When it gets to this time of the year, grabbing some winter sun with the family is a tempting prospect. Whether it’s sandcastle time you want, a taste of the exotic or modern attractions, there’s a holiday spot below that your family will crave just as much as mine. Here are some of the winter sun destinations on my wanted list.
One of the closest places to travel for guaranteed winter sun is Morocco, an exotic, Hollywood-approved oasis that you can fly to in just three and a half hours. And if you time it just right, wintertime flights here can cost just a little more than a train ticket in the UK. In Morocco, you have options for beach holidays at places like modern Agadir, or if your family prefers colourful city breaks, there’s vibrant Marrakech.
The Medina of Marrakech is a UNESCO World Heritage Centre, and includes popular Jemaa el Fna Square, a vibrant spot where street performers dazzle with singing, juggling and animal antics, all surrounded by a maze of souks. Things kick-off here at midday and last into the night, but arrive in the cooler late afternoon or evening so you can see everything before dark.
One particular benefit of visiting Marrakech in winter is that there’s much more breathing room in this infamously crowded city, especially in Jemaa el Fna. The swarms of people can be part of the experience when you’re travelling here in the summer, but if you’ve got little ones with you, a little extra space can be a godsend. And the smaller crowds also mean that Marrakech’s airport, which is renowned for long wait times, can be a breeze to get through.
On the edge of the Medina, Koutoubia Mosque is an impressive sight and has a park you can explore beside it with fragrant rose gardens, while Le Jardin Majorelle is a cacti-laden botanical garden designed by Yves Saint Laurent. But if it’s a modern beach break you want, Agadir offers 10 kilometres of the sandy stuff, a stylish marina and heaps of international restaurants – and just out of town are Atlantica Parc waterpark and Massa Lagoon, where you can spot flamingos.
In just four and a half hours you can land in the Canary Islands, where Gran Canaria is a family favourite. It’s known as The Miniature Continent for its diversity in landscapes, with everything from desert-like dunes and forests to mountains and rocky vistas. Owing to its close proximity to Africa, this little Canary Island maintains temperatures that are nice and high year-round.
The island’s famous dunes are found in Maspalomas in the south. Gran Canaria’s southern edge is renowned for being the warmest, and is your best bet for winter sun. As well as housing a lagoon, palm tree groves and a nature reserve, Maspalomas offers you and the kids the chance to take camel rides through the desert landscape. Also nearby for more family fun are Aqualand waterpark, Maspalomas Zoo, Palmitos Park bird park and Old West theme park Sioux City Park.
Maspalomas Beach and those of its adjoining neighbours, Meloneras and Playa Del Ingles, all have Blue Flags for their quality and facilities. A busy promenade starts from Maspalomas’ lighthouse where you can dine and shop right by the sand. And thanks to Gran Canaria’s round-the-clock warmth, there’s never a bad time to visit these sandy spots.
For a bit more peace and quiet, head further west along the south coast to the Blue Flag shores of Puerto Rico. They’re the ideal starting point for boat trips to see dolphins, or setting sail on a themed pirate ship. Next door, cliff-backed Playa Taurito comes with its own Lido Waterpark.
For the trip of a lifetime, The Dominican Republic is one of the Caribbean’s most child-friendly countries, boasting eternally summer weather, amusement and water parks, long palm-lined beaches and natural attractions.
The majority of families choose to stay on The Coconut Coast in the east, with luxury family resorts centred around popular Punta Cana. This 50-kilometre stretch of coast also takes in the beautiful beach town of Bavaro and more remote and exclusive Uvero Alto. It takes nine hours to fly to the Dominican Republic, but you can’t argue with the sublime climate, out-of-this world beaches and action-packed itineraries. Wintertime is technically one of the Dominican Republic’s high seasons, so the full range of activities and hotel options will be out on display at this time of year.
As well as a 10-kilometre beach, Bavaro has a dinosaur themed adventure park with 15 activities covering zip-lines through the trees, Segways and bungee trampolines. Punta Cana itself has a waterpark, amusement and animal park, plus over at Scape Park the star of the show is the bright blue, freshwater pool at Hoyo Azul that you can swim in, located in a 75-metre deep sinkhole. Surrounded by a series of natural caves, there’s also zip-lining and horse riding to enjoy.