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Five Warm-Weather Getaways From New York City

By Donna M. Airoldi | December 27, 2013 9:00am
 Warm up in the islands or at these coastal getaways.
5 Warm-Weather Getaways
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NEW YORK CITY — If you hate the cold and are contemplating a warm-weather escape this winter, there are several options within a five-hour flight from New York City.

Here are five for a mix of budgets, locales and interests. And don't forget to check out DNAinfo New York’s winter travel tips.

1. Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico
Direct flight: About 4 hours
Average winter temperatures: High 82, Low 68 (Fahrenheit)
Good for: Romantic Travel, Ecotourism, Beach Vacations, Family Travel, Adventure Travel
Tourism resources: Visit Mexico

Even if you don’t care to stay in party town Cancun, round-trip flights there from New York start at about $400 — or less if you plan ahead — and it’s the jumping-off point for several additional nearby destinations.

Drive or take a bus an hour south along the coast to Playa del Carmen, the hub for Riviera Maya beach resorts that cater to everyone from families to backpackers to luxury seekers. In addition to the Coba Mayan ruins, activities and sites include the Xcaret and Xel-Ha archeological and aquatic theme parks, zip-lining, water sports and swimming in cenotes. Another hour south is the quieter town Tulum.

“Not only is it near the ruins of Tulum, but it's also near the incredible Muyil Mayan ruins and miles of biosphere [at Sian Ka’an] — including a crystal-clear river for downstream floating, channels for kayaking, birds, fish and completely undeveloped beaches,” said Ed Wetschler, Caribbean editor for “Recommend Magazine” and executive editor for Tripatini, a social network for travelers.

Not a beach fan? Consider the inland colonial town of Valladolid, about an hour west of Cancun. You can find clean and quiet hotel rooms from $50 per night, and it’s easy to get to the Chichen Itza ruins from here. Even closer are the smaller but impressive Mayan ruins at Ek’ Balam as well as the Mayan village of the same name. Stay at the eco Genesis Retreat and you can walk or bike to them.

2. St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands
Direct flight: About 4 hours (to St. Thomas) plus 45-minute ferry ride
Average winter temperatures: 84 High, 70 Low
Good for: Beach Vacations, Ecotourism, Romantic Travel
Tourism resources: Visit USVI

Thanks to the foresight and generosity of Laurance S. Rockefeller — who donated two-thirds of St. John to the U.S. National Park Service in 1956 — the island is the most preserved and least developed of the three U.S. Virgin Islands. It’s also a U.S. territory, which means passports from U.S. citizens are not required, English is spoken and the U.S. dollar is the accepted currency.

“If you can get a good price to St. Thomas, St. John is just a quick boat ride away,” said Wendy Perrin, director of consumer news and digital community at Condé Nast Traveler. “It’s relatively undeveloped and feels farther away than you actually are.”

St. John has some of the best snorkeling in the Caribbean, including a marked underwater trail at Trunk Bay, which is good for beginners. There also are 20 hiking trails through the more than 7,000 acres of parkland, ranging from short 0.3-mile jaunts to 3-mile ones.

The ferry drops visitors off at Cruz Bay, the busiest hub on the island, where you stock up on groceries if you’ve rented a place with a kitchen and pick up your car rental — recommended if staying elsewhere on the island as relying only on taxis can get expensive.

Top resorts are pricey with rates starting at $500 a night, and even three-star properties will run $300 to $400 per night in peak season. But there are more affordable options. Concordia Eco-Resort has rates from $165 to $275 per night for hillside accommodations in eco tents and studios. Cinnamon Bay Campground offers basic cottages and tents from $93 per night. Vacation rentals are another popular option.

3. St. Marten/St. Maarten
Direct flight: About 4.5 hours
Average winter temperatures: 81 High, 72 Low
Good for: Beach Vacations, Romantic Travel, Family Travel, Nightlife
Tourism resources: St. Martin Tourist Office

For a Caribbean vacation with more of a European flare, head to St. Martin in the West Indies. Three-fifths of the island is French, with the remaining 40 percent (St. Maarten) under Dutch rule.

“The island offers a lot of activities and beautiful beaches and water sports,” Perrin said. “The French side is a lot less built up than the Dutch side. There’s real French culture and amazing food, and it’s not as expensive at St. Bart’s, where a lot of people go to get French culture.”

St. Martin is situated in an arid zone, so expect to see lizards and cacti along with the island’s tropical birds and lush vegetation. Offshore of the nature reserve on the island’s northeast end is where to spot sea turtles from January to May and large dolphins and humpback whales during mating season, between January and June.

If you’re looking for a romantic getaway, Perrin recommends La Samanna on the French side. If you have kids, she suggests the Westin Dawn Beach Resort & Spa on the Dutch side near the border.

“It’s a good location for water sports on the Dutch side and also the butterfly farm and zip lining on the French side,” Perrin explained. “The island is large enough so it appeals to different types of travelers.”

St. Martin also exudes a party vibe, with casinos and an active music and nightclub scene. There’s also plenty of duty-free and boutique shopping. Mid-January round-trip airfares start at just over $400.

4. New Orleans
Direct flight: About 3 hours
Average winter temperatures: 65 High, 48 Low
Good for: Culinary Scene, Architecture, Culture, Nightlife
Tourist resources: New Orleans Convention & Visitors Bureau

Escaping the New York cold doesn’t require travel to a beach destination. In New Orleans, trade your heavy winter coat for a light jacket or sweater.

“The good thing about New Orleans in winter is it’s not the height of tourist season, unless it’s Sugar Bowl or Mardi Gras time,” said Jill K. Robinson, a travel writer for the San Francisco Chronicle who visits New Orleans multiple times a year. “There are fewer crowds and everything is more relaxed, so you have better opportunities to get into the best restaurants and to see great musicians like Kermit Ruffins and John Boutté. Pick up the free monthly magazine ‘Off Beat’ when you arrive to see who’s playing when.”

Though always known for its cuisine, New Orleans now has 70 percent more restaurants — not including chains or fast-food places — than it did before Katrina hit in 2005. With several James Beard Award winners and nominees among its chefs, NOLA has become a must-visit place for the culinary obsessed. Robinson recommends any of the dining establishments helmed by John Besh, Donald Link or Susan Spicer, such as Lüke, Cochon and Bayona, respectively.

Work off those extra calories while taking in the city’s history and architecture with Confederacy of Cruisers, a new bicycle company in the Marigny offering a variety of tours with reasonable prices, Robinson said.

For those who want to experience the Crescent City during Carnival season, but avoid the peak Mardi Gras crowds leading up to Ash Wednesday on March 5, the weekend of Feb. 15 is when festivities and parades begin to ramp up.

5. Charleston, S.C.
Direct flight: About 2 hours
Average winter temperatures: 60 high, 46 low
Good for: Historical Travel, Family Travel, Culinary Scene, Architecture
Tourism resources: Charleston Convention and Visitors Bureau

“What’s balmy and interesting any time of year is Charleston,” Perrin said. “There’s colonial history, beautiful architecture and excellent food.”

It’s also one of the quickest and most affordable warm-weather escapes from New York, with round-trip airfares as low as $150. In addition, Conde Nast Traveler readers named it the friendliest U.S. city.

Initially named Charles Towne in 1670 in honor of King Charles II of England, Charleston has figured prominently in American history from the days pirates roamed the Atlantic coast through both the Revolutionary and Civil wars to the civil rights movement. Key attractions include Fort Sumter, where the Civil War started; preserved Revolutionary-era homes, and antebellum plantations and gardens; a pirate walking tour; the South Carolina aquarium; and the Old Slave Mart Museum.

With English, French, African and Caribbean influences, and being a coastal city, it’s no wonder Charleston’s food scene is one of the best in the country. Consider exploring the city’s culinary offerings during the annual Charleston Food and Wine Festival, taking place this winter March 6-9.

To experience certain aspects of Southern lowcounty language and culture, plan a day-trip to nearby communities, such as Beaufort, said Julie Schwietert Collazo, a travel writer and guidebook author who visits Charleston regularly.

“Go to the coastal islands where [the African-based] Gullah culture is alive and well, like St. Helena's,” she said, which also is home to Penn Center, one of the first schools in the U.S. for freed slaves. “Just this year the U.S. Department of the Interior finally approved a plan to manage the Gullah/Geechee Heritage Corridor.”