Is the winter weather already getting you down to the point where you’re definitely not dreaming of a white Christmas? Then it’s time to plan a winter break. There are many destinations that enjoy warm weather over the holiday season and you don’t necessarily have to break the bank to have some fun in the sun. We’ve included some distant hot spots that you might not think of as cheap, but the higher airfares are offset by low prices at on the ground. These are our picks for warm and cheap holiday escapes.
Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
One of the most popular destinations in the Dominican Republic, Punta Cana has a wealth of all-inclusive beach resorts that offer cheap package deals. It's home to the Western Hemisphere's first European settlement but the real reason to come is the stunning beaches. The water is shallow and warm, perfect for bathing.
San Juan, Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico's capital may not offer the cheapest accommodation in the Caribbean but flights here are very affordable. It's a popular port for cruise ships too. Check out the colonial architecture of Old San Juan, enjoy the bustling nightlife or shoot the breeze on the beaches of Condado and Isla Verde.
Curaçao, Netherlands Antilles
Dutch culture gets a unique Caribbean flavour in the Netherlands Antilles. Curaçao lies outside of the hurricane zone and is relatively dry, which means that conditions for diving and snorkelling are excellent year round. There are many accommodation options for budget travellers too.
With direct flights from Canada and some great all-inclusive package deals, Varadero is one of the most popular vacation destinations in Cuba. The beaches are glorious and nearby attractions include the Bellamar Caves and Cuba's largest golf course.
Ocho Rios, Jamaica
Despite its popularity with cruise ship passengers, Ocho Rios is surprisingly affordable, especially if you go the all-inclusive route. Waterfalls, river rafting, jungle adventures and dolphin encounters are just some of the activities offered, and you'll definitely want to recreate the bikini scene from Dr. No at nearby James Bond Beach.
Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
Its stunning Pacific beaches have made Puerto Vallarta one of Mexico's most popular destinations and there is no shortage of budget accommodation options. These days the city is a favourite of golfers, scuba divers and medical tourists. December is the perfect time to visit, as it's the start of the whale-watching season.
Tulum boasts one of the most spectacular beaches along Mexico's Mayan Riviera, with fine, white sand against a backdrop of ancient cliff-top ruins. Staying here and getting to the ruins early in the morning is the best way to beat the day-tripping crowds from the more expensive and touristy Cancun.
Bay Islands, Honduras
The Bay Islands along the northern coast of Honduras are a year-round tropical paradise. They're located on the second largest coral reef in the world, making them a prime scuba-diving destination, especially if you want to dive with whale sharks. At around US$300, PADI courses here are among the cheapest in the world. Plus, don't miss 20 more reasons why you need to visit Roatán Island, Honduras.
Corn Islands, Nicaragua
A favourite on the backpacker circuit, the Corn Islands are a slice of Caribbean paradise off the Nicaraguan coast. Big Corn Island has more accommodation options and things to do whereas Little Corn Island is the place to go to sip coconut juice while lazing in a hammock on the beach.
With its rich history and colonial charm, it's no wonder that Gabriel García Márquez made Cartagena the setting for several of his novels. Add some great beaches, a pleasant tropical climate and plenty of cumbia music and you have the recipe for a perfect holiday escape. Colombia is cheap too, as tourism is still recovering from the country's turbulent past.
December days are usually sunny and warm in the Peruvian capital. Lima has something for everyone, with historic architecture, excellent surfing and the freshest seafood, including the country's national dish, ceviche, at ridiculously low prices. Even the more upmarket Miraflores neighbourhood has plenty of budget and mid-range hotels and a happening nightlife scene.
Buenos Aires, Argentina
While not quite as cheap as it used to be only a few years ago, the Paris of South America is still very affordable. Its sophisticated atmosphere makes Buenos Aires a great alternative to the more expensive cities of Europe and December boasts the perfect beach weather.
Just over two hours from Buenos Aires by high-speed ferry, Montevideo is a cheaper, more laid-back alternative to its Argentine neighbour. There is a wealth of museums and historic sights to explore and because it's so compact, the city is easily navigated on foot or by bicycle. The pristine beaches are perfect for sun-worshipping and surfing.
Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain
For a European destination, Tenerife in Spain's Canary Islands is very affordable, especially in December's low season. You can still hit the beach or go diving this time of year and the sunny and mild weather is great for hiking and mountain biking.
Cape Town, South Africa
With a wide range of vineyards less than an hour from the city centre and long, rain-free summer days, South Africa's Mother City is the ideal setting for white wine in the sun. It's a destination for beach lovers, outdoorsy types and foodies alike and a very favourable exchange rate makes it cheap even during high season.
For a truly exotic break, few destinations can beat Zanzibar, the Spice Island off Tanzania's coast. Historic Stone Town is a maze of alleys and buildings offering a unique blend of architectural influences while the coastline is home to fantastic beaches, fishing villages and affordable, all-inclusive resorts. Even though the island is mainly Islamic, most hotels offer traditional Christmas celebrations.
French-speaking Senegal's capital is just the place to be in December if your interests lie in things cultural. This is when Dakar hosts several major festivals, including arts, film and music festivals. The weather is sunny and warm too. Must-sees near Dakar include Goree Island and Lake Retba with its pink water.
Kerala State, India
India's tropical Kerala State is hot and relatively dry in December, so you'll want to explore its glorious beaches, backwaters and mountains. The state is culinary heaven as well and with a large Christian population, Christmas is celebrated with gusto. However, you'll also find colourful temple festivals throughout the month.
George Town, Penang, Malaysia
George Town on Malaysia's Penang Island is a cultural melting pot of Malay, Thai, Chinese, Indian and British influences. There are temples and historic mansions to explore, exotic dishes to try and markets to browse. December has more comfortable humidity levels and even though it's the start of the high season, you'll find good hotel deals in the colonial city centre.
Siem Reap, Cambodia
Siem Reap may not be the cheapest destination in Cambodia, but it's still great value. In December, the weather is at its best and there are several Christmas-themed events. Relax with a Khmer style massage, hike the rugged countryside and visit the Angkor Wat complex.