Some Like It Hot: 10 Fabulous Winter Vacations for U.S. Travelers
Planning the trip is supposed to be half of the fun, but the pressure that builds up around holiday travels — combined with price surging, an increase in hotel minimums, and diminishing airline service — can derail the joy of plotting a vacation, to say nothing for taking one. We’re seeing conflicting trends for this holiday season, with some hotels and destinations already sold out because travelers booked a year ago and others still showing a surprising amount of availability. Our best travel advice might be obvious to regular Fathom readers: If you can avoid traveling between Christmas and New Year’s and other big winter holidays like President’s Weekend, you’ll be rewarded with lower prices and more options.
If your ideal winter escape involves pools and palm trees or simply short sleeves and sunshine, these are some excellent spots to consider around the Equator in the Americas. We've put together a range of vacation homes, hotels, and resorts for travelers who are looking for ease, flexibility, natural charm, great design, and all the creature comforts — whether they are traveling alone or with a group.
Papagayo Luxury Villas, Peninsula Papagayo, Costa Rica
Choose from one of three villas and three condos on Peninsula Papagayo, a volcanic-formed jungle playground on the north Pacific side of Costa Rica. This creature-comforts-in-nature setup is great for families traveling with little kids and/or older parents or any big group that could use an easy entree into vacationland. (It's a manicured living environment right next to a lush and wild landscape with monkey sightings.) The modern villas have five bedrooms with lots of nice kings for adults, private pools with nature views, hot tubs, full kitchens, and indoor-outdoor living space. The Arcos Del Mar has a spectacular inner courtyard and capacity for up to 15 guests with four king suites and a kids' room with triple bunks. Guests can access various restaurants run by the nearby Andaz and Four Seasons (it’s fun to get around in a rented golf cart), as well as take advantage of the private beach club, eco golf course, tennis courts, and the local dive bar. The vibe is laid back, and the best days involve lots of outdoor time. Papagayo Luxury will coordinate airport transport (with car seats), fill the fridge before you arrive, and arrange a mix of active and restive days at the beach and more adventurous days in the wild surfing, snorkeling, waterskiing, and horseback riding.
This stay is perfect for a group trip with multiple families and/or multi-generational cohorts. Bonus points for ease of getting there. Direct flights depart from major U.S. cities like NY, LA, ATL, and Minneapolis, with only a 35-minute ride from the airport to the peninsula.
Casa Hormiga Hotel & Rituales, Bacalar, Mexico
In the southern reaches of the Yucatán Peninsula (about a four-hour drive from Cancun), an 18-room resort following the Japanese guidelines of wabi sabi design delivers an affordable, chill, and tranquil atmosphere of indoor-outdoor living, homey food and drink, and therapies to connect with the land. Besides the library, lounging spaces, bar, and restaurant, there are three outdoor pools, including one for families. (The resort welcomes children over six.) The real exploration happens at Casa Ritual, where a host of experiences aim to transport you to new levels of thinking and feeling. We like the sound of the Power Animal Connection Ritual, a two-hour program that includes traditional energetic limipa (clearing) with copal, medicinal herbs, a Power Animal massage, and oracle reading.
This stay is perfect for solo travelers, couples, or small groups of adults looking to reset and relax with intention. Bonus points for the menu of unique wellness offerings.
Sailing — Sustainably! — the Galapagos
Ecoventura, which launches its third ship, Evolve, in January, operates the only Relais & Châteaux-accredited ships in the Galapagos Islands, following two different week-long itineraries (a southern and central route, and a northern and western route) that can be combined into one unforgettable mega trip. Yes, the cuisine will be excellent — and much of what you eat will be sourced from the islands. Yes, the service will be top-notch. Yes, you will see glorious wildlife and nature in all its glory as never before. And you'll cross this iconic destination off your bucket list. Let's take all of that for granted; we all know what the Galapagos means. What's special is that you'll be doing it the right and responsible way — sustainably. (Ahem, all you other awful mega cruise ships.) Ecoventura's 20-passenger yachts were designed to be as energy efficient as possible, with the goal of reducing dependency on fossil fuels by 30 percent and recycling by flying (in partnership with Avianca) recyclables back to the mainland and not leaving them for the islands to handle. (Their goal is to transport nine tons annually.) The first company to receive Smart Voyager's ecological certification in 2000, Ecoventura supports the local community in collaboration with Pack for a Purpose (school supplies), Esperanza (financial aid for the vulnerable), and Galapagos Conservation Trust (saving whale sharks), among others. As a Platinum Supporter of the Charles Darwin Foundation for the Galapagos Islands, the non-profit dedicated to the conservation of the islands, the company has has donated more than $300,000 to educational and scientific programs and initiatives since 2017. You feel good just reading about it, don't you?
This trip is perfect for travelers passionate about learning. Family and special departures offer a variety of age-appropriate activities and are offered during major school breaks. Bonus points for Ecoventura’s ecological bona fides.
Oil Nut Bay, British Virgin Islands
The journey to the ultra-luxe only-accessible-by-boat-or-helicopter Caribbean resort on Virgin Gorda just got even smoother with a new heliport certified for international arrivals (the first and only in the region) offering direct flights from San Juan, St. Thomas, along with St. Barth’s, St. Maarten, Anguilla, and other nearby islands. Entirely surrounded by the open sea of the Caribbean on one side and the Atlantic on the other, guests have their choice of suites and private villas (ranging from one bedroom to six), each custom built into the island's topography using locally sourced raw materials that seamlessly blend into the tropical landscape. The amenities are endless and sprawl across the entire property — three pools, a swim-up bar, wellness center, gym, two pickle ball and tennis courts, and a beachside water sport shack set up with kayaks, kite boards, and snorkel gear.
This stay is perfect for jetsetting multi-gen families who want the best of a beachside villa with all the amenities and water sports of a resort. Bonus points for new offerings come Festive Season, when the resort will debut a revamped beach club with swim-up movie screenings, new guest arrival lounge for piña colada delivery directly from the helicopter or boat, an on-call rum butlers and sushi-making classes.
Cuba with Inbound Cuba
The company named Cuba’s Leading Tour Operator in 2021 and 2022 by World Travel Awards specializes in individual and small group (up to 14) trips of four to nine nights around the country. Inbound Cuba is especially interesting to us for two reasons: They primarily work with local and private (read: non-governmental) businesses for accommodations and meals to ensure that 80 percent of tourist dollars go directly to Cuban people. And they arrange experiences with creatives like artist Maisel Lopez and chef-anthropologist Leoval Pascual to bring Cuba alive in especially compelling ways. Inbound Cuba can work with travel advisors or directly with guests (tell them Fathom sent you!) and help with arrangements like the Cuban travel card.
This stay is perfect for curious travelers who want their sunny getaway to come with engaging cultural immersion. Bonus points for those who act fast: They still have limited availability for travel between Christmas and New Year’s, with trips concentrated in Havana (accommodations elsewhere are scarce), and also for Havana Jazz Fest from January 23-30.
Palm Heights, Grand Cayman
It feels like sunny California in the Caribbean. These fifty-two generously sized and very stylish ocean view suites on Seven Mile Beach could be on the cover of Domino. Living and dining areas have fully stocked detox and retox bars, double vanities, and of-the-moment contemporary design details — each one more Instagrammable than the next. The four restaurants serve beautiful food no matter your dietary restriction — from fresh seafood and local veggies to casual pizza in the garden to a multi-course Japanese experience. Other fun happenings include a rooftop film screenings and weekly supper club series.
This stay is perfect for families that want laid-back beach fun without roughing it. Bonus points for alone time. Suites have a separate living and dining area, which means parents have space to hang even after their little kids hit the hay.
Rancho Pescadero, Todos Santos, Mexico
An hour north of Cabo San Lucas, near the magical town of Todos Santos on Mexico’s Pacific coast, the privately owned resort received a brand new makeover from its original owner (and is now managed by Hyatt Unbound). The whole place leans into nature, with nine gardens, two farms, and a citrus orchard that drives everything happening on the plate and in the spa. Twenty-three rooms face the Pacific or the Sierra de la Laguna Mountains. There are also a dozen ocean villas (fire pits, private plunge, outdoor showers), a hacienda, spa, lap pool, and three restaurants.
This stay is perfect for adults seeking natural splendor and a sanctuary-like stay. Bonus points for owner Lisa Harper’s community efforts — she’s building 170 homes for all of her employees (now that’s responsible hospitality).
Cala de Mar, Ixtapa, Mexico
Sculpted into a red cliff with miles-long views of the Pacific, this design-forward 59-suite retreat is a secluded, romantic sanctuary on the arid west coast of Mexico. Breezy rooms include an open-air terrace and private plunge pool, perfectly hidden from neighboring guests. It’s the type of place where you’ll feel peacefully alone even when it’s at capacity. Note that the closest beach is a few minutes away by car, but look out for two pools (one at sea level, one conveniently below the restaurant), several secret meditation decks, reading nooks, and oceanfront swings. The wellness-curious can book a ceremony in the temazcal, an Aztec sweat lodge overseen by a healer who can help purify your mind, body, and soul. Read a more detailed review on Fathom.
This stay is perfect for couples, friends, and solo travelers who want the ease of getting away for a few days with a chill itinerary, amazing spa treatments, and delicious food. Bonus points for the Mexican art and decor.
Le Sereno, St. Barths
A gentle ocean breeze floats throughout the property — set on a glistening turquoise bay protected by a coral reef — reminding you to take it slow. The intimate 39-room hotel offers a glimpse into the chichi island’s laid-back and wild side, with 600-feet of private beach filled with friendly turtles, and a restaurant shaded by coconut trees with a health-forward menu of detoxifying wellness elixirs, and simple, locally-inspired dishes. Despite its remoteness, the hotel brings the best of the island’s arts and culinary scene to the property, with rotating artists in residence, and several gourmet cuisine festivals.
This stay is perfect for those couples with or without young children who want beachside bliss without lifting a finger. Travelers have to work a little harder to get to St. Barths (flying to St. Maarten and then boarding a puddle jumper). Bonus points for the Le Sereno representatives who whisk guests through the last leg.
Mayakoba, Riviera Maya, Mexico
You are in Mexico and close to (but not stuck in) Tulum. The luxury resort complex on a 500-acre resort in Playa del Carmen is a no-brainer for weary multi-gen groups and families (hola, complicated group dynamics) who want to park their bodies near reliable sun, water, nature, and amenities without too much hassle. Four resorts (Rosewood, Banyan Tree, Fairmont, Andaz) are connected via interlocking canals, an 18-hole golf course, and nature trails, and offer rooms and multi-room villas that either face the beach or the mangrove-bordered lagoons (the more unique and special view, IMHO). Rosewood is fancy and fabulous. Banyan Tree is serene and striking. Fairmont just completed a multi-million dollar renovation and is a great choice for families (they have a tasteful all-inclusive option, too). Andaz is pared back and youthful. Guests can take boats, bikes, or complimentary buggy rides between the various restaurants, bars, and beach clubs. If you do have a hankering to leave the complex, there are some exciting and beautiful cenotes nearby.
This stay is perfect for U.S. travelers who want to set it and forget it. You don’t even have to exchange any dollars at the airport. Bonus points for the many atmospheric options, meaning you won’t feel bored or isolated even though you’re in a contained environment.
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