When the temperate drops to the single digits and bundling up in your winter gear feels like an Olympic sport, swap your snow boots for sandals and fly south for the winter—or at least for the weekend. Luckily, there are plenty of tropical hotspots within easy travel distance of New York City (no stressful connecting flights or scary puddle-jumpers needed) that have just what you’re looking for: white sand beaches, crystal blue water, four-star cuisine and plenty of activities.
Nicknamed “One Happy Island,” Aruba is the perfect place to make adrenaline junkies smile. Explore the rugged, desert-like terrain of the Arikok National Park, which comprises nearly 20 percent of the southern Caribbean island on a Jeep Safari or swim alongside sleeping nurse and sand sharks in the Cabez Reef.
What to do
For a truly exhilarating experience, horseback ride along the coastline trails at dawn and watch the sunrise as turquoise waves crash against the rocky north shore. Be sure to stop off at Conchi, a natural pool located northwest of Dos Playa. Created by a wall of sloping volcanic rock, the natural pool is only accessible by foot, horseback or utility vehicle and is home to some of the island’s most colorful fish and coral.
Thanks to favorable wind and water conditions year-round, Aruba is considered the windsurfing capital of the world, and serves as home to many of the sport’s top competitors. Take a lesson from one of the locals at Hadicurari Beach and experience the thrill of gliding over the glassy water as your hair billows in the breeze.
After an exhaustive weekend of water sports, book a sunset sail aboard a catamaran and sip an Aruba Ariba infused with Coecoei, a local specialty liquor, as streaks of red, orange and purple light up the sky.
Where to stay
Manchebo Beach Resort & Spa
This two-story boutique resort located on the shores of Eagle Beach is the perfect place to soothe your body and mind. Jumpstart your day with a seaside yoga class in the open-air studio, and cap it off with a deep tissue massage in one of Spa del Sol’s beachfront gazebos.
Where to dine
Seafood takes center stage at this open-air eatery in Savaneta where fishermen haul their bounty from the sea. There’s no menu, or even kitchen, just a small cooking station with a grill and deep fryer that serves the catch of the day.
Passions on the Beach
Feast on seafood specialties with sugary white sand between your toes. Illuminated by the soft light of tiki torches, the restaurant offers gourmet cuisine, including several vegetarian options, within inches of the lapping water.
FOR COUPLES: GRAND CAYMAN ISLAND
For those travelers that would rather connect over a romantic meal than dance until dawn, there’s no place more intimate than Grand Cayman Island. This popular honeymoon destination is home to Seven Mile Beach, one of the least populated and picturesque beaches in the Caribbean. Known for its world-renowned scuba diving and snorkeling, visitors can journey beneath the waves and see sunken ships and colorful fish or fly around the island in a helicopter and watch the sunset from the sky.
What do do
Charter a boat to Stingray City and pet—or even kiss—a stingray at the three-foot sandbar located on the island’s North Sound. For more hands-on fun, visit the Cayman Turtle Farm and go face to face with more than 11,000 green sea turtles ranging in size from six ounces to 600 pounds. Be sure to take a tour of the 23-acre marine park before cooling off in the fresh water tidal lagoon.
If you need a break from the sand and surf, take a day trip to Hell and satisfy your inner devil. Roughly the size of half a soccer field, this West Bay locale is home to a cluster of short black limestone formations. Stop by the neighboring gift shop and post office and send your loved one a message from the underworld.
Where to stay
The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman
Nestled on 144 acres of seaside property, this oceanfront hotel is ideal for travelers seeking a grander level of relaxation and luxury. Play a round of golf in the nine-hole course or purchase a new painting at the onsite gallery comprised of works by local artists.
Where to dine
Blue by Eric Ripert
Experience the epicurean artistry from the chef behind New York City’s infamous Le Bernardin. Featuring locally caught seafood, Blue offers diners a choice of two gourmet tasting menus, as well as a variety of prix fixe selections.
FOR FAMILIES: JAMAICA
Abounding with cultural excursions and electrifying water sports, Jamaica offers an assortment of activities that appeal to every type of traveler. Cycle along the majestic Blue Mountains in search of cascading waterfalls, paddleboard along the stunning shoreline, or simply bask on the beach with a good read.
What to do
Admire the Jamaican coastline atop a sleek, gentle stallion. Trot along the pristine white sand—and deep into the crystal seas—for a truly exhilarating ride. For a more relaxing experience, float along the Martha Brae River in a 30-foot bamboo raft and gaze at the lush landscape and exotic flowers.
Where to stay
Larger groups will feel right at home at Sundown Villa, located in the historic fishing village of Discovery Bay. The 5,500 square-foot property features five bedrooms, a chef’s kitchen, a spacious veranda, an outdoor pool and a private 125-foot beach.
For larger family gatherings, reserve the neighboring two-story guesthouse, which includes four additional bedrooms, each with a convenient kitchenette. Let your personal butler and private chef cater to your every whim, while you lounge on the beach sipping a rum cocktail.
For larger family gatherings, reserve the neighboring two- story guesthouse, which includes four additional bedrooms, each with a convenient kitchenette. Let your personal butler and private chef cater to your every whim, while you lounge on the beach sipping a rum cocktail.