Top 30: Winter sun sizzlers
Escape the blues!
Looking to swap the cold for sizzling winter sun? Nicola Brady trawls the travel agents to get you sorted.
Best for Luxury
Nothing says luxury like a private island. On Azura Quilalea Private Island there are only nine hand-crafted seafront villas, meaning a maximum of 18 guests at any time. Snorkellers will be in heaven in the crystal clear waters, and divers can make the most of the house reef (newbies can learn at the five-star diving facility, too). Afterwards, kick back in a hammock and watch the dolphins play on the horizon.
How: Brace yourself. Prices at Azura Quilalea (azura-retreats.com/azura-quilalea) start at $750/€676pp per night, all-inclusive. With Turkish Airlines (turkishairlines.com) you can fly to Dar es Salaam before a transfer to the island.
The Dutch Caribbean island of Aruba is just 15 miles from the coastline of South America, with year-round sunshine, gorgeous beaches and an average temperature of 32˚C. In short? It's a sun lover's paradise. Stay in the adult-only Bucuti & Tara Beach Resorts, with a freshwater pool and spacious beach, where you can watch movies under the stars come nightfall.
How: Heffernans Travel (heffernans.ie) has seven nights at the Bucuti & Tara Beach Resorts from €2,249pp, including flights, transfers and breakfast.
3. The Seychelles
There's nowhere quite like the Seychelles. Home to the dreamy, white-sand beaches that we usually only see on screensavers, this Indian Ocean paradise also boasts dramatic rainforests, incredible wildlife and delicious Creole cooking. You can find surprisingly reasonable packages (try GoHop.ie), but if you want to push the boat out, then opt for the Banyan Tree on Mahé Island. Luxurious villas are either flanked by rainforest or perched on the beach, and all have their own private pool.
How: Nightly rates start at €897 with Banyan Tree (banyantree.com). Fly to the Seychelles with Etihad (etihad.com)
4. Sri Lanka & The Maldives
If you love the idea of a far-flung, exotic holiday, but dread the thought of navigating your way around, then this is the trip for you. A twin-centre break, it includes eight days on a private, bespoke tour of Sri Lanka with your very own driver/guide. You'll then hop over to the Maldives for a week of relaxation and recuperation on their incomparable white sands.
How: The 15-day trip from Trailfinders (trailfinders.ie) costs from €3,149pp and includes flights, transfers, accommodation and breakfast, departing February 1.
If it's luxury you're after, then Dubai is the way to go. This is the land paved in gold, where opulence is king - so you might as well go big, or go home. The five-star Le Meridian Mina Seyahi Beach Resort has its own private beach and is in the heart of the marina, so the shops and restaurants are right on your doorstep.
How: Tropical Sky (tropicalsky.ie) has four nights' B&B at the Le Meridian Mina Seyahi from €1,089pp, including flights with Emirates and transfers, in December.
Best for Long Haul
6. Miami & Bahamas
If you're going to endure a long-haul flight, a twin-centre holiday really breaks up the journey (particularly if transfers are involved). Miami is a popular hop-off point for a Caribbean break, and is a fabulous city to boot. Throw yourself into the party scene for a few nights and you'll be more than ready to spend a week recovering on the sands of the Bahamas.
How: Tour America (touramerica.ie) has a 10-night break (three nights in Miami, seven nights all-inclusive in Grand Bahama Island) from €2,499pp, departing February 1.
7. Arabian Gulf Cruise
Dubai is a fail-safe spot to warm your bones come winter, but instead of basing yourself in the city, why not float off on a cruise? Royal Caribbean is offering a unique trip on Splendour of the Seas, which will make its way around the Arabian Gulf. You'll take in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Muscat and Khasab, returning each night to the luxurious ship.
How: The seven-night cruise with Royal Caribbean (royalcaribbean.ie) costs from €1,199pp, including return flights, departing February 15.
8. Durban, South Africa
It's always played 'third fiddle' to Cape Town and Johannesburg, but South Africa's Durban is fast becoming a stellar destination in its own right (due in part to its World Cup hosting duties in 2010). The boutique hotels are starting to pop up, too - The Oyster Box has a classic, old world feel to it, with a charming red and white lighthouse that's an Instagrammer's dream.
How: B&B rates at The Oyster Box (oysterboxhotel.com) start from €415. Fly to Durban via Istanbul with Turkish Airlines (turkishairlines.com) from €562 return.
9. Los Angeles
With Aer Lingus launching new direct flights to LAX from May of next year, Los Angeles is set to become a new hotspot for Irish travellers. But Ethiopian Airlines have been flying direct since June, so the City of Angels is already at your fingertips. Stay at The Line, an uber-chic hotel in Koreatown, with a cool pool deck and super stylish rooms.
How: Rates start at $240/€217 at The Line Hotel (thelinehotel.com). Return flights with Ethiopian Airlines from around €445 in January (ethiopianairlines.com)
Cancun, long-time favourite of American tourists, is about to become a lot more popular with Irish holidaymakers. New direct flights with Falcon and Thomson kick off next June, making the journey a lot easier. But you can still get there this winter. All-inclusive is king here, so you'll want to make sure you're checking into a solid resort, with plenty of variety.
How: Tour America (touramerica.ie) has seven nights all-inclusive at the five-star Riu Cancun, departing January 20, from €1,389pp.
Best for Families
For winter sun, you simply can't beat the Canary Islands. Lots of flights, plenty of sunshine and an ample supply of packages make the archipelago a safe bet for an off-peak holiday. If you're looking to steal a week away with the family, then Lanzarote is a great spot. The kids will be kept happy with sandcastles on the beach, and you'll be chilled out after a hassle-free journey.
How: Clickandgo.com has seven nights in the three-key Puertocarmen Aparthotel in January from €1,150 for two adults and two children.
12. Christmas in Orlando
Negotiating school holidays can be a hindrance when looking for a sunny winter break. But if you choose to spend Christmas abroad, then suddenly the break is wide open. Swap the tinsel and mince pies for the theme parks of Orlando, and spend the festive season with roller coasters and the cast of Frozen.
How: Tour America (touramerica.ie) has seven-night packages from €769pp, based on two adults and two children sharing, departing December 21.
It's quieter than the other Canary Islands, and a tad windier too, but Fuerteventura is still a great option for families. The Las Marismas Apartments have several pools, one exclusively for kids, as well as a playground and kids club. For the adults, there are tennis courts, volleyball area and fitness classes on offer.
How: Sunway (sunway.ie) has seven nights self-catering at the three-star Las Marismas Apartments from €549pp for adults and €309pp for children, departing in January.
If your kids aren't yet in school, then all of the off-peak bargains are at your fingertips. While it won't have the heat of other destinations, Albufeira is still a great spot for a bargain with the kids. If the sun isn't beaming, then Vila Petra has an indoor pool, as well as sauna and spa facilities for the adults.
How: Independent Travel currently has a week self-catering in Vila Petra from €776, based on two adults and two children, departing in December (travel.independent.ie).
15. Gran Canaria
Back to the Canaries, and the third-largest of the islands. Gran Canaria is home to a great stretch of coastline, so beach bunnies will be kept happy with either grand stretches of sand or tiny hidden coves. But if "fly and flop" is more your style, the Cay Beach Princess has a huge kids' pool and playground (plus a free shuttle bus to the beach).
How: Cassidy Travel (cassidytravel.ie) has seven nights self-catering at the three-star Cay Beach Princess from €1,399, based on two adults and two children, departing February 13.
Best for Solo Travel
16. Gran Canaria
Finding a good deal on a solo holiday can be tough - most offers are based on two people travelling, so single supplements can push the price right up. Falcon Holidays has a selection of sole occupancy packages, however, including this one to Gran Canaria. The apartments are basic two-star, but fully equipped for self-catering and only a short walk from the beach.
How: Falcon Holidays (falconholidays.ie) currently has seven nights in Green Park Apartments, from €519pp, departing December 12.
If you're looking for a bit of quality time to yourself, but with the option of meeting others, then a trip with Friendship Travel is a good middle ground. You'll travel with other singles, but there's no pressure to mingle every day should you want a bit of privacy. There are three dinners included in the price, as well as the services of a Friendship Travel host.
How: Friendship Travel (friendshiptravel.com) prices start from €854pp for seven nights, departing in January, including breakfast and three dinners.
18. Marrakech & Atlas Mountains, Morocco
Marrakech can be a tricky city to navigate alone (particularly if you're female), so a group trip is the perfect way to soak in this vibrant city and surrounding countryside. This three-night trip with Amplify Travel includes everything you'd want to tick off the list - you'll explore D'Jamma El Fna, take in a cookery class, and spend two days trekking in the Imlil Valley. It's a bargain too, with no single supplement.
How: The trip costs €449pp, departing February 25, with Amplify Travel (amplifytravel.com).
19. Laos & Thailand
While Thailand has long been a popular destination for year-round sun, Laos has only hit the mainstream in the last few years. Combining the two on a guided tour makes for an amazing break - you'll experience the buzz of Thailand along with the lush paddy fields and French colonial cities in Laos. You'll travel with a group, around half of which will also be solo travellers.
How: The 15-day trip with Tucan Travel costs €1,359pp (tucantravel.com). Fly to Bangkok, where the trip begins and ends, with Lufthansa (lufthansa.com) via Frankfurt. The trip departs every two weeks from January 2.
20. Goa, India
January is synonymous with detoxing, and if you're feeling the need to cleanse, there's no better place than Goa. Though the northern part of the state is a well-trodden tourist trail, the southern reaches are much more serene. They're also home to Alila Diwa Goa, a contemporary beach resort offering a comprehensive Ayurvedic detox programme.
How: Nightly rates at the Alila Diwa Goa start at €188 (alilahotels.com/diwagoa). Fly to Goa with British Airways (ba.com) and Air India.
Best for Bargains
If you're on the hunt for bargains, the Canaries are going to come up time and time again. And for good reason, too - you're (almost) guaranteed sunny, warm climes. Tenerife is always a good option, particularly if you want to get out and explore the dramatic landscape of the island itself. And don't think the epic Siam Park is just for kids - this water theme park makes for an excellent day out.
How: Budget Travel (budgettravel.ie) has seven nights departing January 26, from €312pp.
You might not get the balmy temperatures of other, far-flung islands, but Malta is a hotbed for winter bargains. This offer from Cassidy Travel is a winner - for well under €200 you get a full week in a four-star hotel in the heart of the village of Mellieha. And if you're lucky enough to catch a bit of warmth, there's a charming rooftop pool too.
How: Cassidy Travel (cassidytravel.ie) has seven nights in the Hotel Solana from €158pp, departing January 23.
While the Canaries are great for family holidays, child-friendly resorts aren't quite so appealing if you want a kid-free break. Enter Barceló Teguise Beach. This adults-only hotel re-opened this July, following a complete transformation. What you'll find here is contemporary design, full spa facilities, two infinity pools and private hot tubs in the rooms. It's right on the beach, too.
How: Nightly rates at the Barceló (barcelo.com) start from €87, including breakfast. Fly to Lanzarote with Aer Lingus (aerlingus.com) or Ryanair (ryanair.com).
You're not going to get soaring temperatures, but there's a reason the Algarve is such a popular spot. The beaches are clean, calm and pretty, it's cheap to eat out and there's plenty of beautiful scenery to explore nearby... or on the golf courses. Off-season, you can pick up real bargains, too, like this deal for under €250.
How: Independent Travel (travel.independent.ie) currently has flights plus seven nights in a three-star hotel from €233pp, for travel in November.
25. Agadir, Morocco
Morocco has long been a popular choice for winter sun breaks, with plenty of deals to be had as the weather takes a turn for the worse back home. It's a good idea to keep up to date with the Department of Foreign Affairs' travel advice (dfa.ie/travel) and to register your details before travel. Currently, its advising visitors to Morocco to exercise caution during their stay, but the vast majority of visits are incident-free. Unsurprisingly, holidays are great value at the moment.
How: Sunway (sunway.ie) has seven nights' self-catering in Agadir from €329pp, for travel in November and December.
Best for Adventure
There might be nine million bicycles in Beijing, but there are more than 30 million in Vietnam. This is a country that values the bike, and is best seen from behind the handlebars. You'll see all the sights on this 15-day cycling tour, from Hanoi to Ninh Binh and Ho Chi Minh City. Most meals are included, as well as bike hire and equipment, and you'll be travelling with a group and tour leader.
How: The Cycle Vietnam tour costs from €2,749pp with Trailfinders (trailfinders.ie) including flights, based on travel a February 12 departure.
27. Namibia Safari
If you're looking for a burst of adrenaline in a destination slightly off the radar, then a safari in Namibia is right up your alley. This trip with Acacia Africa takes in all of the attractions. You'll climb the red sand dunes of Soussusvlei, boulder at Spitzkoppe and see game at Etosha National Park.
How: The 12-day Cape Desert Safari costs from €675pp (no single supplement) plus local payment of €296pp with Acacia Africa (acacia-africa.com). Flights aren't included but can be organised.
Colombia is a country that's about to make its mark on the international scene. Make a trip now and you'll likely see it before the crowds descend. G Adventures has a great guided trip around the country, taking in the city of Cartagena, rural villages and the Tayrona National Park. Activities vary, but may include hiking, biking, rafting, or kayaking.
How: The eight-day G Adventures trip (gadventures.com) costs from €1,099pp. For a direct flight to Bogota with Avianca (avianca.com), you'll need to fly to London.
The warning bells have been ringing for a while now, urging travellers to get to Cuba before the flocks of American tourists descend. While the clamouring crowds haven't yet arrived, it's still an excellent time to visit the intriguing island. This activity break incorporates cycling in Vinales Valley, hiking in Topes de Collantes and plenty of time for exploration.
How: The 12-day trip costs from €1,656pp, excluding flights, with Exodus (exodus.co.uk), and the first trip begins on January 18. Fly to Havana with KLM (klm.com) via Amsterdam.
Want to stay a little closer to home? Then hop over to Lanzarote for a private guided trekking holiday with Adventure Holidays. The itinerary takes in most of the island's protected natural areas, including the volcanoes, Le Geria, Chinijo archipelago and Los Ajachers. With all that hiking under your belt, you'll definitely earn the wine and tapas tasting that's included.
How: The trip starts from €1,126pp, based on two sharing, with Adventure Holidays (adventure-holidays.ie). Fly to Lanzarote with Aer Lingus (aerlingus.com).
NB: All prices are subject to change/availability.