The best long haul destinations for winter sun – Evening Standard

Winter is nobody’s favourite time of year, so escape to one of these far-flung tropical havens. Curated by Juliana Piskorz
e’ve reached that odd stage of the year when dressing for the weather feels akin to solving the Bletchley Code; in the sun it feels like July in Marbella and in the shade it’s positively arctic.
Still, these pools of cockle-warming golden light feel like the final bastians of a futile war against the oncoming cold, try as we might, winter is coming. But! It doesn’t have to so we’ve rounded up some of the best long haul destinations to eke out as much vitamin D as possible before we inevitably bunker down and go into hibernation until spring.
There’s a reason why this northern state in India is named “Land of Kings”, steeped as it is in regal heritage and majestic architecture from the Taj Mahal in Agra to the Mughal palaces of Deli. Millions of tourists travel from far and wide to take in the world famous mausoleum and the frenetic streets of Jaipur, known as “the pink city” thanks to its peach-painted buildings and rose-gold sunsets that seem to melt into the city walls. Rajasthan’s cities are surrounded by immense swathes of natural beauty, like the Ranthambore National Park, where wild Bengal tigers roam freely and the lakes of Udaipur, known as Venice of the East for its lagoon-like setting.
Where to stay:
Amanbagh and Aman-i-Khas, part of the Aman hotel chain, are undisputedly the pearls in Rajasthan’s hotel crown. Amanbagh, which means “peaceful garden” is nestled on the outskirts of Jaipur, made up of domed cupolas and grand pink buildings surrounded by fruit trees and a 33-metre, sea-green marble pool. The hotel is an oasis of tranquility in the Aravali Hills and is the former hunting ground of the Maharaja of Alwar. Rooms are opulent with pale marble floors, colonnades and private terraces overlooking the perfumed gardens. Despite its luxuriousness, the hotel remains a love letter to local tradition, from the Udaipur green marble used to carve out its immense bath tubs to its on-site ayurvedic apothecary where guests can work with pharmacists to optimise their health based on their personal Doshas. Meanwhile, a three-hour
drive takes you to the hotel’s sister property Aman-i-Khás, situated deep in the Ranthambore National Park, it’s the perfect place to spot a Bengali Tiger. The hotel consists of ten Mughal-inspired tents, although the word tent is underselling these rooms, most of which are the same square footage as your average London house. The white muslin structures are arranged like mini palaces, with their own porch area, marble baths, day beds and a King sized bed
to make your weary self weep with joy. Aman-i-Khás offers twice-daily safaris into the national park – just after sunrise in the morning, and in the late afternoon – the best times of day to spot wildlife, which includes the endangered tigers, leopards,sloth bears, jackals and crocodiles. The only thing better than safari is the delicious alfresco picnic afterwards, during guava season the rangers stop off at a local guava orchard to gorge on the juicy fruit.
Rooms at Amanbagh from £1170 per night and tented rooms at Aman-i-Khás from £1588 per night.
The east coast of Mexico may be better known, with its Caribbean coast and popular tourist resorts of Tulum and Isla Holbox, but the real jewel in Mexico’s crown is the more rugged western coast. This side has long drawn surfers attracted by the choppier waters of the Pacific ocean as well as artists and gourmands, coming for nutty moles and citrusy fish tacos. The state of Jalisco’s capital Guadalajara is Mexico’s second largest city and its multi-icoloured roads are lined with cathedrals and art galleries. It’s also the birthplace of mariachi bands and, crucially,
tequila. The metropolis was once considered one of Mexico’s most conservative cities, but now boasts a lively gay scene and hip cafe culture which attracts creatives and drop coffee enthusiasts from all over South America. Head to the coast and you’ll find bustling resorts like Puerto Vallarta and bohemian surfer towns like Sayulita and Barra de Navidad.
Where to stay:
The award winning hotel and nature reserve Cuixmala is set in one of the most beautiful locations you’ll ever encounter. The eco resort is based on the beach front overlooking the
Pacific ocean and is backed by 30,000 kilometres of lush jungle and palm groves. The hotel was once the personal holiday retreat of billionaire businessman Sir James Goldsmith, before his daughter opened its sunshine yellow doors to the public. It sits on two kilometres of private beach meaning you’re more likely to see wild racoons than tourists. In fact, it’s so remote celebrity guests (Bill Gates and Mick Jagger to name a few) are known to have landed their
private jets on a makeshift beach runway. The property itself is a feat of art-deco inspired luxury, with cavernous domed ceilings offset by fabrics in patterned primary colours and a chequered-tile pool overlooking the beach, where guests ride horses saddled up at the property’s private stables. If that doesn’t tempt you to tear yourself away from the Caribbean East coast of Mexico, head to Casa Chablé. This ultra-chic new hotel is slated to open in
November. It’s conveniently located close to Tulum with only a smattering of ocean fronted villas nestled on 200 metres of private beach. But its USP is all wellness, with a spa using ingredients sourced from the surrounding jungle, morning yoga on the beach and even survival lessons so
you can embrace your inner Bear Grylls. Rooms at Cuixmala price available on request; Casa Chablé prices available from November;
Now that Australia has finally opened its doors to international travellers, there’s no better time to visit Down Under. Eschew the usual tourist traps like Sydney, Melbourne and the Gold Coast and head to the remote, wilder regions of North Queensland. Fly into Cairns, the entry to the Great Barrier Reef and take a road trip up the coast to discover the white rapids of the Barron River and spy baby koalas in the 50-metre high Bull Kauri trees of the Daintree rainforest. The sleepy fishing town of Townsville is the best place to moor a boat to see the epic Whitsundays, with their silver-white sands and crystalline water but if you’d rather give the package tours a miss then head further north to the Torres Strait islands, an archipelago of 274 tiny islands, mostly uninhabited pearls of natural beauty.
Where to stay:
Imagine a treehouse in the rainforest, but with an outdoor bath, private hammocks, spa and infinity pool overlooking the treetops – this is what you can expect at Silky Oaks Lodge. Hidden deep in the Daintree rainforest, the celebrated hotel reopened in 2021 after undergoing a $20
million dollar face lift and no expense was spared. The 40 individual treehouse rooms have balconies either overlooking the rainforest or the river Mossman, making for the most serene morning coffee spot imaginable. Guests can spend their days relaxing at the Healing Waters spa, where treatments draw on ancient rainforest wisdom using the waters of the Mossman river, believed to hold life-giving, restorative powers. For more active types, there are several
walking trails around the hotel, winding down to the Fig Tree Rapids or guests can go snorkelling in the Mossman river, home to fish called things like Grassy Sweet Lips, but not, luckily, crocodiles. Rooms from £668 per night;
The historic old town of Cartagena remains a relic of the city’s colonial past, with a maze of cobbled streets lined with colonial haciendas painted in bright yellow, crimson and royal blue, but almost totally obscured by pink bougainvillea. Although tourists swarm the grand ramparts of the Castillo de San Félipe de Barajas and white stone convent of Convento de la Popa, set atop of mount la Popa with sweeping views across the Caribbean sea, the city’s magic can be found firmly on the ground. In the evenings the plazas come alive with performers dancing the Cumbia, a traditional courtship dance originally practiced by the African slave population that has become immersed into Cartagenian culture and is now accompanied by maracas, drums and fllutes. Come evening, young and old come to watch the dancers and sip Aguardiente, a anise-flavoured cocktail, made from sugarcane, in the hip natural wine bars and traditional cafes that line the squares. .
Where to stay:
Casa San Agustín
Casa San Agustín is one of the oldest and most prestigious hotels in the historic city, a bijoux refuge from the humid streets outside. Set in a 300-year-old former nunnery, there is nothing frugal about its current design. The 30-room hotel is decorated in the traditional Colombian style with four poster beds swathed in Egyptian cotton sheets and rich wooden furnishings setting off ornate, colourful tiles. The hotel’s L-shaped pool is an oasis of calm away from the colourful old town outside and the roof terrace is perfect for evening sundowners among the turreted rooftops of the city. No need to pack a holiday read here either, the hotel has its very own library adorned with frescoes and lined with wicker chairs, perfect for curling up on and whiling the afternoon away.
Rooms from £460;
When you think of Morocco the first thing that usually comes to mind is frenetic markets and souks, not, generally speaking, dreadlocked surfer bros. But, on the windswept Atlantic coast in the former fishing village of Taghazout surfing dudes and dudettes are a dime a dozen.Taghazout became a bohemian hotspot for artists and writers in the 1960s and although most have now left their spirit remains in the jewel bright art murals adorning the town walls and the laid back cafes and shisha bars. The historic town is a labyrinth of white and blue painted houses that weave in and out of olive groves and winding staircases that climb up the side of the mountain on whose incline the town is built. All year round the beaches are bustling with surfers performing complicated flourishes with their pointy boards, while camels regularly stroll nonchalantly past.
Where to stay:
The Fairmont Taghazout Bay is one of the first luxury resorts to open its doors in low-key Taghazout, but there’s nothing low-key about the Fairmont. The sprawling hotel presides over 45 acres of private beach and is backed by the snow-capped Atlas mountains. All 146 rooms have private balconies overlooking the ocean so keen surfers can keep an eye on the surf throughout the day. Despite its size (the spa is the largest in Morocco) the interior design is in keeping with the bohemian vibe of Taghazout, with a palette of inky blue, creams and bronze. The clientele are a sporty bunch, coming to the Fairmont for the state-of-the-art gym, sunset yoga, boxing classes and six pools, including one magnesium pool to optimise muscle recovery.
Rooms from £221;
If the idea of lying on a beach slowly turning a shade of salmon is your worst nightmare but lakes, ancient culture and volcanic scenery are your catnip, then Guatemala should be top of your holiday list. This South American country is just south of Mexico and flanked by both the Caribbean sea and the Pacific ocean – but it’s the majestic Lake Atitlan that steals the show. The Guatemalan rainforest is still home to the Maya people whose ancestors left a treasure trail of pyramid-shaped temples, palaces and relics dotted around South America, but in northern Guatemala they really flourished. Organise a hike to the lost city of El Mirador, obscured by jungle for 2000 years and thought to be the cradle of Maya civilization hidden deep in the Petén jungle.
Where to stay:
Villa Bokéh is a luxury hacienda nestled on the outskirts of the volcanic city of Antigua. The property is set on six sprawling acres of manicured lawns and flower gardens with a bucolic lagoon perfect for an afternoon of boating. Designed by Katina Jongenzoon in collaboration with Paliare Studio, the interiors are a blend of Guatemalan colonial fountains and heavy wooden beams with eclectic artwork and whimsical sculptures borrowed from the owners’ private collection. The restaurant, headed by chef Marcos Sáenz, who cut his teeth at two-Michelin star San Sebastian restaurant Mugaritz specialises in reimagining local organic produce, creating novel takes on traditional Guatemalan cuisine. For breakfast order the “Motuleños” Eggs, sunny side up eggs drizzled with melted Chancol cheese and sat on top of cheesy pupusas, a type of pillowy flatbread.
Rooms from £297;
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