10 Exotic But Close-to-Home Escapes for Winter

Don't fly halfway around the world for a winter getaway. Skip that far-flung destination for somewhere much closer and just as amazing.

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September 23, 2019

Photo By: CenoteChaakTun

Photo By: Trident Hotel, Jamaica

Photo By: Belize Tourism Board

Photo By: www.DavidUribeFotoGrafo.com/Conrad Cartagena

Photo By: Melody Maker Hotel, Cancun

Photo By: The Loren at Pink Beach

Photo By: Breezes Resort

Photo By: Michael W. Goencz/Caerula Mar

Photo By: Westin Grand Cayman Seven Mile Beach Resort and Spa

Photo By: Emerald Beach Visitors and Convention Bureau

Photo By: David Massey/Grand Reserve Paradisus Palma Real

Cenote Chaak Tun

A winter getaway should be just that: a quick, carefree escape. Don't spend hours on a crowded plane and then a fortune on tickets when you can visit an exotic destination close to home instead. The cold, clear cenotes, or pools, in the Chaak Tun caves are just that kind of place. Once inhabited by Mayans, they're in Playa del Carmen on Mexico’s Caribbean coast, about 2 1/2 hours from Atlanta and four from New York. Dive or swim in the pools; they feel almost mystical thanks to the play of light on the nearby stalactites and stalagmites.

Note: Before you visit an international destination, visit the U.S. Dept.of State for safety advisories and other information.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Top Things to Do in Playa del Carmen | TripAdvisor

Jamaica

Sure the Hawaiian Islands are stunning, but so are the mountains, waterfalls and beaches on Jamaica's South Coast, so skip the long flight. Book a daily nonstop that takes three or four hours from New York and other cities instead, and spend the time you saved on a sun-drenched shore. Stay at the all-inclusive Bluefields Bay Villa, tucked into Jamaica's tropical countryside, or head to the luxury Trident Hotel in Port Antonio, the "Jamaican Riviera" of the northeast coast.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Top Things to Do on Jamaica's South Coast | TripAdvisor

Belize

Is distant Bali on your bucket list? Try Belize instead. Once part of the Mayan empire, this small Caribbean country offers ancient ruins, lush jungles and amazing seafood. Dive into the Great Blue Hole or explore Belize's barrier reef, the second largest in the world, to see tropical fish and fabulous coral formations. Visit in the dry season, from late November to mid-April, via direct flights from major U.S. cities, and skip the 20-hour (or more) trip to Bali. After the sun and fun, check into Banyan Bay Suites on La Isla Bonita, said to have inspired Madonna’s song of the same name, or check out Alaia Belize, a luxurious modern resort.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Top Things to Do in San Pedro, Belize | TripAdvisor

Cartagena

It's true. Flying time from New York to Cartagena, Colombia, known for its rich history and culture, is about five hours from New York. So it's not quite as close to home as other places on our list. But you'll arrive in half the time it takes to get to Seville, Spain, also known for its history and culture. Cartagena, "the jewel of the Indies," lures visitors with its blend of cultures, beaches warmed by the Caribbean sun and hotels and resorts like the Conrad Cartagena, shown here. Dance a steamy salsa, see wild monkeys and sloths at Centenario Park or pop into the Museum of Modern Art to explore the fusion of Caribbean and Colombian art.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Top Things to Do in Cartagena, Colombia | TripAdvisor

Cancun

Cancun, on Mexico's Yucatan peninsula, has it all: a vibrant nightlife, turquoise-blue waters and fascinating Mayan ruins. While you're there, bargain for a handmade hammock or buy a chic sundress from an upscale boutique. Dine on shrimp tacos seasoned with fresh lime, take a tequila tasting tour or sail on a catamaran to experience the beaches, snorkeling and diving on pristine Isla Mujeres. You'll find live concerts and lively beach parties at  the Melody Maker  Cancun, and the El Castillo pyramid, considered one of the “New Seven Wonders of the World,” is just a day trip away.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Top Things to Do in Cancun, Mexico | TripAdvisor

Bermuda

Float in the infinity pool, sip a refreshing rum swizzle under a cabana or indulge in delicious light bites as you overlook the ocean from The Loren at Pink Beach, a boutique hotel on Bermuda's south shore. Flying to Barbados takes about twice as long as getting to Bermuda, which is only about 90 minutes from New York City. The winter weather is spring like, averaging 60 to 70 degrees, so it's great for playing golf or tennis. While you're at the Loren, drop into The Sisley Spa for a massage with essential oils or a wellness treatment using hibiscus and other exotic, tropical plants.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Top Things to Do in Bermuda | TripAdvisor

Nassau

Though Hurricane Dorian devastated key areas of the Bahamas in its disastrous path (including the Abaco islands and Grand Bahama Island), officials from the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism are imploring tourists to continue to visit, and support the parts of the Bahamas that have been left unscathed which include Nassau, Atlantis and Paradise Island. The Bahamas depend heavily on tourist dollars, and continuing to travel to the 700-island chain is vital for the region's recovery.

Nassau is just a two-hour flight from Atlanta and three from New York. A wonderful respite from winter weather, Nassau typically enjoys 300 sunny days each year. Don't miss the exotic Pink Sand Beach on Harbour Island or try Breezes Resort on breathtaking Cable Beach for sailing, tennis and other sports. Feeling lucky? Head to "the Vegas of the Caribbean," Baha Mar, home to one of the biggest casinos in the region, and skip the long flight to Macau, "the Vegas of China."

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Top Things to Do in Nassau | TripAdvisor

South Andros Island

Accessible only by a 20-minute flight from Nassau, South Andros Island is the largest and least inhabited island in the Bahamian chain. This little fishing village exports fresh conch and spiny lobsters, but its economy may be changing. Caerula Mar is expected to open in December 2019 and will be the first hotel built on the island in 20 years. Thanks to the island's abundant wildlife, intriguing blue holes, rich cultural heritage and uncrowded beaches, it's a hidden gem — for now.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Top Things to Do in Andros | TripAdvisor

Grand Cayman

Tourists from the U.S. fly halfway around the world to the Palawan islands in the Philippines, known for their beaches and tropical beauty. Why burn valuable vacation time when you can hop a direct flight from select American cities to Grand Cayman Island instead? Grand Cayman offers some of the world’s best diving. Red Sail Sports, an outfitter at The Westin Grand Cayman Seven Mile Beach Resort & Spa, can help you explore over 160 charted dive sites to see tarpon, stingrays and other exotic marine life. Later, watch the sunset as you sit on the sandy beach and dig your toes in the sand.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Top Things to Do in Grand Cayman | TripAdvisor

Emerald Coast

Longing to bait a hook in Costa Rica, a world-class fishing destination? How about Florida's Emerald Coast instead? Cobia fishing season starts in early to mid-March, and amberjack, grouper and redfish are around all year long. Destin, Fort Walton Beach and Okaloosa Island, which are all part of Florida's Emerald Coast, also offer sugary white beaches, spectacular weather and the beautiful Gulf of Mexico. Visitors from the Southeastern U.S. who crave a tropical getaway can drive to this one.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Top Things to Do on Florida's Emerald Coast | TripAdvisor

Dominican Republic

Despite concerns about safety in the Dominican Republic, recent reports say tourism is rebounding. This small Caribbean nation, two hours south of Miami and less than four from New York, is known for its beaches, golf courses, historic Colonial architecture and natural beauty. When you visit, check out the neon-lit Mama & Juana Bar at the Grand Reserve Paradisus Palma Real and then try your luck at casinos that stay open all night. The next day, lounge on a white or golden-yellow beach under a brilliant blue sky.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Top Things to Do in the Dominican Republic | TripAdvisor

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