildlife like impala, lions, warthogs, hyenas and spectacular displays of birdlife along with the continent’s largest concentration of elephants. The lesser-known Nxai Pan National Park is a favorite with giraffes, zebras and wildebeests throughout the year. Best of all, Botswana’s high standards of exclusivity and luxury mean visitors are always treated to the best in lodging and cuisine.
Fernando de Noronha, Brazil
A volcanic archipelago of 21 islands off the northeast coast of Brazil is home to the breathtaking beaches, towering rock formations and beautiful waterfalls of Fernando de Noronha. At a mere 7 miles wide, this former pirate lair is now a remote marine ecological reserve blessed with reliably warm weather, 15 beautiful beaches and a maximum guest limit. Hundreds of dolphins congregate at Baia de Golfinhos, while many of the island’s beaches are nesting grounds for protected sea turtles. Swim the picturesque Porcos Bay, enjoy the sands of Conceicao Beach, dive the pools of Atalaia Beach and surf the waves of Cacimba do Padre. All-inclusive resorts don’t exist on this island getaway, but a number of quaint family-run inns called pousadas provide quality lodging and meals to visitors.