All photos, Kelsy Chauvin
Is it just me, or does an escape to a sunny holiday in another country sound good to everyone about now? Of course, a day on the beach is great any time of the year, but winter is prime season to reconnect with warmth and sunshine. For me, it’s an opportunity to replace my smartphone with a piña colada, and let ocean waves soothe my soul.
There are many fantastic beach destinations just a few hours from major U.S. airports. Here are a few of the best easy-access tropical temptations to choose from, offering stunning scenery, sporty recreation and luxury hotels of all sizes pleased to indulge every need.
Even in winter, you can expect plenty of sunshine on the Caribbean island of Martinique. It’s situated between Puerto Rico and Saint Lucia, just 4.5 hours from New York aboard new direct flights via Norwegian Air from Baltimore/Washington, Boston and New York. This tiny island belongs to France, making it feel even more far away and exotic as you put your French skills and euros to good use. Zip to the island’s eastern shore to lodge at the enchanting Cap Est Lagoon Resort & Spa, a Relais & Châteaux hotel with 50 suites perched along the Atlantic. Travelers can explore Martinique’s hiking trails and rich flora (it’s nicknamed the Isle of Flowers), visit its bright white beaches and taste authentic Creole flavors at favorite, friendly restaurants like La Mabouya (L’Hotel Corail Residence; 596/596-62-11-01) on the island’s southern shore.
One of Mexico’s easiest Pacific-coast destinations is Puerto Vallarta, where winter brings direct flights from several U.S. cities. It’s been a popular escape for decades (thanks partly to Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor running away here), with boutique hotels like the hillside Casa Kimberly and restaurants like the exceptional Café des Artistes (Calle Guadalupe Sánchez 740; 52/322-222-3228) luring travelers to the Zona Romantica. Travelers who prefer resorts should try Marina Vallarta, where the CasaMagna Marriott Resort & Spa lets guests choose between the beach or sparkling pools with swim-up bars.
It’s less than a five-hour flight from New York to this quiet, colorful Dutch Antilles island just north of Venezuela — where, by the way, American currency is accepted and English is the most common language. There are big beachside luxury hotels like the Ritz-Carlton and Hotel Riu Palace, but for something delightfully different, check into the Boardwalk Aruba, a hidden gem in a coconut grove one block from Palm Beach. Owned by two sisters, the Boardwalk invites guests into their own colorful, spacious Caribbean “casita” with private patio, hammock and barbecue pit; plus it has a dedicated beach area with private palapas (beach huts) outfitted with lounge chairs and coolers.
The famous pink-sand beaches and turquoise waters of Bermuda are less than two hours from most east-coast airports. The island is a prime getaway for golf and aquatic recreation, from snorkeling to jet skiing to kayaking. Travelers can stay in either a polished resort like the Fairmont Southampton or something more intimate like the Rosewood Tucker’s Point. And since Bermuda is so compact, it’s still just a short drive from either end of the island to downtown Hamilton.
Fly into Cancun and hop in a taxi to Tulum, just under two hours away, for a low-key tropical escape. From its Caribbean-facing shore, the town’s biggest hotels can still be labeled “boutique” — giving it that off-the-grid, undiscovered vibe. Papaya Playa has a central location on the sandy stretch just south of Tulum’s Mayan ruins. It offers either rustic thatched-roof cabins or eco-chic cottages with private baths and ocean-facing terraces. South of Tulum, the Sian Ka’an Biosphere has been recognized by UNESCO and offers opportunities to explore its lush forest, peaceful lagoons and even more Mayan ruins — you will feel a world away from everyday life.