Maldives beach (Dreamstime)
List 16 November

15 of the most thrilling winter sun destinations

From rugged rail journeys through South Africa to forest trekking in Thailand, escape the winter blues on these far-flung adventures

Winter is coming. But that doesn’t mean you have to begrudgingly accept the chilly weather or pack yourself off to yet another Christmas market. Embrace it as a season of opportunity and the ideal time to bag some warmer climes, especially those where it’s too hot to do anything active at other times of the year. You’re not short of options, either: from epic road trips and blue-sky trekking to exploring some hidden corners crowd-free.

It’s time to banish those winter blues...

1: Thailand

Jungle trek (Sovereign Luxury Travel)

Jungle trek (Sovereign Luxury Travel)

Combine beach and jungle

Winter means ‘dry season’ in Thailand, so it’s the ideal time to hop on Sovereign Luxury Travel’s Thailand Jungle Safari and Beach trip. Split your time between the golden sands of Phuket and the forested interior of Khao Lak, where you’ll stay on a floating tented camp. Seek out gibbons and tigers on jungle safaris across Khao Sok National Park, then drop down to finish among the palm-fringed beaches of Thailand’s idyllic southern tip.

Who: Sovereign Luxury Travel (01293 765003; sovereign.com)

When: Year round

How long: 7 nights

2: South Africa and Swaziland

Shongololo Express (David Lefranc)

Shongololo Express (David Lefranc)

All aboard the Shongololo!

Forget chilly commutes on a thrilling rail adventure with Planet Rail’s South Africa and the Shongololo Express tour. Board in Pretoria, spy the ‘Big Five’ in Kruger NP and slice through Swaziland and its vast Ezulwini Valley. Emerge the other side to admire the wildlife-filled St Lucia Wetland Park, tour the cities of Bloemfontein and Durban, then wind along the Garden Route before rolling into Cape Town.

Who: Planet Rail (01347 825292; planetrail.co.uk)

When: 1 Feb 2018

How long: 17 days

3: Saudi Arabia

Qasr al Farid (Steppes Travel)

Qasr al Farid (Steppes Travel)

Explore the hidden Middle East

Heat up your winter on Steppes Travel’s Saudi Arabia – Behind the Veil group tour. Expert Peter Harrigan unravels this enigma of the Middle East, visiting Mecca-gateway Jeddah, the ancient Nabataean city of Madain Saleh and the icons of Sakaka, before finishing in capital Riyadh and the mud houses of 18th-century oasis Diriyah.

Who: Steppes Travel (01285 601753; steppestravel.com)

When: 18 Feb, 2 Nov 2018

How long: 11 days

4: St Helena, UK

Whale shark in St Helena (St Helena Tourism)

Whale shark in St Helena (St Helena Tourism)

Fly-drive one of the UK's remotest outposts

The new flights to St Helena are Christmas come early. Join Discover the World on its Discover St Helena – Fly-In tour and self-drive the island, spying whale sharks (peak sightings are Jan to Feb) off shore, visiting Napoleon’s former home and bagging island-wide views from Diana’s Peak NP.

Who: Discover the World (01737 218802; discover-the-world.co.uk)

When: Year round

How long: 7 nights

5: Guatemala

Tikal ruins (Dreamstime)

Tikal ruins (Dreamstime)

Defrost amid Maya ruins

Its warm days (20–25°C) make winter the perfect time to see the Best of Guatemala with Llama Travel. Wander the cobbles of colonial Antigua and the shoreside villages and markets of Lake Atitlán. Wrap up your journey among the iconic Tikal ruins, then soak up vistas from atop the temples of the lesser-known ancient site of Yaxha.

Who: Llama Travel (020 7263 3000; llamatravel.com)

When: Selected dates, Jan–Mar and Oct–Nov 2018

How long: 9 days

6: Sri Lanka

Sigiriya Rock Fortress, Sri Lanka (Ffestiniog Travel)

Sigiriya Rock Fortress, Sri Lanka (Ffestiniog Travel)

See the Teardrop Isle by train

Switch from morning delays to mist-clad mountains and Explore Sri Lanka by Rail with Ffestiniog Travel. Pass rice paddies and jungle villages on the wood-panelled Viceroy Special train, pit-stopping at the temples of Kandy, elephants of Minneriya NP and fantastic rock-topped Sigiriya fort.

Who: Ffestiniog Travel (01766 772030; ffestiniogtravel.com)

When: 28 Feb 2018

How long: 12 days

7: Maldives

Maldives (All Points East)

Maldives (All Points East)

Warm waters and local life

Dodge the beach resorts and dip into the real Maldives on All Points East’s Hidden Maldives trip, wandering the cobbles of capital Malé, seeing how eco-initiatives protect the reefs of Villimale Island, and island-hopping off shore. That said, there’s lots of time to snorkel its coral atolls, too...

Who: All Points East (023 9225 8859; allpointseast.com)

When: 27 Jan 2018

How long: 6 days

8: Taiwan

Tea gardens of Pinglin (Dreamstime)

Tea gardens of Pinglin (Dreamstime)

Go off the radar in the off-season

Have a wild winter and join Selective Asia’s Taiwander trip. Explore Taipei’s lush doorstep, including the volcanic forests of Yangmingshan NP, the tea hills of Pinglin and the marble gorge of Taroko. Trace the historic Walami Trail, then finish in the sunrise glow of the rugged Alishan National Scenic Area.

Who: Selective Asia (01273 670001; selectiveasia.com)

When: Year round

How long: 11 days

9: Spain

San Sebastian La Gomera (Sherpa Expeditions)

San Sebastian La Gomera (Sherpa Expeditions)

Spend Christmas in the Canaries

Walk off those winter blues with Sherpa Expeditions on the warm Southern Trails of La Gomera trip in the Canary Islands. Trace coastal cliffs above San Sebastián, pit-stop at sleepy hamlets under the gaze of the pyramidal Roque de Agando peak and trek up to Garajonay for some views.

Who: Sherpa Expeditions (0800 008 7741; sherpaexpeditions.com)

When: Daily

How long: 8 days

10: El Salvador and Honduras

Landscape of rural El Salvador (Dreamstime)

Landscape of rural El Salvador (Dreamstime)

See a pair of hidden Latin American treasures

Join Wild Frontiers on its El Salvador & Honduras: Secrets of Central America trip and go beyond their sun-soaked beaches for underrated gems. Spy the UNESCO-listed Mayan ruins of Joya de Cerén in San Salvador and ford the mangrove-lined banks of the Bahí­a de Jiquilisco Biosphere Reserve in El Salvador. Hop over to Honduras to stretch your legs in capital Tegucigalpa, hike the lush Pico Bonito National Park and conclude your adventure how it started: among Mayan ruins, namely Copán Ruinas.

Who: Wild Frontiers (020 3797 8181; wildfrontierstravel.com)

When: 29 Jan and 19 Nov 2018

How long: 13 days

11: Namibia

Vast desert in Namibia (Dreamstime)

Vast desert in Namibia (Dreamstime)

Fly-drive on this nature feast

With 300 days of sunshine, a place on ATI Holidays' Namibia Summer Special - Space With a View! is the ideal warming winter escape. Sleep among the sprawling sands of the NamibRand Nature Reserve and be in awe of the shifting dunes of Sossusvlei. Drive along the Hoanib river valley, spying thirsty elephants, zebra and giraffes at the sprinkling of oasis outcrops en route and search for leopards and cheetahs on safari in Okonjima Nature Reserve.

Who: ATI Holidays (0808 234 9378; ati-holidays.com)

When: Year round

How long: 12 days

12: Belize

Marine life in Belize's Barrier Reef (Dreamstime)

Marine life in Belize's Barrier Reef (Dreamstime)

Active island hop

Discover Belize's Barrier Reef with an active twist on Island Expeditions' Belize Paradise Islands tour. Kayak, snorkel and stand-up paddleboard your way around the palm-fringed lagoons and islands of Southwater Caye Marine Reserve. Spot stingrays, groupers and nurse sharks along the way, while by night enjoy home-cooked traditional foods and cosy up in your hammock to see the sun dip below the turquoise waters.

Who: Island Expeditions (+1 800 667 1630; paradiseislands.travel)

When: Selected dates January-April 2018

How long: 6 nights

13: India

Men travel by boat (Dreamstime)

Men travel by boat (Dreamstime)

Hit the spice trail

Soak up the Spirit of the South with Village Ways and explore the tip of India. Wander the aromatic plantations of Karnataka and the sleepy fishing village of Pavinakurvafor, before heading south to Kerala. Here, sniff out coffee and pepper plots in the hills of Wayanad and slow down with farming life, before ending floating along Kerala's labyrinthine backwaters, pitstopping at riverside communities along the way.

Who: Village Ways (01223 750049; villageways.com)

When: 16 March 2018

How long: 16 nights

14: The Gamibia

Boat trip on a river in Makasutu National Park (Dreamstime)

Boat trip on a river in Makasutu National Park (Dreamstime)

Birdwatch in an African wilderness

Pack your binoculars on your next winter adventure with Naturetrek and see The Gambia in Style. Hole up in the verdant Makasutu Forest and explore its lush reaches by both foot and boat, keeping your lens peeled for over 570 bird species, including kingfishers, jacanas and sunbirds. Keep your eyes to the ground for Nile monitor lizards and primates too, before relaxing at your jungle lodge in the evenings.

Who: Naturetrek (01962 733051; naturetrek.co.uk)

When: 13 February, 9 March and 13 April 2018

How long: 8 days

15: Burma (Myanmar)

Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon (Dreamstime)

Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon (Dreamstime)

Float down the Irrawaddy

Ford the heart of Burma on Bamboo Travel's Mandalay to Yangon: The Golden Land Cruise trip. Tour the pagodas and monasteries of Mandalay before floating to Yangon. En route, soak up Bagan's famed temples and stupas, stroll colonial Thayetmyo, spy intricate cliff carvings and ford the delta region, gliding past numerous riverside market towns and anchoring in bustling Yangon.

Who: Bamboo Travel (020 7720 9285; bambootravel.co.uk)

When: November-March

How long: 13 nights