AAA's 13 top travel destinations for a warm winter vacation

For many Americans, winter is the perfect chance to take a break from snow and frost with a trip to sunnier climes. Hawai‘i and the Caribbean are classic choices. They're relatively close, and their white-sand beaches and blue waters are among the best in the world, so it's no surprise that they're among AAA's most-booked destinations for trips in December through February.

Others travel farther afield to take advantage of the Earth's tilt: Winter in the Northern Hemisphere means Southern Hemisphere destinations like Australia, New Zealand, and Argentina are enjoying summer. Even more paradisiacal are the Galápagos Islands, which sit on the equator and thus don't experience traditional seasons. Below are AAA's top winter travel destinations, as indicated by hotel and travel bookings made by AAA members through AAA travel agents in select markets, along with key facts for those looking for a vacation from the cold—just another way that AAA travels with you.1

13. Galápagos Islands, Ecuador

About 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador, the Galápagos are 18 islands that are world-renowned for their unique, pristine ecosystems. The wildlife Charles Darwin observed during his visit to the Galápagos in 1835 inspired his theory of natural selection, and those animals are still the biggest point of interest. Many species can only be found on the islands, such as the Galápagos finches, marine iguanas, flightless cormorants, and the famous Galápagos giant tortoise. 

 

DON’T MISS: The lava tunnels. The islands' volcanic geology is no less impressive than its wildlife, as exemplified by the lava tubes near the village of Santa Rosa on the island of Santa Cruz. They extend for miles underground and have electric lighting, making them easy to explore independently or with a hired guide.

A marine iguana in the Galapagos Islands

READY TO EXPLORE THE GALÁPAGOS?

Book the AAA Member Choice Vacations® Machu Picchu & the Galapagos Islands package, which includes visits to the San Cristóbal Cerro Colorado Tortoise Reserve, El Soplador saltwater blowhole, and much more.

Learn more about the Machu Picchu & the Galapagos Islands package

12. Argentina

A trip to Argentina will almost certainly begin in the capital of Buenos Aires. It's a walkable city with a hint of a European feel, but a distinct Latin-American flavor. Highlights include the restaurant scene (steakhouses are particulary well-represented), the museums, and the distinct architecture of each neighborhood. Branch out from the city to see the world's largest series of waterfalls at Iguazú National Park, the vast plains and vibrant coastline of the Pampas region, the dramatic glacial landscapes of Patagonia, and the colonial history of Córdoba.

 

DON’T MISS: The Valley of the Moon. This UNESCO World Heritage Site features otherworldly wind-eroded landscapes as far as the eye can see. Lucky visitors may also catch a glimpse of Andean condors.

An aerial view of downtown Buenos Aires at night

READY TO EXPLORE ARGENTINA?

Book the AAA Member Choice Vacations® Highlights of South America package and you'll spend three nights in bustling Buenos Aires and two nights at the majestic Iguazú Falls.

Learn more about the Highlights of South America package

11. Peru

The Inca ruins of Machu Picchu are Peru's most famous attraction, but there's much more to see in South America's third-largest country. The nearby city of Cuzco, once the center of the Inca Empire, is still overflowing with history and culture today. The capital of Peru, Lima, has stellar examples of Spanish Colonial architecture and great museums. And while the Amazon river is commonly associated with neighboring Brazil, Peru is where it starts and one of the best places to see Amazon wildlife.

 

DON'T MISS: Ollantaytambo. This monumental fortress and community provides a vivid illustration of Inca urban planning. Laid out in a simple grid with cobblestone streets, perfectly constructed stone walls, and canals, many of the buildings and residences date back 600 years or more. 

Steps at Machu Picchu

READY TO EXPLORE PERU?

Book the AAA Member Choice Vacations® Peru: Ancient Land of Mysteries package to discover Lima's Colonial landmarks and vibrant modern-day spirit before journeying from Cuzco into the Sacred Valley and onward to Machu Picchu and Lake Titicaca.

Learn more about the Peru: Ancient Land of Mysteries package

10. Orlando, Florida

It's no surprise that the home of Walt Disney World Resort, Universal Studios Florida, SeaWorld Orlando, and a slew of other attractions makes our list. Anything members can imagine doing is here, from the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, to Cirque du Soleil, to a dizzying array of shopping and dining options.

 

DON’T MISS: Lake Eola Park. Take a breather from the theme parks and other attractions with a stroll around this downtown oasis. Visit at night to see the lake’s fountain lit up in dazzling colors.

Lake Eola Park in Orlando, Florida

READY TO EXPLORE ORLANDO?

Book a vacation package for your family at Walt Disney World Resort or Universal Orlando Resort with AAA to receive exclusive member benefits.

9. New Zealand

The mythical, magical natural beauty of New Zealand made it an obvious choice for the setting of the imaginary Middle Earth in The Lord of the Rings film trilogy. This enchanting wonderland is filled with craggy mountains, rustic hills, endless green meadows, gentle beaches, and dramatic cliffs. There's plenty to see in the urban centers, too. Hike a volcanic island or cruise through the glorious harbor in Auckland, then take a stroll and visit the shops and restaurants of the compact, charming Wellington.

 

DON’T MISS: The Tamaki Maori Village in Rotorua. This educational attraction shows visitors how the Maoris lived prior to the arrival of European settlers. It includes a feast of succulent meats and vegetables prepared using the traditional Maori method of cooking over geothermal steam. 

Milford Sound in New Zealand

READY TO EXPLORE NEW ZEALAND?

Book the AAA Member Choice Vacations® Exploring New Zealand package to discover New Zealand's natural wonders, from the steaming geothermal vents of Rotorua to the ice sheets of Franz Josef Glacier and beyond.

Learn more about the Exploring New Zealand package

8. Australia

Comparable in size to the contiguous 48 United States, Australia offers unique natural wonders. Many trips begin on the eastern seaboard with snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef and exploring the coastal towns of the Gold Coast, before heading inland to see the monumental Uluru formation and the rest of the Outback. Of particular interest are animals native to Australia: wallabies, wombats, koalas, kookaburras, and of course kangaroos.

 

DON’T MISS: Byron Bay. Australia's easternmost town is a holiday destination famous for its surf culture, alternative philosophies, organic food, and outdoor adventures. Visit the Cape Byron Lighthouse, built in 1901, for a magnificent view of the sunrise, then go snorkeling in Cape Byron Marine Park for a chance to see dolphins, manta rays, sharks, and turtles.

An aerial view of Sydney, Australia

READY TO EXPLORE AUSTRALIA?

Book the AAA Member Choice Vacations® Exploring Australia package, a showcase of vast tropical rainforests, otherworldly rock formations and ancient indigenous culture. Glide across the underwater gardens of the Great Barrier Reef on a glass-bottomed boat, listen to the sounds of the didgeridoo in the Outback, and take in Sydney's iconic sights up-close. 

Learn more about the Exploring Australia package

7. Kaua‘i, Hawai‘i

Kaua‘i is Hawai‘i's "Garden Island" and is defined by its rainforests, peaks, valleys, and coastlines. Hike Waimea Canyon State Park, known as the "Grand Canyon of the Pacific," which was carved out by millions of years of rainfall on Mount Waialeale. Then kayak along Na Pali Coast State Park, named for the cliffs along the shoreline that rise thousands of feet above sea level.

 

DON’T MISS: The Ho‘opulapula Haraguchi Rice Mill. Switch gears from the natural wonders to meet with the locals. The mill has been in the Haraguchi family for six generations and offers weekly public tours of the rice mill and taro fields, exploring the rich history of the farm.

An aerial view of Na Pali Coast State Park

READY TO EXPLORE KAUA‘I?

Book your trip to Kaua‘i with Pleasant Holidays and take advantage of optional add-ons such as a tour of the island's famous film locations, a sailing excursion aboard a catamaran, and zipline experiences.

Build your Kaua‘i package with Pleasant Holidays

6. O‘ahu, Hawai‘i

Hawai‘i's most populous island has its fair share of the beauty the state is known for, with Honolulu adding big city amenities. Whether you're learning to surf off Waikiki Beach, touring ‘Iolani Palace, digging into kalua pork at an authentic luau, or seeing history firsthand at Pearl Harbor, O‘ahu is always worth the trip.

 

DON’T MISS: Diamond Head State Monument. Hikers can climb this volcanic formation for a splendid view of Waikiki and the ocean. Members planning to walk the brief but moderately tough trail should bring water and expect to get sweaty.

Downtown Honolulu at night

READY TO EXPLORE O‘AHU?

Book your trip to O‘ahu with Pleasant Holidays and take advantage of optional add-ons such as horseback riding tours, luau feasts, and parasailing.

Build your O‘ahu package with Pleasant Holidays

5. Cancun, Mexico

Cancun is commonly associated with spring break, but the fun and the sun are year-round. Miles of white sand and beach resorts stretch out into the sea atop a reef, hosting visitors eager to catch some rays or dive into the warm waters.

 

DON’T MISS: The Museo Maya de Cancun. Take a break from relaxing on the beach to learn about the Maya, the native inhabitants of the Yucatán Peninsula, and explore hundreds of ancient Mayan artifacts.

A sand pyramid on the beach in Cancun, Mexico

READY TO EXPLORE CANCUN?

Book your trip to Cancun with Pleasant Holidays and take advantage of optional add-ons such as charter fishing trips, tours of the historic city of Chichen Itza, and snorkeling excursions.

Build your Cancun package with Pleasant Holidays

4. Los Cabos, Mexico

Located at the southern tip of the Baja California peninsula, the once-remote area of Los Cabos has transformed itself into an international resort destination. Many visitors come for the stunning beaches and what is known as the Corridor, a 33-kilometer stretch of spectacular coastline that runs between the twin towns of Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo. 
 

DON’T MISS: Whale watching. Winter is the heart of whale-watching season off Baja California as humpback and gray whales migrate south from their summer feeding grounds to breed in the winter. Want to see newborn baby humpback whales? January and February are your best bets.

Houses on the coast in Los Cabos

READY TO EXPLORE LOS CABOS?

Book your trip to Los Cabos with Pleasant Holidays and take advantage of optional add-ons such as a camel safari and whale watching tours.

Build your Los Cabos package with Pleasant Holidays

3. Maui, Hawai‘i

Maui has a little of everything. Ready to hit the beach? Ka‘anapali is one of the best. Looking for rainforest and waterfalls? Drive the scenic Hana Highway. Or maybe a volcano’s more your style? Watch the sun rise from the summit of Haleakala.

 

DON’T MISS: Maui Pineapple Tours in Hali‘imaile. Members can take a break from hiking and driving to tour a pineapple plantation. See how the fruit is planted, harvested, and processed, then taste different varieties right from the field.

Waterfalls in Maui

READY TO EXPLORE MAUI?

Book your trip to Maui with Pleasant Holidays and take advantage of optional add-ons such as the Atlantis submarine tour aboard a high-tech 48-passenger submersible, traditional Hawaiian luau feasts, and even a traditional flower lei greeting upon your arrival. 

Build your Maui package with Pleasant Holidays

2. Jamaica

This former Spanish and British colony has become a go-to destination for sun-seekers, and it has all the amenities members would expect from a premier Caribbean vacation spot, including clear skies, great beaches, fine dining, snorkeling, and golf courses.
 

DON’T MISS: Montego Bay Marine Park. Journey beneath the waves for a look at Jamaica’s indigenous coral reefs and colorful fish, as well as its ecologically crucial, but threatened, saltwater mangrove forests.

A jetty in Montego Bay, Jamaica

READY TO EXPLORE JAMAICA?

Book your trip to Jamaica with Pleasant Holidays and take advantage of optional add-ons such as bamboo river rafting, a catamaran cruise, and a bobsled ride through a forest.

Build your Jamaica package with Pleasant Holidays

1. Punta Cana, Dominican Rep.

This beach region is home to dozens of high-end resorts that draw millions of tourists each year, all looking for sun, surf, fishing, high-speed boating, and many other ocean-themed activities. For landlubbers, there's also your choice of golf courses and sightseeing tours.

 

DON’T MISS: Isla Saona. Boats bring visitors to this idyllic island off the coast to marvel at its pristine shores and abundant wildlife. Covered in palm trees, Isla Saona epitomizes the “desert island” motif commonly seen in film and television.

Shacks along the beach in Punta Cana

READY TO EXPLORE PUNTA CANA?

Book your trip to Punta Cana with Pleasant Holidays and take advantage of optional add-ons such as surfing lessons at a surf camp, buggy rides, and a sugar cane plantation tour.

Build your Punta Cana package with Pleasant Holidays

Make your dream vacation a reality
It's not too late to make your winter getaway. Whether you’ve been dreaming of relaxing on a sunny beach, hiking the Andes, or touring a culture-rich European capital, AAA is your go-to resource for planning.

1Top destinations based on Automobile Club of Southern California, AAA Texas, and AAA Missouri bookings for travel Dec. 1, 2018, through Feb. 28, 2019.

 

Information provided by 2016 Hawai‘i AAA TourBook guide and ArrivalGuides International Destination Guides.