Safe, affordable, and sunny- those are the 3 things at the top of my list when choosing a winter travel destination to escape the cold. Finding that perfect trifecta is so worth it. The list of places that make for great, affordable winter vacations is longer than you might expect, too. True, if you’re travelling from Canada the list of destinations for affordable winter vacations is a little bit shorter (because airfare prices, yikes!) but there are still plenty of options for every type of traveller.
What does it take to find affordable winter vacations, in beautiful and safe places? Research, usually. Today you’re in luck, because that part is done for you! I’ve been to some beautiful winter travel destinations that I’m excited to share with you, and I’ve asked some other bloggers to share their favourite safe and affordable winter travel destinations, too.
The terms “safe” and “affordable” can definitely be subjective, so here’s what you can expect in this post: We’re not debunking any safety concerns. Countries with “avoid all travel” advisories, or that are known to be war, are not included. When it comes to affordable, we’re talking about ~ $2,000 per person for flight, accommodation, and food. P.S. I looked up flights and travel advisories for every destination myself, before including destinations!
Affordable Winter Vacations Travelling from Canada (or the USA)
The unfortunate truth is that as Canadians, we pay some exorbitant airfares and our dollar doesn’t always go as far as the US dollar. This is particularly true of sunny, winter escape destinations. That’s why I’ve divided this post up, starting with destinations that are affordable when you’re flying from Canada. Flying from the USA? These are probably event cheaper for you to visit, so enjoy!
Travel Tip: Get Travel Medical Insurance!
Travel medical insurance is something that people often forget about or disregard due to the cost, but having spent an evening on one of my own winter vacations in a hospital in Puerto Rico I am a big fan of travel medical insurance – particularly with direct billing. SafetyWing Insurance is a relative newcomer to the world of travel medical insurance that addresses everything I just mentioned – their rates are fantastic, yet the coverage is comprehensive and comparable to anything else available. You’ll have coverage for unexpected illness or injury on eligible expenses like hospital, doctor, or prescription drugs with low deductibles and direct billing available at hospitals all over the world – including private health care. If you are more comfortable with private health care due to the quality of public care available in a country you’re visiting that’s an option! Purchase insurance for a fixed-duration trip or on a subscription if you’re a long-term traveller.
1. Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica
Manuel Antonio and the nearby town of Quepos are beautiful areas to visit in Costa Rica. This area isn’t filled with resorts just yet, but it’s still visitor friendly and safe. There are so many things to do in Manuel Antonio. Go surfing, visit Manuel Antonio National Park and look for sloths and monkeys, book a zip lining day, or walk in to Quepos to explore.
This was one of the first winter travel destinations that I ever visited, and even with just a few days it was wonderful. A place like Manuel Antonio will allow you to relax and recharge, if you let it.
Round trip flights start around $500 CAD, depending on your chosen dates. This is a pricey destination over the Christmas break, but the fees go down again in mid-January. There are lots of great places for affordable winter vacations in Costa Rica, Manuel Antonio is just one!
2. San Juan, Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico is probably one of the easiest and most affordable places in the Caribbean that a Canadian can visit. It’s a territory of the USA, which keeps airfares low.
San Juan is perfect if you’ve got a blend of interests. There’s history and beautiful places to take photos in Old San Juan, beautiful beaches lining the city, and you’re only a brief drive away from more adventurous activities.
Drive, Uber, or take an organized tour to go hiking in El Yunque Rainforest or snorkelling off the coast of Fajardo.
I love history just as much as I love sunshine, so San Juan, Puerto Rico was the perfect destination. The flights are cheap always because you’re only travelling from Canada to the USA – typically under $500 CAD.
3. Universal Studios Orlando, Florida USA
A few days at the Universal Studios Orlando resort in Florida is the perfect way to escape a Canada cold front. While tickets to the theme parks themselves have a relatively high price tag ($250 USD for a 2 day, park-to-park ticket) it only takes a couple days to enjoy the park. What’s more, flights can be found for as low as $300 CAD.
The bulk of my visit was spent exploring the Wizarding World of Harry Potter (if you’re thinking of going, check out these tips for visiting). Cast spells, enjoy the rides, and down an icy butter beer because yes, you will be warm enough to need a nice cold drink.
My visit to Universal Studios was only 2 days, over a weekend. It was so nice to enjoy a couple days of sun! Now truth be told, it wasn’t “hot” while I was there. When you’re coming from the ice and snow that is Canada in wither, though, a couple days at 20 degrees is perfect.
4. Playa Hermosa, Costa Rica
More than one Costa Rica destination made it in to this post, because the country is simply stunning and is safe and affordable for Canadians. Playa Hermosa is a quiet beach town in Guanacaste, and makes a perfect base for hiking and waterfall chasing.
Playa Hermosa is 15 minutes from the bustling town of Coco, and only 30 minutes from the major city Liberia. There are several National Parks within day trip driving distance, and one of the countries most beautiful waterfalls, Llanos des Cortez, is less than an hour away!
The food in Playa Hermosa is some of the best and most affordable in Costa Rica. Enjoy a beach front view while the sun goes down, and dinner with drinks for less than $50USD for 2 people. Wake up early to walk along the beach, and watch for wildlife! Many howler monkeys, birds, and iguanas call Playa Hermosa home.
5. Valladolid, Mexico
Mexico is renowned for affordable winter vacations. Here’s an area you might not have thought of: Valladolid. Right in the middle of the peninsula, Valladolid is the closest city to the ancient Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza, named one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.
Valladolid itself is the perfect base for a winter escape to Mexico. Wake up early, and have Chichen Itza all to yourself before hundreds of tourist roll in from Cancun. Or, take a day to explore the regions cenotes. These natural swimming holes carved in to rock have an Indiana Jones meets pool party vibe!
Enjoy local restaurants, historic churches, and picture-perfect colonial buildings. The best part is, you will find few other tourists in this gem of a place. It’s safer and more affordable that the beach resorts, too. Flights start at $600, even during the Christmas break! – Nate of Travel Lemming
6. Cartagena, Colombia
A great destination to escape the cold is northern coast of Colombia. The beautiful colonial city of Cartagena is a safe and affordable location to experience the colourful and vibrant Colombian culture. This is just one of the many beautiful places to visit in Colombia.
The main tourist hotspot of Cartagena is “Ciudad Amurallada,” the old town. Here, you’ll find clean and colorful colonial streets, and nice cafés and restaurants. While this is probably the most picturesque part of the city, it’s also rather touristy. Right outside of the old town, you’ll find Getsemani, the “hipster” district of Cartagena. This is the perfect place to find affordable accommodations, lively plazas where the locals come together for drinks in the evening, and vibrant street are.
Cartagena is generally a very safe place to visit (especially the old town and Getsemani). However, best practices like staying in the city centre and not wandering random neighbourhoods after dark do apply. – Patrick of German Backpacker
Given a little bit of searching, you can find flights to Cartagena starting at $800 round trip in January from either coast of Canada, and even less from locations in the USA.
7. Vinales, Cuba
Visiting Vinales is one of the best things to do in Cuba. This lovely, small town located only a 2.5 hours drive from the capital, Havana. Fly in to Vinales itself for around $600 CAD, or make your way over from Havana to enjoy a few days immersed in the quaint, slow atmosphere.
The town is located in the middle of the countryside, and it’s possible to access the surrounding tobacco fields. This is where real Cuban cigars are made. The valley is a fantastic place to explore. Not far from Vinales, the beach of Cayo Jutias is a fantastic place to relax for a few hours, with fine, white sand and crystal clear waters. The nearby coral reef is perfect for snorkeling.
Vinales is a safe place to explore. There are many “casas particulares,” which are local homes where the owners rent a few rooms to travellers. There are also good paladares – local restaurants. The average price of a room with private bathroom is $25 USD. Meals can be as cheap at $5 USD for a full breakfast and even dinner. There are a lot of lovely street food places, too. – Claudia of My Adventures Across the World
8. Grand Canyon, Arizona USA
Arizona can be unbearably hot in the summer with its desert climate. Visiting in the winter with cooler temperatures and fewer tourists, however, is fantastic.
The rocky desert landscape led to incredible natural features, the Grand Canyon among them. Also worth visiting are Tower Butte and Antelope Slot Canyon, outside of Page. These natural landscapes are sure to amaze as much as the grandeur of the Grand Canyon. Further south around Sedona, which itself lies in a stunning red rock valley, is Red Rock State Park, which is 286 acres of incredible scenery.
While you’re there, visit the fascinating Mystery Castle south of Phoenix and other Arizona bucketlist places. Mystery Castle was built by Boyce Gully for his daughter, and is full of secrets. – Stacey of One Trip at a Time
When you’re flying from Canada, flights to Grand Canyon village start just over $400 CAD. Phoenix is also an option, for an even lower round trip (but pricier accommodations).
9. Havana, Cuba
Cuba’s capital city of Havana is a warm choice, year-round. We spent 4 days in Havana, as part of a week in Cuba. There’s plenty to do in Havana, if you’tr looking to do more than relax by the pool! Take a seaside walk down the Malecon, or find alfresco bars, restaurants, and live musics clubs lining the squares of Havana’s Vedado, the old neighbourhood.
One of our highlights was the tips-based tour through the Hotel Nacional’s tumultuous history of 1930’s mafia gangsters and 1960’s Bay of Pigs defense tunnels. We loved this tour so much we even booked a stay in one of their historic rooms for a night: Ava Gardner and Frank Sinatra’s honeymoon suite!
Another tour not to be missed is taking a classic convertible car on a tour route of your own choosing. Retrace the steps of Hemmingway on a booze cruise past his many favourite Havana watering holes, or day trip outside the city. – Erin and Ryan of Down Bubble
Flights to Havana start around $650, and you can also find amazing prices on all inclusive deals for flights + hotels on sites like Expedia.
10. Oaxaca, Mexico
Oaxaca, Mexico is a fantastic place to escape the cold winter. It’s hot during the day, but has the added bonus of cool nights. Winter is also Oaxaca’s dry season, so you’re guaranteed cloudless skies most days.
If you want to visit Mexico for culture, this is the place. Home to the country’s biggest day of the dead celebrations, amazing parades and the world’s largest radish carving festival (yep, for real), there are plenty of things to do in Oaxaca city.
A great afternoon can be spent just wondering the streets, eating traditional Oaxacan food at some of the many mercados, and popping into some of the museums that tell the tale of this small but significant place. – Claire of Claire’s Footsteps
Flights to this area are, like most destinations in Mexico, relatively cheap. They start around $500 CAD, regardless of when.
11. Montego Bay, Jamaica
Many people visit Montego Bay, Jamaica for a sunshine holiday and never leave their resort, but there are so many things to do in Montego Bay. The resorts in Jamaica are well know for affordable winter vacations, but there are plenty of ways to visit Jamaica independently.
The most popular road in Montego Bay, known as the Hip Strip, is across from a beautiful public (free) beach and there are hotels and apartments you can rent. This is a safe area, still in the heart of the action.
While in Montego Bay, check out culture and natural activities in the area. Visit the Croydon Platation to learn about Jamaica’s history and the resistance against slavery. Have a spooky experience at Rose Hall Great House, know as the most haunted place on earth. When night falls, visit a bioluminescent lagoon. It’s one of the most unique experiences you’ll have, as this only occurs a few places in the world. – Ayngelina of Bacon is Magic
Flight prices vary, but you can find a flight from $600/$700 CAD throughout most of January and February.
12. Los Haitises, Dominican Republic
Los Haitises National Park in the Dominican Republic is a great spot for winter sun combined with eco-tourism. Located on the less touristy northeastern area of the Dominican Republic, you can get to this national park from the towns of Samana or Sabana de la Mar. Flights to these areas start around $600 CAD. The easiest way to enter Los Haitises is by boat, which gives you a spectacular view of the bay.
There are 18 national parks in the Dominican Republic, and what makes Los Haitises special is it’s geographic diversity. The terrain of Los Haitises covers hills, rivers, caves, rainforests, wetlands and the beach. This was also a filming location for Jurassic Park! – Shoba of Just Go Places
13. New Orleans, Louisiana USA
The Crescent City of New Orleans is unlike any other, and is perfect for beating the weather blues. Explore the historic French Quarter on foot, take in the old architecture, eclectic shops, and art galleries.
St. Louis Cathedral has beautiful glass stained windows and painted ceilings and is good to sit down after a walking around. A must stop is the Cafe du Monde, for hot coffee and beignets, perfect in the mild weather. In the evening, listen to jazz music on Frenchmen Street or people watching in Jackson Square. If you have more than a day or two in New Orleans, you can also visit the Garden District to see large, historic mansions and New Orleans above-ground cemeteries.
14. Montezuma, Costa Rica
Montezuma, on the southern tip of the Nicoya Peninsula, is the perfect place to plan a getaway. Fly in to San Jose or Liberia Airport, and make your way to Puntarenas by bus or car. A short, scenic ferry ride will bring you to Montezuma.
This small, bohemian towns is home to stunning beaches and accommodations for every budget. There are plenty of things to do in Montezume, from finding waterfalls to watching baby sea turtles be released in to the wild. Volunteers collect the eggs at night, keeping them safe from possible threats until they are ready to be released back into the wild.
Love water sports? Nearby Santa Teresa is easily reached by bus, and here you can rent surfboards or take lessons. – Demi of Around the World With Her
Affordable Winter Vacations Travelling from the USA
15. Guadeloupe, French Region, Caribbean
The Caribbean French Antilles archipelago islands of Guadeloupe is only a 4-hour flight from New York. This tropical overseas part of France offers vacation-seekers tropical resorts, a unique mix of Creole, Caribbean and French delicacies, pristine beaches, world-class museums, and hiking. The North American jet set hasn’t discovered Guadeloupe just yet, which makes for a laid-back, sun-soaked long weekend. Flights from NYC come as low as $480 USD in mid-January.
The boundaries of the UNESCO listed World Biosphere Reserve, Le Parc Nationale de la Guadeloupe, encompass a green and very wet area. There are 173 square kilometres to explore, and this is one of the leading attractions of visiting the Basse-Terre’s tropical rainforest.
Sitting on the edge of the harbor of Pointe-à-Pitre, the Memorial ACTe is perhaps one of the most comprehensive and engaging museums completely dedicated the global, collective memory of slavery and adult trafficking and is a must-visit when in Pointe-à-Pitre. – Gregory of Follow Summer
16. San Andres, Colombia
The small Colombian island of San Andres is a brilliant destination to visit if you’re looking to escape the cold this winter. Although the island is part of Colombia, it’s located around 800 kilometres away in the Caribbean. There is plenty of sun, and plenty of things to do in San Andres.
Enjoy Spratt Bight beach and San Luis beach on San Andres itself, or take a boat to the nearby islands of El Acuario and Johnny Cay. Expect to pay around 19,000 Colombian pesos / $6.20 USD for a day trip to visit the paradise beaches of both islands! The crystal clear waters are perfect for cooling off from the heat!
San Andres has incredible water clarity, making it one of the best places to go diving in Colombia. If you aren’t a qualified diver then you can either do your qualification there or just snorkel instead. La Piscinita is one of the best snorkelling spots on the island, and can be accessed for a small 4,000 peso / $1.30 USD.
17. Algarve, Portugal
The Algarve, Portugal’s southern coastal region, is fast becoming a popular destination for North Americans looking for an affordable winter vacations. Getting to Portugal is now relatively fast and affordable. Transatlantic flights from the USA begin around $600 USD.
Algarve’s warm weather promises more than 300 days of sunshine per year. The cost of living in Portugal is lower than most other Western European countries, so food and accommodations are well-priced for visitors. Portugal is also extremely safe. It’s listed as one of the safest countries in the world, right alongside Iceland and New Zealand.
The beaches in Algarve are some of the best in the world. The Algarve is also a fantastic destination for walking, watersports, whale and dolphin spotting, and to explore the many quaint towns in the area. – James of Portugalist
18. Barcelona, Spain
If you’re looking for incredible food, spectacular architecture, and mild winter temperatures, head to Catalonia’s capital: Barcelona. The city easily accommodates all budgets. There are a number of free things to do in Barcelona. The dining experiences are unforgettable, ranging from Michelin starred restaurants and hole-in-the-wall tapa bars.
Temperatures rarely fall below 10°C/50°F, but when it does there are churros con chocolate. Head to Granja Dulcinea Xocolateria, a local favorite that opened in 1941 just off of La Rambla. Another well-respected chocolatier is Xurreria Laietana located near the Barcelona Cathedral. It may be a hole in the wall, but the €3 portions are one of the best in town!
Most visitors to Barcelona pay a visit to the Catalan modernist masterpieces, La Sagrada Família, Park Güell, and Casa Milà. It’s possible to view the intricate exterior details for free or take a guided tour of the interiors, which are just as stunning as the facades. – Kalena from Lost and Abroad
19. Caye Caulker, Belize
Caye Caulker is a small island, 5 miles at its longest, just 45 minutes away from Belize by water taxi. Located a mile inside the second largest barrier reef in the world, the Belize Barrier Reef, this is an island paradise worthy of the term.
There are no cars here on this island, just bicycles and electric golf carts and electric bikes. The pace of life and indeed the motto of the island is “go slow”. There are activities galore, and lots of things do to on Caye Caulker. There are hammocks, cabanas, and chairs on the beach if you just want to relax.
Divers, you’re not far from the famous Blue Hole so this is a great opportunity. There are marine reserves where you can snorkel with manatees. You can also do that off the decks of lots of the places to stay. Take a walk out to the Iguana Reef Hotel to their seahorse reserve. It’s a truly magical experience seeing your first one! – Sarah of A Social Nomad
20. Bonaire, Netherlands Region, Caribbean
Bonaire is one of the most beautiful and under-the-radar locations for people looking for an idyllic and safe experience. The tiny island was once a member of the now-dissolved Netherlands Antilles, so it’s home to a high number of Dutch expats. It can be reached via direct flights from the U.S. in Miami and Atlanta starting around $800 USD.
Pristine diving experiences are what Bonaire is known for. With a bevy of marine life and coral, Bonaire is an underwater haven for explorers and photographers.
In Bonaire’s capital city, Kralendijk, you can find affordable luxury rentals that feature dive shops, dive training, and even day-long excursions. Make sure to check out Buddy Dive Resort in North Kralendijk – one of the most well-known scuba shops in the entire Caribbean! – Justin and Tracy of A Couple for the Road
21. Panama City, Panama
If you’ve ever thought about travelling to Panama, keep reading. Firstly, don’t be put of by bad-press and over-exaggerated news reports.As it happens, Panama is home to some of the most stunning beaches and picturesque mountain locations in the whole of Central America.
If you love the city life, you may be surprised to know that Panama City is the only capital city in the world that has a rainforest within it’s city limits. This beautiful city is also only a day trip away from hiking and boat tours where you can greet moneys! With a little bit of planning and savvy, Panama is a safe and beautiful place to visit. – Dan from Layer Culture
What’s your favourite destination for a sunny winter escape?