Winter is coming, but not everywhere. It’s easy to forget, but it’s summah, summah, summah time in the sunny southern hemisphere. Hibernating northerners who are already singing the winter blues may want to fly south for the winter (at least for a week). Science supports warm-weather getaways, too: A 2015 study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that spending time in the great outdoors may boost your mood.
Researchers monitored 38 healthy adult city-dwellers before and after they took an hour-and-a-half stroll in either a peaceful park or along a noisy highway. Those who partook in the nature walk showed significant improvements in their mental health. They appeared more at ease and didn’t brood as much over negative aspects of their lives compared with their counterparts who endured less soothing surroundings.
While 90 minutes outside on a 30°F day may sound unbearable, spending a few days exploring somewhere warm may help you bank enough good vibes to get you through the snowy season without turning into a grinch. Here are six sweet spots (in no particular order) to soak up the sun.
MEET TWO BROTHERS IN BRAZIL
The most recent host of the Summer Olympics is game to keep playing host. Rio de Janeiro invites you to discover its rugged mountains and earn your refreshing caipirinhas on Copacabana Beach. A half-day excursion to the famed Dois Irmãos (Two Brothers) Mountain is a moderate-level hike that takes about two hours to cover 2.4 miles, which doesn’t sound like much, until you remember that you’re going straight up in about 80°F-plus weather. It’s worth it for that postcard-perfect photo at the top with views of Ipanema Beach, Sugarloaf Mountain and the Christ the Redeemer monument in the background.
If you’re craving a more challenging climb, head north to the heart of Bahia for some trekking in Chapada Diamantina National Park, where you’ll find more mountains, canyons, caves and some of the country’s most mesmerizing waterfalls, like the Buracão Falls (“Big Hole”). During a multiday hike with True Brazil Travel, crash with the locals — about 30 families live here — to get the total immersion experience.
GO SOUTH OF SILENCE IN PATAGONIA
A good, quiet, and vast place to clear your mind at the end/start of the year is Patagonia, which sees its warmest temps (high 50s) in December and January. Head to southern Chile — far removed from civilization — where you literally have to cross a glassy fjord by motorboat from the Carretera Austral (Patagonia’s windy 770-mile highway). With Puyuhuapi Lodge and Spa as your homebase, choose from several hiking options to get lost (and found) in the remote wild, including the Hanging Glacier Trail inside Queulat National Park. Though it’s only a 3.1-mile, moderate-level hike, which includes a super-cool hanging bridge that traverses the river, it takes 3–4 hours thanks to a steep 1,000-foot elevation gain.
If you want to head even farther south, check out a 13-day Patagonia hiking package, split between Chile and Argentina, including parts of Torres del Paines National Park’s “W” route to the Paine Towers, the mythical Monte Fitz Roy and plenty of glaciers along the way.
LIVE ON THE EDGE IN INDONESIA
This Southeast Asian archipelago sits on the what’s called the Pacific Ring of Fire, home to the most active volcanoes on the planet. If you’re feeling daring enough, there’s a 15-day adventure through the islands of Java and Lombok, where, hopefully, the only ball of fire you’ll see is the spectacular rising and setting sun. During this two-week trip, plan on hiking at least half the time, totaling eight days of hoofing it anywhere from 3.7–10.5 miles.
The rewards for your hard effort include taking in panoramic views of the surrounding volcanoes, exploring ancient temples and traditional villages, sauntering through stunning rice paddies and soaking in soothing hot springs. Though it’s generally muggy year-round (expect humid temps in the mid 70s to low 90s), with spontaneous tropical downpours during the rainy season (October through May).
EXPERIENCE A SACRED JOURNEY IN PERU
Hiking the world-famous Inca Trail to the natural wonder Machu Picchu is a no-brainer. While November through April is the wet season, most mornings are clear and dry with temps in the high 60s. Even if you have to wear a raincoat in the afternoon, it sure beats shoveling snow. After four straight seven-hour days trekking through the Andes, treat yourself to a night or two in the Sacred Valley, the epicenter of the Inca Empire.
Nestled between Cusco and Machu Picchu, the region’s new luxury hotel, Inkaterra Hacienda Urubamba, is the perfect place to kick up your feet before heading home. If you crave to keep walking, the 100-acre property offers guests two 90-minute guided hikes. On the Challa Huasi Trail, encounter the Giant Hummingbird and 500-year-old flowers, plus breathtaking views of the undulating landscapes. On the sunset hike up Twilight Mountain, learn about the importance of Inca astronomy while stargazing, especially at sacred constellations including the Via Láctea.
STAND ATOP TABLE MOUNTAIN IN SOUTH AFRICA
When you think of Africa, maybe a safari comes to mind, but there’s more than one way to explore than from the back of a jeep. Lace up your sneakers to summit Cape Town’s iconic landmark Table Mountain, an outdoor gym for the locals and observation deck for tourists, who can take in the so-called “City Bowl” with breaking ocean waves in the distance. This is how you will start a nine-day Active South Africa adventure. From there, you’ll take the cable car back down and move on to what’s next on the agenda: A mountain biking safari where you may see antelopes, zebras and ostriches along the western coast.
Continue swapping between hiking and biking all over, from the Stellenbosch wine region (where a pit stop to sample the wines is a must) to Cape Point Nature Reserve (where resident penguins are sunbathing in the 70–80°F weather on Boulder Beach). If you prefer to skip biking altogether, consider the point-to-point Trails of the Garden Route that takes you from shifting sand dunes to woodlands to shrublands all on foot over the course of 14 days.
HIT THE SLOPES IN AUSTRALIA
Who says you need snow to enjoy the slopes? Located in the Victorian High Country, Mount McKay makes for excellent stomping grounds once the white stuff has given way to colorful flower beds in 60-plus degree weather. Set up base camp in the ultra-chic QT Falls Creek Resort before heading for the lush green rolling hills. On a sunny, blue-skies day, you can spot several surrounding peaks of the expansive Australian Alps.
At some 6,000 feet, Mt. McKay is also one of the highest drivable summits Down Under — a useful tidbit if you only want to do a part of the steep climb. Other nearby trails include the Aqueduct (flat and grassy), Rocky Valley Lake (great for fishing or a cool dip) and Wishing Well (ends at a small pool). And because you can’t travel all this way and not see a koala, make sure to add this Surf Coast Walk to the agenda so you can improve your odds of catching a glimpse of this impossibly adorable creature.