Warm up this winter on some of the world’s best stretches of sand, from close-to-home shores to more exotic beach destinations around the globe.
As the night’s length draws in and temperatures drop, you might start lusting after warmer climes. If you’re in need of a vitamin D boost, these are some of the world’s best beaches for warming winter sun.
With beach-friendly temperatures all year, Mexico is unsurprisingly a popular destination. Avoid the crowds by going to the small coastal town of Mazunte, where three sandy beaches—Mermejita, Rinconcito, and San Agustinillo—are backed by thatched shacks selling seafood and cocktails.
This area is home to the National Turtle Research Center, where there’s an aquarium open to the public and baby turtles are released into the ocean. If you feel like getting active, hike out to the wild Punta Cometa headland for views back along the sand and a number of secluded coves.
Manuel Antonio Beach
Manuel Antonio Beach sits on the fringes of an eponymous protected forest. You can’t stay on the beach itself, but you can hike there through the national park from the main town that backs the busier Espadilla Beach. The jungle is home to some of the country’s most exciting wildlife, including sloths, which you might see dangling from the trees as you wander through the park.
Don’t miss a sundowner at the nearby El Avion bar. It’s set inside an old Fairchild C-123 cargo plane 500 feet high in the hills beyond the beach, and it has the best views out across the forest toward the glittering coastline. It’s dry season in this part of Costa Rica from December through April, so prime time for days lounging on the sands.
A perfect swimming beach, Hulopoe is a pretty patch of yellow sand backed by leafy vegetation and flanked by rocky outcrops. When the tide is out, you’ll often find small crabs and starfish living in the pools that form among them.
Come December, the waves are ideal for surfing or bodyboarding and the weather dry and warm. The nearby Four Seasons Resort is the place to go for lunch, with several restaurants, including a Nobu outpost.
Ras Al Khaimah
United Arab Emirates
Skip the glitzy, expensive beaches of Dubai and head north to Ras Al Khaimah, a little-visited emirate that’s home to several beaches with golden sand and shells; it also has a slightly cooler climate than its neighbors, averaging 77 degrees throughout January.
You’ll find all-out luxury at the Waldorf Astoria, which has its own private beach. You can also camp on any of the public stretches of sand, offering a completely different experience in this resort-heavy nation. Or drive to the top of Jebel Jais, the UAE’s tallest mountain, and pitch a tent there. On a clear day it has views out to the Persian Gulf.
The sand at this beach on the eastern side of Harbour Island really is a striking pastel shade of pink, thanks to the remains of the foraminifera, tiny single-shell organisms that wash up on the shore.
Temperatures in December and January average a comfortable 78 degrees, the sand is cool underfoot, and minimal rainfall at this time of year makes it perfect for long days spent sunbathing. Activities for the more adventurous include horseback riding on the beach or snorkeling around nearby Man Island, which reveals an underwater world of octopuses and sea cucumbers.
Western Australia, Australia
It’s the height of summer in Australia from December through February, but the country’s west coast sees far fewer travelers gracing its shores than the east does. Ningaloo is the highlight of this wild coastline, with a thriving coral reef just offshore that’s ideal for diving and snorkeling.
Stay at the luxury campsite Sal Salis to the north, and spend your days lounging on the sand or out in the water. Don’t miss the opportunity to see turtle hatchlings wend their way into the waters from January through March. Farther inland, you can explore the Outback wilderness on guided walks.
Combine a winter sun-and-beach break with an unforgettable wildlife experience at Diani Beach. This slice of white sand, backed by palms and lapped by Indian Ocean waves, sees temperatures hover around the mid-80s throughout December and January.
There are plenty of hotels in Diani, but the rooms at Stilts Treehouses & Backpackers are special and will introduce you to some of the very cheeky colobus monkeys and bush babies that live in the forest nearby. A short drive away is the Shimba Hills National Reserve, where you can take a safari to spot elephants, giraffes, and—if you’re lucky—leopards.
Arugam Bay Beach
November through March is a great time to visit Sri Lanka, but it can get crowded. Arugam Bay, on the southeast coast, is a far cry from the busier resorts on this teardrop-shaped island’s west side, which are packed at this time of year.
With its chilled, hammock-swinging vibe, excellent beachfront restaurants (don’t pass up the fish curries at Ranga’s Beach Hut), and superb surf, Arugam Bay is a wonderful place to escape the crowds and get a taste of Indian Ocean life.
Raa Atoll, Maldives
The Maldives is famous for its perfect beaches, all wispy white sands and light blue waters. But after the sun sets, some of the archipelago’s beaches take on a rather different look.
Vaadhoo Island is renowned for its nocturnal show of bioluminescent plankton, which means you can spend your days here enjoying the winter sun, sea, and sand and be mesmerized at night when the waves glow bright blue as they crash onto the shore.
With highs regularly hitting 71 degrees in December and January, Clearwater Beach on Florida’s Gulf Coast offers all the sunshine and spectacularly white sand you could want, with the bonus of big-city vibes and lots of craft beer. More than 35 small-scale breweries in Clearwater and St. Petersburg make a fantastic ale trail.
Don’t miss a day out on the water spotting dolphins, or try your hand at deep-sea fishing. Sundowners are essential here, as Florida’s fiery sunsets are the stuff of dreams.
Scarborough, Trinidad and Tobago
January brings wonderfully clear skies and sunshine (expect highs of 82 degrees), and the swimming here is excellent because the ocean floor deepens gradually rather than drops suddenly as at many spots around the island.
Beyond the thatched beach bar and the nearby Blue Haven Hotel, there’s little to do except relax on the sands. Restless beach bums can head to Tobago’s interior to explore Argyle Falls or the 18th-century Fort King George in nearby Scarborough.
La Petite Côte
The 60-plus-mile-long stretch of white sand that makes up Senegal’s Petite Côte is blissfully quiet. Here, you’ll find small fishing towns and villages where Portuguese and French influences mix with the energetic West African culture, plus low-key holiday resorts popular with Europeans in the summer.
Saly is the center of the action, with plenty of beachfront hotels and resorts for all budgets (Le Lamantin is exceptional). It’s an excellent destination for families, with ample opportunity for water sports, as well as the fascinating Île de Fadiouth—a curious island made almost entirely of shells—just off the coast.