Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

December 13, 2017

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The new hot spots

Five warm winter getaways for those who hate the beach

Costa Rica

Costa Rica was the original eco-travel destination, long before other tropical regions started jumping on the bandwagon. Cloud and rain forests with spectacular zip lines, and opportunities to spot monkeys, colourful birds and reptiles? Check. Plunging rivers for whitewater rafting and waterfalls for canyoning? You bet. Volcanoes to hike followed by soaks in nearby hot springs? Yep, they have those, too.

And with the surge of interest in adventure travel, the country has shifted from being purely a backpacker's destination, to a country with its share of boutique hotels and wilderness lodges, high-end golf courses and plush spas. In the capital of San José, you'll find the best and most modern museums in Central America, filled with pre-Columbian artifacts dating back 2500 years.

Bordered on one side by the Pacific and on the other by the Caribbean, this slice of Central America has great beach resorts which have put the country on West Jet and Air Canada's winter roster, which means you now have access to non-stop flights and better prices than ever. Unfortunately, like other Central American countries, some regions still experience high crime; adventurous travellers should check Travel.gc.ca for advisories. visitcostarica.com.

Cyprus

Despite what you might think, even the Costa del Sol gets a little chilly in winter. So if you're yearning for a taste of the Mediterranean while you're digging your car out of the snow, make plans to see Cyprus. This island is at the eastern edge of the Mediterranean and benefits from balmier weather — in February and March, temperatures will be in the high teens.

Though it's half the size of Vancouver Island, it's divided into independently administered Greek and Turkish sectors. And that position at the crossroads of two cultures makes it a rich area for history buffs to explore.

You'll want a car to take your time and meander around the small island, from the Roman amphitheatre and temples in Limassol, through the pine-covered Troodos Mountains to the Monastery of Kykkos, along the winding streets of wine-growing villages, back to the capital of Nicosia to visit an arts centre housed in a caravanserai dating back to Ottoman rule.

All of this within view of bays fringed with aqua water, dotted with forts and wooden fishing boats. Best of all, in the spring you can hop a flight from Paris (which has low-priced flights from Canada) for just $265 return. visitcyprus.org.cy.

South Africa

It's hard not to feel like you've hit the jackpot in Africa's southernmost nation. It has great weather all year, but February to April is their end of summer, promising comfortable balmy days no matter what you choose to do. And you'll be spoiled for choice.

Explore the great restaurants and shops in modern multi-cultural Cape Town before renting a car and skirting the mountains for a tour of the region's award-winning and picturesque vineyards. Cape Town's Table Mountain is also a great base for hiking and mountain biking with dramatic views down the coast; and for the more adventurous there's sand boarding on the country's highest dunes.

The Cape Peninsula attracts nearly 400 species of birds, not least of which are the African penguins you can mingle with at Boulders Beach — some of the few wild penguins you'll see outside of Antarctica. Further afield, the country is also home to some of Africa's best game parks, including the well-established Kruger, the expansive Kalahari, the highly diverse Madikwe and the lovely Addo Elephant Park. And starting in February, as summer there wanes, flight prices from Canada drop. southafrica.net.

Sri Lanka

This island nation off India's southeastern coast is finally back on the travel radar. It emerged three years ago from decades of civil strife, to now find itself as one of the safest destinations in the South Asia. And that's good news: few places have as many UNESCO World Heritage Sites packed into such a small space.

You can haggle for colourful saris in the capital of Colombo. Visit golden age temples and royal palaces in Polonnaruwa, the country's ancient seat of Sihanook kings. Glimpse ancient artwork on cave walls as you climb the Temple of the Rock in Sigiriya.

At the mountaintop village of Ella, you'll have views over emerald-green tea plantations — Ceylon was the island's name under British rule — and the town is a base for walks to nearby temples and waterfalls. On the island's western coast, five-star resorts have sprung up within sight of stilt fishermen out for their daily catch.

You can also opt for a safari in one of the country's relaxed national parks where leopards, water buffaloes, birds and primates roam. Or head to one of its renowned elephant sanctuaries. Like most of South Asia, vaccinations are recommended. srilanka.travel.

Tucson

Outside of Florida, southern Arizona boasts the US's hottest wintertime locales, and not a beach in sight. The historic city of Tucson has much of what larger Phoenix has to offer — museums and art galleries, excellent dining, spas and PGA-worthy golf courses — plus a stunning desert wilderness right at its doorstep and the Santa Catalina Mountains as a backdrop.

And unlike Phoenix, it has preserved its historic centre, which is well worth a guided stroll to learn about its Native American, Hispanic and Anglo roots. Meanwhile, lovers of classic Westerns will head to Old Tucson Studios where shoot 'em ups have been filmed for 100 years.

But the real gem here is Saguaro National Park, a sprawling desert ecosystem with the Southwest's largest stands of saguaros – the classic cactus from the Road Runner cartoons. Coupled with nearby state and city parks, the area offers hundreds of kilometres for hiking or hopping in the saddle. And trails like Sabino Canyon add surprising cascades and waterfalls to the Sonoran desert vistas. A world away and only a $500 flight from Toronto, Montreal or Vancouver. visittucson.org.

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