Gosh, it’s gloomy out there. The days are at their shortest and darkest, and the news sometimes feels like a constant cost of living doom-scroll. No wonder we are all craving a winter sun break.
Indeed, travel is something many are unwilling to forgo, despite these straitened times: 57 per cent of travellers surveyed in the 2023 Post Office Holiday Money Report said they would make cuts elsewhere in their spending to ensure they can still afford at least one overseas trip.
But you will still want to choose wisely. We have done some digging and come up with 15 great destinations that offer both seasonal escapism and bang for your buck.
In order to find the best value, we have crunched the costs on the ground. By going where the living is cheap, you can minimise your chances of running up high bills for things like eating out, catching taxis and taking day trips. We have used data from the latest Post Office Travel Money report, which assesses the best-value spots.
Additional information comes from hikersbay.com, a website that analyses data from multiple operators to give approximate hotel costs.
We have also included the price of the cheapest four-star hotel with a 9+ (“wonderful”) review rating on kayak.com, based on searching for availability on a randomly selected date (January 18 2024).
Of course, getting to the cheapest places might entail an expensive flight. But it is all about striking a balance. You may be able to offset the higher airfare by picking a low-cost destination. Also, value doesn’t mean spending as little as possible; it is about what you are experiencing for your money. Some of these trips might not be the cheapest but offer a five-star break at three-star prices.
The level of “sun” on offer across these destinations varies hugely. You will need to travel further if you crave sweat-inducing temperatures. If you are content with somewhere simply warmer than home, where you can relax and dip in an indoor/heated pool, you can find some very cheap deals.
There are a few general takeaways. For a start, think about the relative strength of the local currency. When the dollar is strong, it doesn’t only effect the cost of a trip to the United States but also countries that link their currencies to the dollar, such as Barbados, Belize and the UAE.
Also weigh up the local season. You will pay more now for the likes of the Caribbean and the Maldives, where it is peak visitor period, while places such as Bali and Morocco are more likely to throw up bargains – but won’t have such reliable weather. Consider whether an all-inclusive break makes sense: it’s a good way to manage your budget but if local costs are low it might be cheaper to self-cater.
None of this is an exact science. But by looking at what you might expect to pay, we have identified places that will deliver an affordable injection of winter cheer.
Island life for less than the Caribbean
This Atlantic archipelago off the West African coast is a low-cost winter-sun sweet spot. It is only six hours away but delivers reliably warm weather, a heady mix of African, Brazilian and Portuguese influences, sandy beaches and affordable activities – think around £40pp for a full-day excursion with lunch. Expect to pay at least twice that for a day-trip in Antigua.
Plus local prices are reasonable even though everything is imported. There are direct flights from the UK to popular Sal and lower-key Boa Vista. The latter is where you will find family-run Orquidea, a characterful waterfront guesthouse with tropical gardens and resident tortoises and macaws.
It is also well-positioned for walks along the beach and into the little town of Sal Rei, for trips into the desert-like interior and for spotting whales, which might be seen around Sal Rei islet from February to May.
How to do it: Cape Verde Experience (01489 866 969; capeverde.co.uk) offers seven nights at Orquidea Guest House from £1,239pp, including flights and breakfast.
Must-see sights without the crowds
Cambodia is a hot ticket. Not only is it dry season over the British winter, but right now is a good time to visit the temples at Angkor Wat: the tourism industry in still in post-covid recovery mode, meaning visitors at the site remain down on pre-pandemic numbers.
While Cambodia is less popular than neighbouring Thailand, it is less expensive too, but with arguably superior archaeological sites and white-sand beaches. Combine both on a private, guided TravelLocal trip that spends time at Angkor as well as the splendid beaches of Sihanoukville.
Or push the boat out and get luxe for less on Bamboo’s plush Angkor & Islands in Style trip, which includes temple time and activities in Siem Reap with five nights at the opulent Royal Sands on the tropical paradise isle of Koh Rong.
How to do it: TravelLocal (0117 325 7898; travellocal.com) offers a nine-day Cambodia Temples & Beaches trip from £1,126pp, including flights and B&B accommodation. Bamboo Travel (020 7720 9285; bambootravel.co.uk) offers an 11-day Angkor & Islands in Style trip from £3,495pp, including flights and B&B accommodation
Africa’s most accessible and affordable destination
With a sprawling sandy beach, 300 days of sunshine per year, a four-hour flight time and low local prices, Agadir is a compelling winter choice. Surfers in particular will be keen: this is the best season for riding world-class waves at nearby Taghazout.
The weather will be warm, not sweltering, but heated pools and hammams are on hand, while beach days can be mixed with excursions, such as four-wheel-drive trips into Souss-Massa National Park and visits to Berber villages such as Tafraoute, where almond trees bloom spectacularly in February.
Independent travellers could bag bargain flights plus great-value hotels: for beachside resort vibes, try Paradis Plage near Taghazout; for a mountain riad feel, opt for Atlas Kasbah, three miles from Agadir.
How to do it: Paradis Plage (00 212 528 200382; paradisplage.com) offers doubles from £111, B&B. Atlas Kasbah (00 212 661 488504; atlaskasbah.com) offers double rooms from £68, B&B. EasyJet (easyjet.com) flies to Agadir from £30 one way in January
Unesco-listed culture and new routes
According to the Post Office Travel Money report, the old Unesco-listed Vietnamese city of Hoi An is the best-value choice in Asia for sun-seeking Britons. Low local prices – £1.61 for a coffee in a cafe, 50p for a large bottle of water – mean your money goes a long way here. That leaves you more to spend on the fun stuff, like hiring a bicycle (from £2) or taking a cookery class (from around £20pp).
While Hoi An is a big cultural draw, those after a more relaxing break might look south to the mountain-backed bays and beaches around Nha Trang – 11 hours away, but only £10 by tourist bus. The modern, minimalist beachfront villas at Mia Resort Nha Trang are stylish but good value.
How to do it: Kuoni (0800 294 9702; kuoni.co.uk) offers seven nights at the Mia Resort from £1,325pp, including flights and breakfast
Better value and more varied than the Maldives
Sri Lanka represents excellent value at the moment. The situation has stabilised since the 2022 political crisis, but the economy is still beleaguered, on-the-ground costs are low, visitor numbers remain down and airfares are competitive due to decreased demand.
Plus the exchange rate, which has hovered around 200 Sri Lankan rupees to the pound for the past decade is now more like 400.
Simply, your money will go further here: think beers for £2, rather than £7 in the Maldives. Being compact and varied, it is also a great place to combine Indian Ocean beach chilling with culture and wildlife.
For instance, Intrepid’s small-group Simply Sri Lanka trip combines beaches, rock-top fortresses, temples and safari options for a great price. Or, if you are just seeking sun, flop out at the smart, beachfront Heritance Ahungalla instead.
How to do it: Intrepid (0808 274 5111; intrepidtravel.com) offers an eight-day Simple Sri Lanka holiday from £475pp, including B&B accommodation but excluding flights. Sri Lankan Airlines (srilankan.com) flies between London and Colombo with fares from around £785 return. Tui (0203 451 2688; tui.co.uk) offers seven nights at the Heritance Ahungalla from £1,134pp including flights and B&B accommodation
Swish stays at small prices
Your cash could go a very long way if you book a holiday in Indonesia. Opt for hostels, scooter rental and bowls of nasi goreng and you could get by on £20 a day.
But even much swisher accommodation options can be picked up for good prices. The Grand Hyatt is in luxe Nusa Dua, the island’s fanciest enclave. The hotel, designed to resemble a cluster of four Balinese villages, sits on the beachfront amid lush tropical gardens. Facilities include five swimming pools – there’s a lagoon-pool with ocean views and a river pool with water slides – and a variety of restaurants (you can stay on an all-inclusive basis if you like).
The European winter coincides with Bali’s wet season, but downpours tend to be short and sharp and temperatures are still balmy, so you can enjoy plenty of lazing on the beach if you wish.
How to do it: Sovereign (01293 832 459; sovereign.com) offers 10 nights at the Grand Hyatt from £1,676pp room only, including flights.
Winter sun and wine any time
It won’t exactly be scorching in southern Portugal – but if all you are looking for is good (and cheap) wine, warmish air and a refreshing change of scene, it is a very good choice, with prices lower here than in its Iberian neighbour.
Local prices have risen considerably but you will still get a coffee for less than £1. Save more by opting for self-catering: a week in a no-frills but fully kitted-out studio at the Balaia Golf Village Resort in Albufeira, for example, costs less than your monthly fuel bill; add on car hire for just £20 per day, and a round of golf for around £35.
Alternatively, take a cheap flight to Faro, then search Airbnb: you will find options such as the smart Panorama Bay View apartment in Lagos, which has winter-friendly extras including a shared indoor swimming pool, sauna and gym.
How to do it: Thomas Cook (020 8016 3295; thomascook.com) offers seven nights at Balaia from £201pp room only, including flights. Panorama Bay View sleeps eight from £95pn (airbnb.co.uk). Ryanair (ryanair.com) flies to Faro from £18 one way in January
History and indulgence, however long you are staying
You will certainly find some good late deals for Malta, partly because it is not actually that hot. But what it lacks in temperature it makes up for in historic interest and relaxation – and it could be just the Mediterranean enclave in which to sit out the whole winter.
Olympic Holidays has received increased requests for trips lasting 21-28 days, the idea being that it is cheaper to go away than to pay for food and heating at home for the same period.
A case in point: Olympic is offering a 28-night stay at the four-star San Antonio Hotel, on Malta’s St Paul’s Bay, costing from £2,735 for two people, all-inclusive – that is a month’s worth of food, booze, gym access, indoor swimming and beachfront living for a smidgen over the £2,700 that an average UK household spends per month (according to finance company NimbleFins).
How to do it: Olympic Holidays (020 4571 6231; olympicholidays.com) offers 28 nights all-inclusive at the San Antonio Hotel from £1,378pp, or £453pp for seven nights, including flights
An excellent heat-to-distance ratio for a winter break
Being only a 5½-hour flight from Britain, Egypt offers an excellent heat-to-distance ratio and is a lot less expensive than near-ish winter sun favourites such as Oman and Dubai. No surprise that the resort of Sharm el-Sheikh made the Post Office’s best-value Top 10 following the dramatic fall of the Egyptian pound in 2023.
Many resorts on the Red Sea offer all-inclusive stays, which is a good way to manage your holiday costs and avoid accidental over-spending.
If you are going to be tethered to one spot, maximise your choice by picking a hotel with plenty of options. The Royal Albatros Moderna in Sharm el-Sheikh, for instance, has seven restaurants, 10 swimming pools (three of which are heated in winter), an aquapark, a spa and a private beach.
Alternatively, book a stay on a B&B basis at a place such as the Aurora Oriental and then make use of the hotel’s shuttle bus to reach the bazaars, cafés and restaurants of Naama Bay. The cheapest deals tend to be found in January and February.
How to do it: Blue Sea Holidays (020 3474 0372; blueseaholidays.co.uk) offers seven nights all-inclusive at the Royal Albatros Moderna from £488pp, including flights. It also offers seven nights at the Aurora Oriental from £444pp, including flights and breakfast
Quiet temples and buzzing tavernas
Cyprus offers some of Europe’s best-value winter sun. OK, it won’t be boiling hot, but with any luck it will be pleasingly mild. And the island has more to offer than beach-lazing anyway. That’s why something like Sunvil’s two-centre One Week Fly Drive is a good bet.
You will stay in the coastal resort of Paphos, where there is a large enough local population to keep tavernas open and lively in the winter, and where the ancient mosaics, temples and the Tombs of the Kings will be pretty much crowd-free.
You will also stay at the Aphrodite Beach Hotel, near the north-coast fishing harbour of Latchi and on the edge of Akamas National Park – the cooler climes are ideal for walking.
How to do it: Sunvil (020 8758 4758; sunvil.co.uk) offers a seven-night Fly Drive from £832pp, including flights, B&B accommodation and car hire
The best value it has ever been
The Post Office ranks Madeiran capital Funchal the 14th cheapest destination in its latest report. And with winter – specifically January – usually the cheapest month to fly (according to BA), this is the season to bag a bargain.
While the rugged Atlantic island doesn’t really have beaches – catch one of the regular ferries to neighbouring Porto Santo for superlative sand – the weather is spring-like year-round, the walking possibilities are endless, the history is rich and the food and drink are cheap and delicious.
Hotels such as cool, cliff‑top Estalagem da Ponta do Sol offer a high-end experience on a mid-range budget. This design-heavy retreat, perched above the south-coast village of Ponta do Sol, flies in the face of the island’s staid image, offering contemporary style, a smart spa, a gym, indoor and outdoor pools, and breathtaking views – all for a great price.
A canny Caribbean choice
Heart set on a particular part of the globe? Then do your research to find the best-value option in that area. In the Caribbean, look to islands such as Jamaica or the Dominican Republic – the region’s best-value choices, according to the Post Office report – rather than the likes of Antigua or Barbados. As bigger countries, they produce more goods locally and have a huge number of tourist beds, keeping prices more competitive.
There are plenty of hotel choices, at different levels of luxury. In the Dominican Republic the well-rated Impressive Punta Cana is on the beach and has a pool with a swim-up bar.
How to do it: Blue Bay Travel (01782 647239; bluebaytravel.co.uk) offers seven nights all-inclusive at the Impressive Punta Cana from £1,305pp, including flights
Baja California Sur, Mexico
A super Central America alternative
“Most of Central America offers good value, and with the driest and hottest times of year coinciding with our winter, a trip to the region is the perfect tonic to shake off the winter blues,” says Laura Rendell-Dunn of Journey Latin America. “Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, Panama, El Salvador and parts of Mexico all spring to mind for making your pounds stretch further.”
Even on Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula, you can make your money work harder. Stay in Valladolid for authenticity and still be within day-trip distance of the cenotes and Mayan ruins of Tulum.
Or try the southern Baja Peninsula for wild, deserted beaches and, from January to March, superb whale watching. Just be sure to check the FCDO advice before booking, as there are advisories against travel to some parts of the country (but not those mentioned here).
How to do it: Journey Latin America (020 3553 9699; journeylatinamerica.com) has a 12-day Self Drive Mexico: Baja California trip from £4,200pp, including B&B accommodation and car hire, excluding flights. It also has an eight-day Value Mexico: Mayan Yucatan & Coast trip – visiting Chichén Itzá and the Riviera Maya – from £1,300pp, excluding flights
Cape Town, South Africa
A snip compared to Sydney
The weak rand makes Cape Town one of the most affordable choices for winter 2023-24 – it certainly trashes other southern hemisphere spots. Indeed, the South African city ranks number-one for value in the Post Office report: its surveyed basket of eight tourist items, including drinks and meals, costs £51.44 in Cape Town, £124.76 in Darwin, Australia.
If you’re the kind of lucky person who can sleep well on planes, you get more for your money too – flights are usually overnight, with no jet lag to worry about. For the best prices and availability, wait until after January 15, when the city’s summer holiday season ends but the weather is still warm.
Pick a well-located spot such as the President Hotel: there are beaches on the doorstep, while it is only a short Uber ride to Camps Bay Beach, the V&A Waterfront or vibrant Bree Street.
How to do it: British Airways (0344 493 0123; britishairways.com) offers five nights at the President Hotel from £1,170pp including return flights and breakfast
A plum pick in the dependable Canaries
The Canaries are classic winter-sun spots. Bigger, more popular islands, such as Tenerife, Gran Canaria and Lanzarote, are the most wallet-friendly, with a wider range of accommodation and direct low-cost flights.
On-island location matters too. For instance, stay at Villa Harmony in the old town of busy Puerto del Carmen, on Lanzarote, and you can save by buying fresh fish from the local pescaderia to barbecue on your private pool terrace.
Also, you don’t have to hire a car as there are shops, restaurants and sandy beaches within walking distance, plus access to inexpensive buses linking the airport, the capital Arrecife and Teguise’s Sunday market, the most famous in the Canary Islands.
Good value full-day trips regularly run from Puerto del Carmen to Timanfaya National Park too, where you can marvel at the unique volcanic landscape.
How to do it: Villa Select (0800 270 0055; villaselect.com) offers seven nights at Villa Harmony, sleeping six, from £1,211 per week. Ryanair (ryanair.com) flies to Lanzarote from £28 one way in January