For many of us, the long cold nights of winter inspire dreams of jetting off to someplace warm. But, this season, why not shake things up a bit? Instead of falling back on the tried-and-tested winter hot spots, choose someplace new instead.
Popular Destination: Jamaica
Go Instead: Barbados
Often overlooked by U.S. travelers, the island of rum, Rihanna, and cricket recently celebrated 50 years of independence from the U.K. The island's colonial past is still present in its place names and on its roads -- Barbadians drive on the left -- but the landscape is all Caribbean. Soak up the sun on the west coast's platinum-white beaches; hit the surf at Bathsheba on the rugged east coast, and enjoy the nightlife in the UNESCO World Heritage capital, Bridgetown.
Where to Stay: At the all-inclusive Turtle Beach resort on the south coast, guests can get a taste of local culture by learning to play beach cricket, making pastries with unusual ingredients like noni flour and cactus, or jamming to calypso classics on the steel pan. Rates start at $615 per night per couple.
Popular Destination: Costa Rica
Go Instead: Belize
The natural wonders of Costa Rica are well-known. But if you are looking for pristine beaches, lush rainforests, and high biodiversity with less tourist crowds, head for Belize. Flight times and prices are comparable to Costa Rica and, bonus, the primary language of Belize is English.
Where to Stay: Set on a 3,000-acre sustainable farm, Belcampo Belize is a sixteen-room eco-lodge that will appeal to nature lovers, foodies, and adventurers alike. Set in the Maya Mountains of Punta Gorda, the resort offers a range of activities to keep you busy. You can go foraging in the surrounding rainforest, take a farm-to-table cooking classes or a bar-to-bean chocolate-making class, or even go snorkeling with the chef to catch dinner. Rates start at $305 per night for a Deluxe King Suite.
Popular Destination: Nassau, Bahamas
Go instead: Eleuthera, Bahamas
It may take a little longer to reach Eleuthera than the Bahamian capital, but its pink-sand beaches, rows of pineapple fields, dramatic cliffs, and secluded coves are all worth the extra effort.
Where to Stay: Overlooking the pretty harbor of Cupid's Cay, French Leave Resort offers a secluded hideaway. The property currently features four seafront cottages, a freshwater pool, and one of the island's best restaurants, 1648 An Island Restaurant. By mid-December it will join Marriott's Autograph Collection and expand to twelve bungalows. Rates start at $379 per night for a one-bedroom ocean-view villa (plus $50 per night resort fee).
Popular Destination: Miami, Florida
Go instead: Clearwater Beach, Florida
Fans of beautiful beaches and midcentury architecture don't have to brave the crowds of Miami every winter. Earlier this year, Clearwater Beach topped TripAdvisor's annual list of the top 25 beaches in the United States. Though small in size, the town offers plenty of entertainment options, including a nightly sunset celebration featuring music, street performers, and crafters at Pier 60.
Where to Stay: Those nostalgic for the '60s can step back in time at the retro Frenchy's Oasis Motel. It's run by the same people behind the unmissable, beachfront Frenchy’s Rockaway Grill and rates start at $129 per night. If it's beach time you're after, the Sandpearl Resort (from $294 per night) and its sister property, Opal Sands Resort (from $269 per night) are both set on those sugar-white sands and noted for their beach-chic decor.