Where to Get a Tan This Winter

Sunny destinations for last-minute escapes

Jan 22, 2015
Outside Magazine

Touring the Sian Ka'an, near Tulum, Mexico.    Photo: Tophoven/Redux

You're in the pastiest grips of winter, but all is not lost. These destinations are perfect for last-minute escapists. In no time at all you'll be upping your Vitamin D intake while bombing a volcano, riding empty breaks, or even cycling around an island paradise.

Bomb the Trails in Maui, Hawaii

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Rolling Maui's Skyline trail.   Photo: Sterling Lorence

Among the Hawaiian Islands, Maui has the trifecta of accessibility (direct flights from West Coast cities), climate (the North Shore gets just 18 inches of rain per year), and adventure (Haleakala National Park is a geological moonscape with 
a 10,000-foot volcano). The best way to enjoy it: on knobby tires.

Base yourself in the small upland town of Makawao and crash at the Banyan Bed and Breakfast (cottages from $155). 
That puts you adjacent to Bike Park Maui, a new 80-acre terrain park created by Paul Turner, the founder of RockShox. 
Just down the road is Krank Cycles, where owner Moose will set you up with a bike, maps, and trail reports (rentals from $35).A ten-minute drive (or 45-minute uphill ride) from the shop is Makawao Forest Reserve, where 28 miles of recently upgraded singletrack weave through canopy rainforest, including a Whistler-style flow section. Then there’s Maui’s ultimate ride: bombing down the slopes of Haleakala on the 19-mile Skyline Trail. Commercial shuttles are prohibited in the park, so your crew will need to rent a second car to leave at the end, near Kula. The trail drops 7,000 feet from the bone-dry summit, passing through high desert, forests of native koa and Spanish pine, and lush pastureland.

Surf Empty Beaches at Rancho Santana, Nicaragua

Central America Drew McPherson Lifestyle Nicaragua Playa Rancho Santana Portrait Ripzone Spring Summer Surfboard Surfer Surfing
Playa Santana, Nicaragua.   Photo: Scott Serfas

Nicaragua’s Pacific coastline has the same waves as neighboring Costa Rica, but without the crowded lineups. Rancho Santana, a two-hour drive south of Managua (direct flights from Houston, Miami, and Atlanta) is a 2,700-acre resort community where you can rent a villa or stay at a new inn opening in March. The property sits on two miles of coastline with five distinct beaches.Playa Santana, steps away from the clubhouse, offers a consistent beach break, plus swimming and tuna fishing (board rentals from $25 per day). Playa Los Perros, a short drive from the inn, has a renowned reef break that peels both ways.Or go for total privacy at Playa Duna, an isolated beach that requires a ten-minute drive (or 20-minute bike ride) and a rocky scramble, but rewards the effort with dramatic rock formations and a 50-foot dune.

When there’s no swell, the resort has yoga, horseback riding, and guided mountain-bike tours to a nearby hot spring. Just make it back in time for dinner at La Finca y El Mar, the property’s farm-to-table restaurant, with produce grown on-site. From $249.

Find Solitude in Tulum, Mexico

Caribbean Hotel Mexico Resort Tulum Zamas
Zamas, Tulum.   Photo: Jacob Whyman

It’s no longer the overlooked and bargain-priced gem it used to be, but it’s still got white-sand beaches, turquoise water, and a stunning Maya temple, all just a 90-minute drive from Cancun, which can be reached by direct flights from dozens of U.S. cities. The key is to avoid the spring break hordes, which take over in mid-March, and know where to escape the crowds the rest of the year.

Your best bet for guaranteed solitude is a guided trip into the Sian Ka’an biosphere, a 1.3-million-acre Unesco World Heritage site that features tropical forests, mangroves, and marshes along one of the largest barrier reefs in the world. Picture the Everglades, but with ancient ruins, clear lagoons, and spider monkeys. Maya-owned Community Tours Sian Ka’an runs daily trips that can be customized to include bird watching, archaeology, snorkeling, and kayaking (from $55).

There are tons of great dining and lodging options, but we’re partial to Zamas, a beachfront boutique hotel that serves spear-caught fish grilled over a wood fire and is located next to a dive shop (from $165), and Hartwood, where in-the-know travelers line up for local Maya dishes.

Ride the World's Best Roads in Gran Canaria, Spain

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Mountain biking Gran Canaria.   Photo: Elizabeth Gomm/Flickr

It takes a full day of flying to get here—you need to stop in Madrid—but the journey is worth it. February and early March are the shoulder season on this Spanish island off the coast of Morocco, when daytime temps hover around 70 degrees and you’ll have some of the world’s best road biking mostly to yourself. Pro cyclists train on Gran Canaria in winter because they can climb from sea level to 6,000 feet on perfect pavement with little traffic in glorious weather.

Several outfitters offer packaged riding tours of the island, but you can have more fun on a free-spirited DIY trip. Get a high-end bike and route tips from Free Motion Bike center in Maspalomas, which also offers guided group rides 
six days a week (rentals from $20, guided rides from $60).

Set up camp 20 minutes to the northwest at the Cordial Mogán Playa hotel (from $300) in the fishing village of Puerto de Mogán, where you’ll have immediate access to a number of classic routes, including the Valley of Tears, an 80-mile loop that climbs 9,800 feet at an average grade of 10 percent—and a maximum of 25.

Swim Where No One Is Watching in Dominica, 
West Indies

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The Valley of Desolation.   Photo: Jean & Nathalie/Flickr

Dominica is among the least inhabited and least visited Caribbean islands, partly because two-thirds of it is rainforest. Beaches are scarce, the snorkeling is mediocre, and there are no golf courses. Which is fine: you come here to trek remote trails and swim in secluded spring-fed pools.

There are no direct flights from the U.S., but it’s only a two-hour flight from Puerto Rico, on Seaborne Airlines (tip: book directly with the carrier). From the oceanside Fort Young Hotel (from $158), in the capital of Roseau, it’s a 15-minute drive to the village of Laudat, access point for Morne Trois Pitons National Park and the 115-mile Waitukubuli National Trail, which bisects the island from north to south. The full walk takes about two weeks, but from Laudat it’s just a half-mile to Titou Gorge, where you can swim in crystal-clear water through a narrow volcanic slot canyon to a waterfall. Continue on for five forested miles through the Valley of Desolation, with its sulfur rivers and volcanic vents, to Boiling Lake, where the water is heated to 180 degrees by magma. A guide is strongly recommended for the six-hour round-trip outing ($75).

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