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The 15 Best Places to Go This Winter

Gwendolyn Shearman

From ski slopes to sunny beaches, these destinations are sure to satisfy your winter wanderlust.

Between the stress of the holidays, the shortened daylight hours and the unforgiving cold weather, winter can be tough. To escape the stagnation of the season, a relaxing getaway may be just the thing to help pull you through until springtime. Based on factors such as weather, activities, lodging options and reader votes, U.S. News determined the Best Winter Vacations of 2016. Whether you want to escape to a beach paradise or hit the slopes this winter, these 15 destinations are sure to pique your interest.

15. Key West, Florida

The southernmost spot in the continental U.S. is known for its laid-back attitude and quirky locals. If you're looking for some quality rest and relaxation in the afternoon and an energetic nightlife when the sun goes down, Key West is the place for you. But you won't be the only one looking to waste away at the original Margaritaville, so factor in higher prices into your budget and book early to secure a room.

14. San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

Nestled in the Sierra Madre Mountains, this quaint city dates back to the 16th century, making it perfect for history buffs who want to explore the city's vibrant culture as well as its cobblestone streets and bustling food and arts scenes. Plus, the weather is ideal during the winter season. Temperatures hover in the 70s and 80s, and you can expect less rainfall than the summer months.

13. Aspen, Colorado

This cold-weather destination is a well-known wonderland for those who love winter sports. The area boasts four top-notch ski areas, including Buttermilk and the ever-popular Snowmass Ski Resort, which offers thrills for beginners and seasoned powderhounds alike. Off the slopes, you'll find a bevy of high-end resorts, luxury spas and upscale boutiques, so make sure to bring your credit card.

12. Seychelles

Those looking to truly get away from it all should consider a winter escape to Seychelles. Though getting there may be a challenge (travel from the U.S. generally takes more than 24 hours), this cluster of 115 islands in the Indian Ocean is worth the trek. Known for its miles of white-sand beaches and seclusion (there are more giant tortoises on the island than people), Seychelles is one of the most unique places in the world.

11. Queenstown, New Zealand

Queenstown is on the bucket list of many adventure travelers. Whether it's bungee jumping and paragliding or winter sports like snowboarding and skiing, Queenstown has something for the daredevil in all of us. Even better, while temperatures dip below freezing to the north of the equator, this lakeside city in New Zealand sees daytime temperatures in the upper 60s and low 70s.

10. Puerto Rico

Though winter is a peak travel season in the Caribbean, hotel rates in Puerto Rico are noticeably lower than neighboring islands, such as Jamaica and the British Virgin Islands. Travelers can wander the charming streets of Old San Juan, surf at Playa Aviones and soak up the sun on Condado Beach. What's more, U.S. citizens can visit without a passport.

9. St. Martin - St. Maarten

This dual-governed island lets travelers experience two lively cultures. The southern, Dutch-governed side -- St. Maarten -- is known for its animated nightlife and abundance of casinos, while the northern, French-controlled St. Martin is recognized for its sophisticated atmosphere and delectable cuisine. Both sides of the island offer beautiful beaches, but you'll want to book your hotel at least six months in advance to secure the best prices since winter is peak season.

8. Tulum, Mexico

Removed from larger resort areas such as Cancun and Playa del Carmen, Tulum offers a more secluded spot along the Riviera Maya. The seaside town boasts some of Mexico's most well-preserved Mayan ruins and naturally formed underwater caves -- known as cenotes -- for adventurers who want to explore. But if you're seeking pure relaxation, you're in luck: Tulum also offers some of the best beaches in Mexico.

7. Playa del Carmen, Mexico

If an all-inclusive experience sounds like music to your ears after the hectic holiday season, Playa del Carmen is the destination for you. Here, you'll find international flair thanks to an influx of expats, a downtown that's within walking distance of the beach, plenty of all-inclusive hideaways and a vibrant nightlife. You're also likely to find crowds at this time of year, so make sure to book at least three months in advance to secure your spot.

6. Whistler, British Columbia

The host of several events from the 2010 Winter Olympics, this Canadian hot spot is an obvious choice for skiers and snowboarders. But this town north of Vancouver also hosts other outdoor activities such as tubing and snowmobiling, ensuring that everyone can get in on winter fun. Away from the slopes, travelers can browse the city's numerous art galleries or immerse themselves in the cultural history of the area's two First Nations native tribes at the Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre.

5. Barcelona, Spain

While the weather is a little chilly (temperatures range from the mid-40s to the mid-60s at this time of year), winter is the perfect time to explore Barcelona's famous sites, including Parc Güell and La Sagrada Família, without the crowds. Plus, since you won't be contending with hordes of other tourists at this time of year, you'll likely find more availability and lower room rates at the city's top hotels.

4. Lake Tahoe, California

Lake Tahoe's sheer beauty is reason enough to visit, but the wide range of activities keeps travelers coming back year after year. Whether you want to enjoy skiing and snowboarding at one of the area resorts, test Lady Luck at Harrah's Casino or take in the view from the Heavenly Mountain Resort's gondola, you won't be bored in this destination that straddles the California-Nevada border.

3. Kauai, Hawaii

Although Kauai sees the majority of its annual rainfall in winter -- with the most precipitation in December -- the island still welcomes throngs of travelers who come to escape the mainland's chilly temps. When you're not admiring the island's emerald green landscapes, which are even more lush in winter thanks to the rain, thaw out on its gorgeous beaches. Just make sure to book at least a few months in advance to avoid sky-high flight prices and expensive room rates.

2. Bora Bora, French Polynesia

If you're searching for a winter getaway that's all about luxury, you can't go wrong with a trip to Bora Bora. There's no doubt you'll find utter relaxation at one of the South Pacific island's overwater bungalow resorts, but you may have to cope with unpredictable weather since winter marks the region's rainy season. But if you don't mind a little precipitation, you'll be able to score deals in this typically expensive destination.

1. Costa Rica

Winter is Costa Rica's dry season, making it the best time to visit this diverse paradise. The warm, sunny weather is perfect for wildlife spotting, beach lounging and everything in between. Plus, you'll be able to soak up plenty of local culture thanks to all the fiestas and festivals that take place in winter. The only downside: American and European travelers alike enjoy this Latin American hideaway, so you'll need to book early to secure the best rates.


Gwen Shearman is an editor/analyst for the Travel section at U.S. News. You can follow her on Twitter, connect with her on LinkedIn or email her at gshearman@usnews.com.