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Fun in the sun

13 best sun-drenched islands to visit on a winter sun cruise

Winter sun cruises are the perfect way to keep that summer feeling alive – and, hallelujah, there is a smorgasbord of brilliant, sun-soaked islands to visit out there.

Winter sun can be hard to come by hence why jetting off abroad is the perfect answer for sun-seekers.

That summer vibe doesn’t need to end with the change of season if you make like a swallow and fly south for the winter.

The Canary Islands and the Caribbean are both classic vacation destinations and there are plenty of winter sun cruises to these destinations to choose from.

We’ve rounded up 13 of the best sun-drenched hotspots to visit on a winter sun cruise.

madeira Camara de Lobos


Madeira may be a Portuguese region but it’s located off the coast of northwest Africa and consequently has a delightful warm subtropical climate. A haven of natural beauty, Madeira’s four islands boast exotic flowers, blue seas and the largest Laurisilva (laurel) forest in the world. Leisure boating, scuba diving and walking are all popular here – ideal for stretching your legs post-cruise.

Cruises call at the archipelago’s capital city, Funchal, where you can enjoy rolling hills, famous wineries, majestic mountain scenes and year-round blooming gardens.


Lanzarote is the northernmost and easternmost of the Spanish-owned Canary Islands located off the coast of West Africa. Expect volcanoes, black and red earth, lava fields, palm groves and golden sand beaches as well as plenty of lively tourist resorts on winter sun cruises here.

Cruises stop at the capital, Arrecife, where historical charm can be found in the narrow backstreets around the saltwater lagoon and church. There are also castles, an art gallery and several César Manrique creations (the Spanish artist and sculptor was born here).

Lanzarote canary islands winter sun cruises
gran canaria canary islands winter sun cruises

Gran Canaria

Gran Canaria is a rural and mountainous island in the Canaries with a coastline featuring both black lava and white sand beaches. The third-largest island in the archipelago has been a popular tourist hotspot since the 19th century thanks to its many and varied beaches, some with pumping, neon nightlife (Playa del Ingles and Maspalomas), some with glamorous resorts (Meloneras and Playa Taurito) and others with a more tranquil vibe (Bahia Feliz and Puerto Mogan).

Spend the day at Las Palmas, the capital of Gran Canaria. Art lovers should check out the Centro Atlántico de Arte Moderno contemporary art gallery and the surrounding beautiful colonial architecture in the old quarter of Vegueta is worth exploring, too, as are the Modernist buildings in the Triana district.


Tenerife is the biggest island in the Canary Islands and offers huge beaches and vast resorts. Highlights include Teide National Park, the most visited park in all of Europe and home to Teide volcano, the highest peak in Spain and a Natural World Heritage Site. Dolphins, blue whales and orcas can be spotted off the coast of Tenerife, lush forests can be wandered and historic cities can be explored.

Santa Cruz de Tenerife, in the northeast of the island, is visited on many cruise itineraries. The capital has impressive architecture and historical buildings, avenues and parks studded with sculptures, and delightful open-air shopping areas perfect for strolling around.

barbados turtle


Barbados, an eastern Caribbean island, is a tropical paradise housing warm, friendly people, 92km of long golden, palm-backed beaches and vibrant scenery. The island serves up delicious food and famous rum and is a hub for calypso clubs and reggae bars, making it a perfect vacation destination for those after a party atmosphere, whether you’re with friends or cruising as a solo traveler.

Bridgetown, Barbados’ capital is where Caribbean influence collides with leftover heritage from British rule, seen in the colonial architecture and the city’s own Trafalgar Square, complete with a Lord Nelson statue.


Grenada – also known as the “Spice Isle” – invites jet-setters to make the most of 40 white sand beaches including the renowned Grand Anse Beach, 15 beautiful waterfalls, five chocolate factories, three rum distilleries and more than 30 unforgettable dive sites including the largest shipwreck and the world’s first Underwater Sculpture Park.

St George’s is the island’s capital. On your winter sun cruise here, admire its vivid, brightly painted houses, the charming natural harbour and many historic buildings and be sure to stock up on signature island spices, spice-scented soaps and nutmeg jams at Esplanade Mall at the cruise terminal for those all-important souvenirs and vacation prezzies.

st vincent and the grenadines

St. Vincent & the Grenadines

St. Vincent & the Grenadines are a chain of volcanic islands, islets and sandbanks in the southern Caribbean. Largely undiscovered, they offer a relaxed and sleepy pace of life, secluded white sand beaches and gorgeous reefs filled with colorful marine life. Much of main island St Vincent is covered in lush vegetation while hiking La Soufrière volcano will afford you excellent views.

Kingstown on St Vincent is where ships call. The capital city, known for its colonial stone arches, is a lively spot with splendid churches, historic buildings and cobbled streets as well as white beaches and Botanical Gardens, founded in 1765, all nearby the cruise terminal. Be sure to visit the former British Garrison of Fort Charlotte, go shopping in the bustling markets and tuck into tasty curries, succulent stews and fresh seafood.


Jamaica is a hugely popular Caribbean destination and the self-professed home of rhythm and sway. Here beach bars along white sands fringed with palm trees serve up jerk chicken, rum cocktails and reggae beats while inland there are dramatic mountains, hidden waterfalls and banana plantations to ogle.

Lines stops at Montego Bay on Jamaica winter sun cruises – it’s one of three main resorts on the island where beachfront hotels rub shoulders with bric-a-brac huts and reggae bars. There’s plenty of history too thanks to 18th-century plantations and ancient mansions – in fact, according to legend, Rose Hall in Montego Bay is haunted by the ghost of a white witch! Spooky!

Ocho Rios Bay Beach jamaica


Cuba is a unique Caribbean destination known for its classic 1950s American cars, rum, cigars and depictions of Che Guevara in his black beret to name just a few of the island’s icons, so it’s unsurprising there’s plenty of history and culture to soak up here.

The capital, Havana, where Ambassador calls, houses historical Old Havana (La Habana Vieja) with its cathedral described as “music set in stone” and Bodeguita del Medio, a restaurant bar which claims to be the birthplace of the Mojito cocktail and where American writer Ernest Hemingway and jazz icon Nat King Cole used to drink.

Cruises also call at Santiago de Cuba, the second-largest city in Cuba, which dates back to 1514. It has got plenty of claims to fame – Don Facundo Bacardí based his first-ever rum factory in Santiago de Cuba and Fidel Castro used the city to launch his embryonic revolution while nearly every Cuban music genre was born here.

Turks & Caicos

Turks & Caicos is a British Overseas Territory southeast of the Bahamas comprising 40 low-lying coral islands in the Atlantic Ocean. The archipelago boasts white sand beaches, unspoilt reefs, crystal clear turquoise waters perfect for snorkelling and scuba diving as well as a plethora of water sports such as parasailing, sailing, boat charters, fishing and more, plus unique wildlife and one of the most challenging golf courses in the Caribbean.

Grand Turk is where Ambassador lays its anchor. The largest island in the Turks Islands, it boasts one of the world’s greatest wall diving sites, with a drop of nearly 7,000ft, while cultural highlights include the 1852 Lighthouse, Philatelic Bureau, St. Thomas Anglican Church (built in 1823), Salt Museum and Cockburn Town.

turks and caicos diving winter sun cruises
tortola british virgin islands


Tortola is the largest of the British Virgin Islands and features stunning sandy coves, beaches and lush mountainous landscapes. Sage Mountain National Park is perfect for hiking and has 12 trails – Sage Mountain itself is 1,716ft high and is the tallest point in all of the USA and the British Virgin Islands! Cane Garden Bay Beach is one of the best beaches on the island – perfect for sunbathing, swimmers and waterspouts while the unspoiled beach of Smuggler’s Cove is also worth a visit.

Cruises stop at Road Town which offers a small-city feel with bars and restaurants (don’t forget to sample local flavors such as conch, seafood soup, roti and stews) and shops. Historical points of note are the 1800s-era post office, the Virgin Islands Folk Museum, and St. George’s Anglican Church which line Main Street. The Callwood Rum Distillery is worth a tour, too.


Antigua has beaches in buckets and spades thanks to its 95 miles of superb coastline – that’s 365 beaches – lapped almost exclusively by the Caribbean Sea. There’s lots of interesting history to discover here, such as the visible colonial influences from sugar plantations to the quaint English Harbour. There are oodles of fun activities, too, from 4×4 rainforest tours and world-class sailing to diving and snorkelling.

St. Johns is where ships drops anchor. The island’s capital features candy-colored market stalls, the small stronghold of Fort James and the Museum of Antigua & Barbuda as well as plenty of shops, cafes and restaurants.

st johns antigua caribbean winter sun cruises
sao vicente

São Vicente

São Vicente is found among the Cape Verde islands – an archipelago and island country in the central Atlantic Ocean off the coast of northeast Africa once owned by Portugal. São Vicente is dominated by the mighty Monte Verde peak, from which you’re gifted with top views.

In Mindelo, where ships dock, highlights include Mercado de Peixe (fish market), the Torre de Belém (replica of the tower with the same name near Lisbon) and the upscale Praça Nova quarter, with its pastel-colored villas and Art Noveau pavilion. The Old Town has a more African character with plenty of traders plying their wares. Cape Verde is also known for its music which spans myriad genres and can be enjoyed here on a winter sun cruise.

Published 07.23.22