Five Guardian writers based in hotspots around the world have recommended the following favorite spots to experience the winter sun.
1. Rincón de Guayabitos, Mexico
The strand … Guayabitos’s beach is great for local seafood and music.
As the sun was setting on my first day in Rincón de Guayabitos, I was surprised to see humpback whales surfacing to clear their blowholes within sight of the shore. Like the whales, I come back every year, drawn by Guayabitos’s superb seafood and its warm and gentle waters.
A small town halfway up Mexico’s Pacific coast, Guayabitos is a cheap, authentic and lively destination that draws many domestic tourists but relatively few foreign visitors. Mariachis and indigenous Huichol musicians roam the sands, offering to serenade sunbathers for a modest fee, while passing vendors sell ceviche, coconuts and tropical fruits. Others offer exquisite skewers of freshly caught tuna, or prawns grilled in a smoky marinade and doused with hot sauce and lime juice – don’t leave without trying them.
The best place to stay is Cabañas del Capitán, a colourful beachside hotel with two pools, an outdoor jacuzzi and immaculate palm-lined gardens (doubles from £35 a night, family suites from £50). Tour operators will take visitors to explore nearby islands and see the whales up close (only in winter months), but those who just want to sit back and laze can crack open a cold Pacífico lager and admire the pelicans diving into the surf.
2. Hiriketiya Bay, Sri Lanka
Perfect break … Hiriketiya Bay, Sri Lanka. Photograph: Aaron Jamieson
I used to swim at “Hiri” long before you could eat or sleep at this deep, horseshoe-shaped bay near Dickwella, on Sri Lanka’s southern coast. Set enough of a distance off the main Matara to Tangalle coastal road to be largely off-radar, it has Crusoe-like palm-shaded strands and gentle cobalt surf that promises year-round swimming. It remained a secret for years, except among in-the-know surfers (it’s got a great left-point break) and the local fishing community.
Over the past couple of years, hipsters, yogis, surfers and families looking for a quieter and more authentic alternative to the overblown beaches of Unawatuna and Mirissa have sought Hiri’s still-rustic charm, picture-postcard setting and gentle surf, though this hasn’t yet tipped the balance. Most accommodation is set well back from the beach, hidden beneath coconut palms, and is affordable, ranging from basic dorm beds to private villas with pools.
A room at Salt House, Hiriketiya Bay Photograph: David Taylor
Soulful Salt House, a convivial guesthouse a few minutes’ walk from the beach, is an excellent place to stay (rooms from £60, including breakfast, yoga and surfboard hire). Its eight jungle- or garden-view rooms (including a two-bedroom family apartment) are simple yet stylish, its cafe serves nutritious home-cooked food (think healthy salads, superfood smoothies, seafood and gelato), and there’s daily yoga.
3. Keurboomstrand, South Africa
Wild thing … Keurboomstrand. Photograph: Alamy
Somewhere on the planet there might be a more beautiful beach than Keurboomstrand, 10km east of Plettenberg Bay on the Western Cape, but I’ve visited a few beautiful beaches in my time and am yet to be convinced.
Plettenberg Bay is South Africa’s answer to the Hamptons, and Keurbooms is seemingly endless, wild and pristine – it feels lost in time.
I’m an inveterate strandloper (beachcomber) and love to search for pansy shells and rare paper nautiluses along its shore. Even during high season, I’ve only ever shared the beach with the occasional dog walker, fisherman or oystercatcher. Almost every time I’ve wandered along the sand, I’ve seen pods of about 100 bottlenose dolphins leaping through the crystal clear waves. Bryde’s whales are in residence throughout the year, while humpback and southern right whales bring their calves to play during winter. On one occasion, I counted eight pairs of mothers and babies, from the top of the dune, as I drank my morning coffee.
The Plett River Lodge, on the banks of the river that reaches the sea via the lagoon, is relaxed and highly rated (doubles from £62).
Keurbooms’ single flaw is its notorious rip current – this is not a swimming beach. But the lagoon behind the beach is as safe and warm as any in the Caribbean or Indian Ocean. For children, or those who prefer a gentle wallow, the lagoon beach at Pootjie (Little Paw) is perfection.
When tired of the sea, take a boat tour up the river to Whiskey Creek. There, early birds can claim white, sandy beaches for a picnic, and there are rocky cliffs from which bold children and adults can leap into the copper-coloured water that gives the creek its name.
The bijou Plettenberg Bay Game Reserve boasts the Big Five, and is 10 minutes’ drive up the Wittedrift road. There’s a decent, 18-hole Gary Player-designed golf course at Goose Valley. Also in the bay, Ristorante Enrico serves fresh seafood caught daily off the owner’s boat and offers a jaw-dropping view of the bay at sunset. I also love Emily Moon for its glamorous food, delicious grapefruit, gin and tonics, and romantic views of the Bitou river. Thyme & Again is the neighbourhood’s iconic roadside farm stall: it has an excellent deli, a salad dressing renowned across the country, a casual restaurant and sophisticated selection of cheese and wines.
Quy Nho’n, Vietnam
Quy Nho’n has one of Vietnam’s best beaches.
Boulder choice … the relatively unknown Quy Nho’n neighbourhood has some of Vietnam’s best beaches. Photograph: VuCongDanh/Getty Images
Sitting between the busy coastal hotspots of Nha Trang and Hoi An, Quy Nho’n is a relatively unknown, quiet beach town. The intense resort development seen in the country’s more popular seaside locations has yet to reach this region, making for a laidback atmosphere and the perfect place for a relaxed getaway.
Despite its humble modern appearance, for centuries the area around Quy Nho’n was once the centre of the Cham empire, which ruled what is today southern Vietnam. The most visible reminders of this period are the Thap Doi towers, in a small park in the city, which are well worth a visit.
Quy Nho’n’s residential and commercial areas run right up to the long, broad, sandy beach, which curves around a bay, with low hills visible to the north. A major street separates the beach from the town, and there are a few cafes and bars right on the sand.
About 15km south of Quy Nho’n is Bai Xep, reachable by bus, taxi or motorbike. This tiny town is home to an up-and-coming travel community that slows the pace down even further. There are few better ways to enjoy a beach in Vietnam than whiling away the days with fresh seafood and an ice-cold beer beside the waves here. The eateries in Bai Xep’s fishing village offer similar menus – a whole grilled fish is always a good choice.
Haven Guesthouse, Quy Nho’n
My preferred place to stay is Haven Guesthouse (B&B doubles from £24 a night), which offers simple, friendly accommodation right on the beach. It offers snorkelling trips to nearby islands (£4 each, minimum four people) where the water is clearer and you can see all kinds of colourful fish and sea creatures. Don’t expect the huge coral formations of the Philippines or Indonesia, but this is great snorkelling for Vietnam.
4. Rosario Islands, Cartagena, Colombia
Caribbean Sea beach
Get Carta … a beach on Isla Grande on the Rosario Islands. Photograph: Alamy
Bendita Beach is the kind of powder-white, paradise beach you usually only see in adverts and dreams. It takes up most of tiny, uninhabited Isla Arena, with a few palm trees giving some shade at the heart of the island.
My mum and I – she was visiting from England – toasted our great find with mojitos from a freshly hewn coconut at the makeshift beach bar, which is the only structure on the island, apart from the few tables that make up the restaurant.
It’s one of the 30 Rosario Islands around 20 miles west of Cartagena (a one-hour boat ride). They’re a great choice for a peaceful escape. Despite their beauty, they attract far fewer tourists than closer mainland beaches, such as Playa Blanca, and islands closer to the city, such as Tierra Bomba.
It’s not possible to stay on Isla Arena, but it’s a great day-trip from Hotel San Pedro de Majagua on Isla Grande, a 15-minute boat ride away.
The hotel offers tranquility and well-equipped cabana-rooms overlooking the sea, with thatched roofs and marble bathrooms. It has two small, sandy beaches and is a great base to explore the island (doubles/triples from £160, but it’s worth a call as they offer good discounts, including the price of the hour-long boat trip from Cartagena).
5. Fulano Secret Paradise
There are significantly cheaper eco-hotel options on the same island, in the Paraiso Secreto hotel neighbourhood, such as the colonial-style Fulano Secret Paradise (dorm beds from £18, doubles from £40).
Isla Grande is small enough to walk the whole way around in a couple of hours; try to visit the lagoon at sunset. Private or shared boats ferry visitors to the islands from Cartagena’s tourist wharf.