Four winter sun escapes off the tourist trail

Punita Malhotra


This winter, venture off the familiar tourist path to places where the sun’s rays weave a different kind of magic. Ancient fortresses of Galle or the serenity of La Gomera in the Canary Islands? The rich heritage of Luang Prabang in Laos or the untouched allure of Baja California Sur, Mexico? Read on to discover your exotic adventure off the beaten track.

Galle, Sri Lanka: Coastal tranquillity

A scenic 1.5-hour drive from Sri Lanka’s capital, Colombo, will take you to the coastal city of Galle, set on the southwestern coast of ‘the pearl island’. The main draw is the walled Dutch-era fortress town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site constructed in the 17th century. Sprawling over 3 kilometres and covering around 130 acres, the fort features sturdy stone walls, broken by 14 bastions, stretching along the coastline. The walled town is a walkers’ delight with its winding alleys, ancient churches and repurposed colonial spaces. You can spend hours exploring the historical charms of the Old Dutch Hospital, uncovering seafaring tales at the National Maritime Museum, studying artefacts at the Historical Mansion Museum and raking up the past at the Maritime Archeology Museum.

Eye candy is everywhere, with rows of colonial-style mansions converted into boutique hotels or private residences. The blend of Dutch and British architectural influences is particularly striking in the Amangalla and the Galle Fort Hotel. Wander around antique shops, hip boutiques and art galleries. Pick up gemstone jewellery, traditional handwoven textiles, Ceylon tea, spices, and vintage postcards. Taste string hoppers and fiery sambal curries in chic eateries. In the evening, walk along the steadfast bastions to soak up panoramic vistas of the ocean till you reach the iconic Galle Fort Lighthouse to catch a spectacular sunset against the Indian Ocean.

La Gomera, Canary Islands: Nature’s symphony

Catch a short ferry from Tenerife across the Atlantic waters to dive deep into nature at La Gomera in the Canary Islands. The second smallest of the seven main islands in the Canary archipelago, La Gomera, is spread over approximately 369 square kilometres. Venture deep into the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Garajonay National Park to discover the biodiversity of the million-year-old laurel woods. Hikers will love the trails along the rugged coastline, offering breathtaking views of the endless ocean. Indulge your inner history buff by learning about the turbulent past of Torre del Conde, a 15th-century tower in San Sebastián. Savour Gomeran specialities include almogrote, a cheese spread with garlic and pepper, and fresh fish in delightful family-run restaurants.

Spend time with local artisans, watching them create woodwork, textiles, and pottery. Off the island, you can hire a boat to discover secret coves, go whale and dolphin watching, and take in the marine richness of the area. But the most unique experience in La Gomera is to witness the unique "Silbo Gomero" whistling language that the island's residents still employ to communicate over narrow ravines.

Luang Prabang, Laos: Spiritual haven

Fly into Luang Prabang International Airport for a 10-minute drive into the cultural haven of Luang Prabang. Located at the confluence of the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers, this UNESCO-listed city is a heritage lover’s delight for its well-preserved Buddhist temples and French colonial architecture. When the soft hues of dawn paint the skies, the town comes alive with the timeless tradition of almsgiving. Saffron-robed monks gracefully traverse the streets, continuing a centuries-old ritual.

Plan an expedition to the city's historic centre, home to over 30 temples, including Wat Xieng Thong, a sacred shrine recognised by UNESCO for its cultural significance. Spend an afternoon learning about Laos' rich cultural diversity at the Traditional Arts and Ethnology Centre. A sunset cruise along the Mekong River, framed by picturesque landscapes on the horizon, is the stuff of dreams. Foodies will be spoilt for choice with a flavourful fusion of Laotian and French cuisine in Luang Prabang. Recommended hangouts include the vibrant Night Market, riverside restaurants with Mekong views, and upscale venues like Tamarind. Book a suite at the Belmond La Residence Phou Vao, for panoramic views of the countryside.

Baja California Sur, Mexico: An Untouched canvas

From Los Cabos International Airport, take a convenient 45-minute drive to Baja California Sur, Mexico. Framed against the Sea of Cortez and the Pacific Ocean, the southern tip of the Baja California Peninsula is a sight for sore eyes. The golden sand beaches are ideal retreats for sunbathing and long, leisurely walks. More active adventures await under the brilliant crystalline waters. If you are a snorkelling enthusiast, dive into the aquatic canvas that teems with marine life. For the ultimate underwater experience, bookmark Cabo Pulmo National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site decorated with vibrant coral reefs. Winter is a perfect time for whale watching, particularly the migration of grey whales who travel here for breeding and calving from their feeding grounds in the Arctic.

On the mainland, you can explore the vibrant markets and artisan shops of Todos Santos before heading on a trail to find the fascinating bohemian street art of the area. Gourmands can experiment with fresh seafood and Baja Med cuisine and sample exquisite wines from the Valle de Guadalupe. Embrace a beachfront luxury resort with elegant accommodation at Viceroy Los Cabos where you'll find bright, airy rooms with private balconies, family-friendly activities and cuisine ranging from fresh sushi to wood-fired pizza.

Become a member to join the conversation!

Become part of the world's leading travel & lifestyle community!