Top islands for winter sun

Find 7 best islands for winter sun this year and exchange drizzle for dazzling blues skies. Discover tropical paradises to beat all winter blues with our warm winter island guide. Take a look.
Patong Beach, Phuket, Thailand. Photo: John_Walker/Shutterstock
Patong Beach, Phuket, Thailand. Photo: John_Walker/Shutterstock

1. Sri Lanka, best of the Indian Ocean islands for winter sun

Sri Lanka in the Indian Ocean is an ideal winter island. Beaches flank both the south and east coasts and you'll also find rainforest here as well as rice paddies, impressive tea plantations and wildlife rich national parks. 

The country's historic sites are famously iconic and there is always sun somewhere in Sri Lanka, year round. Although the south coast is best in winter, so think about visiting Galle and basking on Bentota or Hiriketiya beaches.

Winter is also one of the whale watching seasons in Sri Lanka. The island has two in total: December to January and then again during April. Mirissa on the south coast is best for whale spotting and known for visits by blue, sperm, Bryde's, killer and beaked whales.

During winter there is a 95% chance whale sightings from Mirissa. If that sounds like the ideal way to spend the New Year, stay at Fresh Wave in Mirissa this winter. 

Galle Fort on the south coast of Sri Lanka. Photo: samuraisunshine/Shutterstock

2. Cuba, the largest island in the Caribbean

Cuba packs a lot into one island from verdant landscapes and tropical beaches to atmospheric towns and, of course, Havana: the legendary capital city.   

The country's troubled history has left its mark and for many Cubans travel outside Cuba remains difficult. Once grand colonial buildings in towns and cities continue to gently crumble. Cars are still largely vintage American. And Communist propaganda radiates across the island, so don't be surprised to see billboards proclaiming Patria o Muerte (Homeland or Death). 

However, the regime's successes are also very evident. Excellent free education and healthcare prevails, the incidence of violent crime is low and homelessness is almost non-existent.  

As a Caribbean island, Cuba's warm in winter. So if you want sunshine, think about heading to Havana or make for less travelled spots like Trinidad, Santiago de Cuba or Cienfuegos.

Varadero on the north coast is the closest Cuba gets to a large, international resort and it's very popular with tourists. But if you prefer a little more character with your winter sun, try Guardalavaca, Playa Esmeralda or Playa Ancón. 

For 10-days of exploring that takes in everything from Havana and the gorgeous Viñales Valley to Trinidad and the Bay of Pigs, think about booking the Insight Guides Salsa Cubana - Extended trip this winter. 

Trinidad in Cuba, one of the more interesting Caribbean islands for winter sun Photo: rphstock/Shutterstock


3. Bali, Indonesia

Bali sits close to the equator, enjoys a tropical climate and temperatures of about 26–27°C all year round. Even in the rainy season, from October to March, you'll still find plenty of sun and most activities are doable in winter - just avoid trekking at higher altitudes.

Bali is charming all over but there are a few experiences no visitor should miss. Pristine beaches top the list of course, but make sure to see the dramatic Jatiluwih rice terraces: now a World Heritage site and simply magnificent. 

Artistic and soulful Ubud is another must-do, as is West Bali National Park. And if you want winter theatre, catch the traditional and enthralling Topeng masked dancers in Batuan and make time for startling kecak performances.

Prefer to leave planning and booking to experts? Have a look at some Bali itineraries. All Tailor Made Trips can be modified together with your local expert, then booked for a stress-free holiday. Click 'Modify this itinerary' to contact a local Bali expert

Rice fields of Jatiluwih in Bali, one of the best Indonesian islands for winter sun Photo: My Good Images/Shutterstock

4. The Canary Islands, Spain

All eight Canary Islands are in Spain, but they also sit off the Moroccan coast so you can expect warm weather on each of them year round and they're incredibly popular for winter sun breaks. 

Budget UK flights draw visitors to the Canaries in the colder months of the year, so all islands have good facilities. They also share an easy-going atmosphere, dramatic volcanic landscapes and striking black beaches.

But you'll find dense and beautiful pine forests in the Canaries too, and Tenerife's Mt. Teide is Spain's highest mountain. Although tourist crowds can be off-putting - in high season, visitors outnumber locals across the archipelago -  the Canaries remain friendly, multi-cultural and very welcoming. 

Tenerife is the largest island, best loved by visitors and home to Mt. Teide along with a diverse landscape of forest, valleys and beaches. Don't miss the capital city, charming Santa Cruz de Tenerife. And if you want to soak up winter sun, think about staying at Meliá Jardines del Teide on the island.

Teresitas beach, Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain. Photo: RossHelen/Shutterstock

5. The Galápagos Islands, Ecuador

The Galápagos Islands are the unique Ecuadoran archipelago where Charles Darwin studied wildlife and researched what eventually became The Origin of Species. Even today rare and unusual creatures are still the main draw and wildlife attracts visitors year-round. 

Few Galápagos species migrate elsewhere, but if you want to see specific animals it's always best to check their habits before booking your trip.  

The Galápagos Islands are cool and dry from June to November, and December to June is the wet, warm season and best time to visit. Underwater visibility's good for diving or snorkelling, and rain showers tend to be brief and seldom torrential. 

Winter is also the time for phenomena here. Come in December and January to catch giant tortoise hatching season. Green turtles lay their eggs in January, and February sees several other species breed and nest. 

Other winter wildlife highlights include land iguanas, waved albatross, penguins, hawks and seals. If you want to follow in the footsteps of Darwin, consider taking an Insight Guides Galapagos Islands Explored trip this winter. 

Couple of blue footed boobies from  Galápagos Islands. Photo: ShutterstockCouple of blue-footed boobies in the Galápagos Islands. Photo: Shutterstock

6. Phuket, Thailand

Phuket is largest island resort in Thailand and famous for its beautiful beaches. But it's also the place for astonishing national parks as well as plenty of bars, restaurants and excellent, wide-ranging visitor facilities. 

December to February is a good time to visit. The weather's less humid, you'll catch cooling breezes, yet temperatures are still a very balmy 24°C–32°C and the water is calm and invitingly warm. 

Make sure to see Phuket Town for its interesting Taoist temples and Sino-Portuguese mansions. The local Orchid garden is worth a few hours of exploring. And leave plenty of time - and space in your suitcase - for products from the  town's craft workshops.

Visit Sirinat National Park to discover beaches, mangroves, coral reefs and sea turtles. Then head to Khao Phra Thaeo for close ups with monkeys and civets.

Beaches are everywhere on Phuket, but the ones on the west coast never disappoint. Try Ao Bang Thao and Ao Pansea for their charming Thai-style beach pavilions. Hat Surin is another must-visit. And Hat Patong can be busy, mainly because its facilities are outstanding.

Winter is a perfect season to explore all over Thailand. So think about travelling north to south on the adventurous, yet beachy, Insight Guides Thailand Discovery trip. 

Phuket, the largest of Thailand's resort islands for winter sun Photo: aphotostory/Shutterstock

7. Madagascar

Madagascar is the world's largest island and sits just off the coast of East Africa. Famous for golden beaches and palm trees on the coast, the less visited island interior is also marvellous: think forests, volcanoes and wildlife.  

September to December is mid-season in Madagascar, although you can still look forward to warm temperatures. Tourist numbers are often at their lowest at this time, so it's an ideal season to visit.  

Of course, one of the biggest draws on Madagascar is the extraordinary wildlife, this is the land of the lemurs after all. But spare some time for the island capital Antananarivo. Known locally as ‘Tana’, it's pretty, lively and well worth a visit. 

To discover wildlife, beaches, the fascinating island interior and its towns and cities, think about booking an Insight Guides Wild Madagascar trip this winter.
Two fishermen returning in their Pirogue (dug-out canoe) in Ankify, Madagascar. Photo: Shutterstock

Two fishermen in their pirogue (dug-out canoe) in Ankify, Madagascar. Photo: Shutterstock

Ready to book a winter sun trip?

Insight Guides can help you plan and book wonderful trips in destinations around the world. Simply get in touch to let us know your ideas for the trip and when you would like to travel. Our local experts will then prepare a personalized itinerary especially, which you can amend until you’re completely happy with every detail before booking.