Drop Anchor at a Balmy Island This Winter
From nearby to far-flung and exotic, we've got seven islands to cure your winter wanderlust. Turns out one of the most spectacular is right around the corner.
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While the mercury drops and polar vortexes close in yet again (just kidding—we hope), remember that there are still places in the world where the water isn’t bone-chilling and the breezes are gentler. These seven destinations boast great paddling alongside tropical fish, stunning resorts, and cheerful residents (because who could blame them?).
ExploreThe U.S. Virgin Island is known for unbeatable views and some of the best rum concoctions you’ll ever imbibe.
Go Multisport in Malta
This 121-square-mile island south of Sicily—and its smaller satellites, Gozo and Comino—are pure gold for athletes. The Euro-pean Development Fund recently invested $1.4 million in more than 600 miles of cycling and mountain-biking routes in the Maltese Islands and Sicily. From Malta, take the 25-minute ferry ride to Gozo ($7), rent a mountain bike at On Two Wheels ($17), and ride a 27-mile circumnavigation past Neolithic temples, stone villages, and the crashing Mediterranean Sea. For climbers, there are more than 1,500 limestone routes on the three islands and countless deepwater-soloing options. Divers can explore 100 major shore- and boat-diving sites, including the Blue Hole off Gozo, a Jacques Cousteau favorite. Stay at the Hotel Juliani, a former private townhouse on Malta’s Spinola Bay with 44 rooms and a rooftop pool (from $132).
St. Lucia Surf and Turf
One of the coolest things about the 300-acre Anse Mamin Plantation at the Anse Chastanet Resort (from $420) is its impressive network of singletrack, designed in part by former world-champion mountain biker Tinker Juarez. With steep switchbacks and giant descents through a forest of fruit trees, Juarez’s three-mile loop tops out with a panoramic view of the famed Pitons. Anse Chastanet’s two beaches border pristine coral reefs for snorkeling and diving and harbor more than 150 fish species. For a one-way, old-school Caribbean sailing trip, start in St. Lucia’s Rodney Bay and take ten days to make your way to Grenada via the Grenadine Islands and their stunning moorings. Captain your own 44-foot monohull, or add a skipper for $185 per day (from $7,529 for up to ten).
Stay Close at Caladesi Island State Park, Florida
Just north of Clearwater Beach on the Gulf of Mexico, this three- mile spit of white sand is worlds away from the frenetic pace of the mainland. Accessible via your own boat or a ferry from Honeymoon Island State Park ($14), Caladesi is a haven for nesting sea turtles and shorebirds like American oystercatchers. Hike the three-mile Hammock Loop, kayak a three-mile circle through the mangroves, or cast a line for flounder, redfish, or snapper. The 108-slip marina (day-use permits are $6 per boat, $2 per kayaker; overnight mooring, $24) has a small café for snacks. Otherwise it’s BYO everything. There’s no camping on shore, but day-trippers with saltwater experience can rent a 16-foot outboard from Clearwater Boat Rentals ($275). Or Florida Yachts Charter has a captained 53-foot boat that sleeps six (from $3,000).
Travel Back in Time (to Ometepe Island, Nicaragua)
This 171-square-mile Eden in the middle of Lake Nicaragua didn’t have electricity until the late 1980s or phone service until the early 2000s. And a bull-drawn cart is still the preferred mode of transportation for local farmers. Magical things happen on Ometepe, thanks to the island’s two volcanoes, Concepción and Maderas. Hike 4,573-foot Maderas, with a 100-plus-foot waterfall and a swimmable crater lake, then soak in the nearby hot springs at Ojo de Agua. You’ll find pre-Columbian petroglyphs everywhere, including at El Porvenir, a small lodge on the slopes of Maderas ($10). La Consteña Air offers 20-minute flights on its 42-passenger planes from Managua to the island’s tiny La Paloma airport every Thursday and Sunday ($100 round-trip). Stay in the bungalows at Villa Paraiso on two-and-a-half-mile-long Santo Domingo beach (from $70).
Unplug at Tobacco Caye, Belize
With a year-round population of only 30, this palm-fringed, five-acre islet is part of the Southwater Caye Marine Reserve, a 117,878-acre offshore wonderland for divers, snorkelers, and kayakers. The draw here is the Belize Barrier Reef, a Unesco World Heritage site just a few strokes off the island with a thriving turtle population and more than 500 fish species. Sign up with Tobacco Caye Diving for five days of boat excursions to sites like Shark Cave, the Blue Hole, and Glover’s Reef Atoll, with accommodations in seaside, solar-powered rooms (from $1,000, all-inclusive). Kayakers can join Island Expeditions’ six-night, lodge-to-lodge Paradise Islands kayak and SUP journey, which winds through the South Water Caye Marine Reserve ($1,779). On Tobacco Caye, you’ll stay at Paradise Lodge, a collection of over-water bungalows.
Score a Deal in Lefkada, Greece
The one benefit of Greece’s ongoing financial crisis is that the country still offers the best vacation bargain in Europe. Some of its most beautiful beaches are on Lefkada, a 117-square-mile island connected to the mainland by a floating bridge. From the iconic white-cliff-ringed sand at Porto Katsiki to the quaint fishing village of Agios Nikitas, there are dozens of options. Take advantage of the strong northerlies with a kite- or windsurfing lesson off Agios Ioannis beach (from $175), or hike 20 minutes down a steep cliff to secluded Milos (warning: clothing optional). Head inland to climb 3,799-foot Stravrota and mountain-bike the roads and singletrack that wind through olive groves (bike rental, $16). Average hotel prices are $100; there are also numerous rental options, including a three-bedroom stone villa in the village of Vafkeri, with a private pool and a stunning view of Skorpios, the island once owned by Aristotle Onassis (from $160).
Splurge on Manta Island Resort, Pemba Island, Tanzania
Welcome to the ultimate tropical paradise, where the marine life is abundant and a private floating cabana lets guests sleep 15 feet underwater. Seriously. This sleek, Swedish-designed suite has a rooftop deck to laze in the sun and stargaze, a waterside deck for dining on the Swahili-spiced catch of the day, and an underwater bedroom with windows for watching barracuda swim by. After a night or two in the cabana, spend the rest of your trip in one of the resort’s breezy seafront villas. Fill your days diving at nine nearby sites, where you’ll see Red Sea sweetlips and large-eye squid while sailing on a traditional dhow carved from a mango tree, or combing the nearby forest for the Pemba flying fox. Floating suite, $1,500; other rooms from $495. For a custom trip with an added safari option, book with Outside Go.