Our Favorite Destinations for Holidays in the Sun

If you’re anything like us, you’re having major post-daylight-savings sunshine withdrawal. Those shorter days and longer nights are killers, and it seems like it’ll be forever until summer’s here again. Instead of despairing (we know, tough to do), plan yourself a sun and sand-filled break over Christmas and New Year’s instead. Yes, you read that right. Why not use your holiday vacation time to…well…take an actual vacation? We’re totally Team Beach—big surprise— because a sunny beach with a tropical drink in hand sounds a lot nicer than an overcooked turkey and family drama. 

There’s a couple of places we’d like to suggest if you’re thinking of ditching the ordinary holiday routine. We’ve rounded up some unique locales perfect for maximizing your time off. These are places that know how to do the holidays right, complete with surf, sand, and fun local traditions that will make you want to ditch the snow, stockings and so forth from now on. Sound good? We think so, too. Just make sure to pack plenty of swimsuits, cover ups and night-out getups from Sixoneosix and prepare to book those flights!

 

San Pedro, Belize

WHY WE LOVE IT:
Belize is the only English-speaking country in Central America, so that’s one less hassle for first-time visitors who want to try something different over the holidays. You can choose between one of Belize’s estimated 450 islands and islets, called “cayes” situated right on the Caribbean Sea, but we’d recommend heading for the largest and most populated one, called Ambergris Caye.

This caye is home to San Pedro, a sleepy beach town that makes a perfect home base. Though it has long been a popular spot for divers who come to explore world-famous sites like the Blue Hole, a world-renowned scuba destination, Belize is also great for a relaxed holiday getaway.

Do yourself a favor and visit the tongue-in-cheekily named Secret Beach on the west side of the island, where it’s less about scuba suits and more about letting the good times roll. This spot is most definitely not a secret, but it’s still a special spot of sand with shallow waters and mangrove trees aplenty. Rent a boat to get to a sandbar in the middle of the Caribbean and pretend you’re on your own private island.

Still not ready to remove your swimsuit? Visit Palapa Bar and paddle around in inner tubes to the sounds of live music with a local beer in hand. Christmas Eve means fireworks (professional and uh, more makeshift displays) all around San Pedro, but for something really special, head to the village of Gales Point Manatee on the mainland to see a Kriol tradition called “bram.” This is a celebration that combines caroling and dancing—basically spreading all the Christmas joy—from house to house.

Then, prepare to stay out late and get a little crazy on New Year’s Eve, which is Belize’s biggest party night of the year. Don’t wear your highest heels or go too hard early on though, since most revelers walk from one party to the next from sunset until well after midnight. Cure your hangover the next day with some legit ceviche (aka: citrus-cured fish) at El Divino Restaurant, a top spot that’s known for this local delicacy.

For Christmas Eve: Elvi’s Kitchen
For Christmas Day: Secret Beach
For Christmas Dinner: The Hidden Treasure Restaurant & Lounge
For New Year’s Eve: Holiday Hotel
For New Year’s Day: El Divino Restaurant

 

Ochos Rios, Jamaica

WHY WE LOVE IT:

We didn’t think a trip to Jamaica could get any better, but the holidays in Ochos Rios proved us (happily) wrong. Start the celebration with a visit to Dolphin Cove to interact seriously up close with everything from the cove’s namesake dolphins to sharks and stingrays. For less adventurous and more spendy types, skip the meet-and-greet with the marine life and opt for the Butler Elite service at Beaches Ochos Rios, an all-inclusive resort. Thanks to your very own butler, you’ll have everything arranged for you without lifting a finger. Want to book spa services, get your laundry done or have your favorite beverage served to you by the beachside? Just have your dedicated butler handle it, natch.

For Christmas Eve, get yourself to Gran Market, a pop-up pedestrian-only market with stalls selling clothes, toys, and crafts and vendors weaving through the crowd hawking jerk chicken and sugar cane. As night falls on Christmas eve, the party winds up, the dancing begins, and the rum starts flowing until Christmas morning arrives.

For New Year’s Eve, Ochos Rios’ GoldenEye resort—the former home of James Bond creator Ian Fleming—is infamous for its all-night-long party. Expect to see a sprinkling of celebrities there, since this resort is owned by the founder of Island Records and past guests have included everyone from Kate Moss and Bono to Jay-Z and Queen Bey herself. New Year’s Day is the perfect time to start a health kick with a hour-and-a-half-long climb up the waterfall at Dunn’s River Falls. You’ll alternate between joining hands with the other climbers to brace yourselves against the rushing water and breathing easy in the little pools created by the natural step-like crevices.

For Christmas Eve: Grand (“Gran”) Market 
For Christmas Day: Beaches Ochos Rios
For Christmas Dinner: Almond Tree Restaurant
For New Year’s Eve: GoldenEye Resort
For New Year’s Day: Dunn’s River Falls

 

Waikiki & Honolulu, Hawaii

WHY WE LOVE IT:
Beyond the beaches and chilled vibes, this is the closest you’ll get to urban living in Hawaii. Translation: this is the place for shopping, something no holiday celebration should be without. Our recommendation is to stay beachside in Waikiki for a very Mele Kalikimaka celebration on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. This is a perfect time to debut that bangin’ red-and-green bikini and rock a traditional lei.

After Christmas, pop over Honolulu’s South Shore Market via the Waikiki Trolley. That’s when you’ll find the best discounts in boutiques like Mori by Art + Flea and Salvage Public. With all those price-drops, you can load up on souvenirs for everyone back home suffering through the cold weather. Hint: presents are a great way to remedy their jealousy!

If you’re staying through New Year’s Eve, book a party cruise or go big and charter a catamaran for a tour of the harbor as night falls and you’ll have unobstructed views of all the fireworks displays. The next day, refresh your mind and body by setting the tone for 2020 with a New Year’s Day hike to Diamond Head, the crater of a dormant volcano. You’ll be wowed by its natural beauty and challenged by its 2-mile climb, one that’s popular with locals and visitors alike. After all that exertion, you’ll totally merit a lazy afternoon spent listening to the waves crash against the shore.

For Christmas Eve: Mahina & Sun’s 
For Christmas Day: Waikiki Beach
For Christmas Dinner: Starlight Luau at Hilton Hawaiian Village
For New Year’s Eve: Makani Catamaran Rental
For New Year’s Day: Diamond Head

 

Nassau Paradise Island, The Bahamas

WHY WE LOVE IT:

Ever wanted to go to Carnival but couldn’t get the timing right? You can experience a taste of it on Nassau Paradise Island during Junkanoo. This music and dance-filled celebration has African roots and features costumes, masks and drums galore, making it cool way to celebrate the holiday season side by side with the residents of the Bahamas. Before it starts, stay put and chill by Jaw’s Beach in Nassau for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

If you absolutely must be active, rent a paddleboard and maneuver through the crystal-clear waters, but be careful not to expend too much energy since you’ll want to dance all night in the awesomeness that is Junkanoo later. It happens between December 26th (known as Boxing Day in the Bahamas and elsewhere in the world) and January 1st, and often starts at 2am! Go all-out on Christmas dinner by treating yourself to a 5-star feast at Dune, a restaurant by culinary mega-star Jean-Georges Vongerichten that’s located in the plush One & Only Ocean Club.

New Year’s Eve is all about the fireworks, so situate yourself in a prime area by dining at Luciano’s of Chicago, a fave Italian restaurant that also happens to have a great outdoor viewing spot. On the first day of the year, get revved up for more revelry by the joyous, raucous Junkanoo parade again: you’ll know it’s about to start when you hear the whistles, bells and drums banging on the street.

For Christmas Eve: Goldie’s Conch House
For Christmas Day: Jaw’s Beach
For Christmas Dinner: Dune
For New Year’s Eve: Luciano’s of Chicago
For New Year’s Day: Junkanoo

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