The conventional wisdom on escaping the gloom of the British winter is pretty clear – you’ve gotta fly south, and you’ve gotta fly long haul.
If you’re looking for a sun-drenched post-Christmas pick-me-up, the likelihood is that your thoughts are wandering far beyond the boundaries of popular summer holiday hot-spots like the Mediterranean. When even the most sizzling European summer destinations like the Turkish Riviera dip to a modest 15oC daily average in January, it simply isn’t going to cut it if what you’re craving is long, lazy days basking on the beach.
But places like Mexico and the Caribbean, on the other hand, Indian Ocean island paradises like the Seychelles and Maldives, south-east Asia, Australia – these are places you can guarantee gorgeous hot weather while northern Europe freezes. No wonder so many people dream of escaping to such places when winter is in full force.
There is a problem, though. Jet lag. For most of the more popular long haul winter sun destinations, it’s not just a case of flying south. You also have to cross lines of longitude, too. And the more time zones you cross, the more likely you are to suffer the disorientating effects of jet lag as your body clock struggles to adapt to being out of sync with the actual clock. This tends to be more pronounced when you fly east and ‘lose’ time with clocks jumping forward.
Losing two or three days of your holiday feeling exhausted while your body tries to adjust to the new time regime is no fun at all. And if you are only heading away for, say, a week, it raises the question of whether it’s worth it at all.
So is it possible to find some genuine winter heat without the risk of jet lag? Absolutely – you just have to think about time zones when you do your planning.
The Four Hour Rule
As a rule of thumb, if you restrict your travel options to destinations that are within four hours time difference of your home country, you can be pretty confident of avoiding the worst effects of jet lag. Even travelling east where the clocks move forward, if the difference is only four hours, it’s not too difficult to adjust to what feels to your body to an ‘early’ bedtime to get in sync. You can afford to compromise with what by local clocks seems like a ‘late’ night, sleep in a little the next day, and you’re back on track.
For context, the zone that covers four hours either way from the UK includes all of Europe and Africa, the Middle East, most of South America and the eastern portion of the Caribbean. So there is no shortage of places to choose from.
But it doesn’t include popular winter sun destinations like Mexico (-6 or 7 hours), Florida, Cuba and Jamaica (-5 hours), India and Sri Lanka (+5 hours), Thailand and Malaysia (+7 hours), Bali and Western Australia (+8 hours) or Eastern Australia (+10 hours). So where are the best options?
The likes of Jamaica and Cuba might just stretch beyond the four-hour rule, but there are plenty of other sun-drenched Caribbean islands to choose from that pose minimal jet lag risk. These include the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and the whole of the Lesser Antilles, a chain of small islands that count the likes of Barbados, Antigua, Grenada, St Lucia, Guadeloupe and Martinique among their number. All are four hours behind the UK.
Many of these islands feature on cruise itineraries and boast picture-postcard tropical beaches galore. The best time to visit is between January and May, when average temperatures are comfortably in the high 20s and the sunshine is uninterrupted by the heavy rainfall that arrives with the hotter summer season.
Across the Atlantic from the Caribbean, West Africa boasts a number of up-and-coming beach holiday destinations that are fantastic for winter sun – and are at most only an hour behind the UK timewise!
Most famous of all is Cape Verde, the Portuguese archipelago off the coast of Senegal. While many holidaymakers take a chance on the Canary Islands to the north when searching out the winter sun, the fact that Cape Verde boasts average daytime temperatures five degrees warmer in February means you are much more likely to find genuine beach weather.
On the mainland, Senegal itself is starting to earn a reputation as a serious winter sun holiday destination. Giant tour operator Tui has just launched direct flights from the UK with accompanying package holidays. To the south and east around the Gulf of Guinea, Ghana is another country that is drawing more and more attention from discerning travellers, with fabulous beaches complemented by average temperatures that hit 30oC even in February. And even better for British tourists, with Ghana located more of less due south, there is no time difference!
Middle East and East Africa
Heading eastwards, the nearest place you can all but guarantee beach-worthy weather throughout the winter months is Egypt’s Red Sea resort region, centred around Sharm-el-Sheikh. But even here, you can risk daily highs dipping below 20oC in January and February.
For guaranteed hot weather, you have to keep heading east to the likes of Qatar (+3 hours) and the United Arab Emirates (+4 hours). The teeming modern metropolises of Doha, Abu Dhabi and Dubai do a nice side line in pristine man-made beaches and paradise islands dredged out of the calm waters of the Arabian Gulf to go with their super deluxe hotels and all-year-round hot weather.
Alternatively, head south below the equator to Tanzania (+3 hours). While Mount Kilimanjaro and the Serengeti National Park are two of the country’s biggest tourist attractions, the coastal capital Dar es Salaam and nearby island of Zanzibar boast gorgeous coastline and fantastic beach resorts. As it is summer in this part of the world come January and February, you can expect daily temperatures well into the 30s.
Despite being by no means the most far-flung winter sun destinations you could choose, most of the above are still distant enough to require a sizeable investment cost wise. If you’ve got your heart set on an off-season beach escape, that comes with the territory wherever you go. In that case, don’t take any chances – make sure you take out appropriate travel insurance to guard against the ongoing risk of flight cancellations and luggage going missing en route.