As uncertainty increases in relation to the global Covid-19 situation – and its ongoing devastating impact upon travel plans – many UK-based tourists will be foregoing their 2020 summer holiday, in favour of a winter 2020/21 break instead.
For those amongst us who are more concerned with cultural sightseeing than warm climates, we have you covered in our recent guide to winter destinations in central Europe – go and have a look if you’re seeking an affordable, interesting and close-distance city break destination for winter 2020/21.
However for those amongst us who simply cannot forego sun, sea and sand, travelling in the height of winter can be more tricky. Whilst the Caribbean, East Asia and South Asia offer spectacular options for reliable winter sun in dream-like destinations, these trips can seriously impact the wallet. Not to mention, intercontinental travel of this type comes with long flight times, and the prospect of jetlag.
Instead, here we’re going to focus on a massive 6 destinations situated on the North West of the African continent – including 5 islands, and one mainland destination, for a ‘real’ Africa experience and West African winter sun. Travel to all 6 of these destinations comes with the huge advantage of being no more than 6.5hrs flight time away from the UK, and being no more than 2hrs time difference at any time of year.
The ultimate bonus, however, is the relatively blistering temperatures on offer at these destinations: a safe 20+ degrees Celsius across the 4 main Canary Islands, rising to 23 degrees in Cape Verde, and settling on an unbelievable 32 degrees high temperature in The Gambia. What’s more, each of these destinations experiences little-to-no rainfall throughout the winter season.
So let’s get started…
West African Winter Sun Highlights
The Canary Islands (Spain)
Whilst there are actually 7 Canary Islands, this article will focus on ‘The Big 4’, the tried-and-tested travel favourites of Tenerife; Fuerteventura; Gran Canaria; and Lanzarote.
Travel Information For the Canary Islands
- Flight time from the UK: approx. 4.5 hours
- Time difference from the UK: N/A
- January low temperature: 15°C
- January high temperature: 21°C
- Language: Spanish (English widely in use)
- Currency: Euro
Things to watch out for: Due to their position in the Atlantic Ocean, the Canary Islands can experience strong ‘trade winds’ at any time, which may also bring in significant cloud cover. Do not be fooled by either the wind or the cloud – UV levels remain very high throughout the year, and sunscreen is a must!
It’s very difficult to condense the entire Canaries experience into a short article – all of our readers will be familiar with this stunning autonomous region of Spain which actually sits on the African continent, and many of our readers will have been to at least one (if not all!) of the 4 main islands. It sounds like a cliché, but the Canaries really do offer ‘something for everyone’, and it’s clear to see why the islands attract UK visitors from all walks of life, all year round.
Tenerife, the largest of the Canary Islands, offers a unique mix of unspoilt landscape, juxtaposed with lively nightlife and stunning beaches. The south and south west areas of the Island (Los Cristianos; Playa De Las Americas; Costa Adeje) are firm favourites of British travellers, whereas the north and north east portions of the island offer more of a ‘local’ flavour. Truly there is no bad area of Tenerife to visit – and British travellers should feel welcome on any part of the island – yet hardened sun-seekers should note that the north of the island is slightly cooler, slightly wetter, and more cloudy than its southern neighbour.
The second largest Canary Island – Fuerteventura – is associated with retaining a level of unspoilt beauty, which is no mean feat when considering that the entire Canaries region has been open for mass tourism for many decades now. A family favourite, Fuerteventura is all about beach life, and hitting the beautiful waters. As it experiences the highest of the winds prevalent throughout the Canaries, visitors to Fuerteventura use this to their advantage, by partaking in the many watersports on offer.
Gran Canaria – which, incidentally, sounds like somewhere your gran would visit – is often, and mistakenly, associated with attracting an older crowd. Whilst it is true that many older visitors do enjoy Gran Canaria, it is also important to note that the island exhibits many pockets of buzzing nightlife. Moreover, Gran Canaria is considered to be the most ecologically diverse of the Big 4 Canary Islands, and is a mecca for hikers and nature lovers. Gran Canaria is also associated with a thriving LGBT+ scene. Whilst all of the Canaries are gay-friendly, Gran Canaria alone is one of the premier gay destinations of the entire region and beyond.
Last but not least, Lanzarote is – despite being the smallest of the Big 4 islands – a firm and longstanding family favourite amongst families travelling not just from the UK, but from all over Europe. If any of the islands stand out for its offering of luxury accommodation, Lanzarote is the one, boasting by far the highest proportion of all-inclusive hotels and resorts: considered a necessity for many family travellers.
Cape Verde (Cabo Verde)
Travel Information For Cape Verde
- Flight time from the UK: approx. 6 hours
- Time difference from the UK: Minus one hour
- January low temperature: 19°C
- January high temperature: 23°C
- Language: Portuguese; Cape Verde Creole (English widely in use in tourist areas)
- Currency: Cape Verdean Escudo
Things to watch out for: Similarly to the Canaries, Cape Verde’s position in the Atlantic Ocean makes it even moreso prone to high winds at all times of year. Do not be disheartened, as many hotels and beaches have come up with innovative ways to shield visitors from the wind. Again, do not be fooled by the winds, and note that sunscreen is a must, all year round!
Cape Verde is an island nation a little south of the Canaries, consisting of around 18 islands – some of which are very quiet, others of which are entirely uninhabited. Whilst tourists tend to visit just one of just 3 main islands – Santiago; Boa Vista; and Sal – island-hopping can be incorporated into holidays, making for an even more interesting trip.
Santiago island – including the nation’s capital of Praia – is about as urban as Cape Verde gets. Which is, not very urban at all. Described sometimes as ‘Fuerteventura before the tourists came’, Cape Verde is still developing. In fact, it is considered to be only of ‘medium’ development. However, this does not mean that Cape Verde is a lesser holiday destination – and certainly not that this island nation is unsafe. Travellers employing the usual common sense that should be present both home and away will have a hassle-free trip to Cape Verde.
This is particularly true of the islands of both Sal and Boa Vista, each of which is more or less built around a collection of high-end hotels (available at affordable prices), to be enjoyed in stunning, relatively unspoilt surroundings. Whilst Cape Verde is not a party destination, it offers West African winter sun, fun and relaxation for young and old alike, including families.
Travel Information For The Gambia
- Flight time from the UK: approx. 6.5 hours
- Time difference from the UK: Minus one hour
- January low temperature: 16°C
- January high temperature: 32°C
- Language: English official, plus numerous ethnic-specific languages
- Currency: Gambian Dalasi
Things to watch out for: The Gambia can experience exceptionally hot and exceptionally dry periods, with much less of the cooling winds detailed in the other destinations above. Sunscreen, insect repellent and adequate hydration are compulsory for safe, healthful travel. Multiple vaccinations are recommended prior to travel to The Gambia – including for malaria. See your GP before planning a trip.
Important note: LGBT+ activities are outlawed in The Gambia, and LGBT+ travellers are advised to exercise extreme discretion – with other sources suggesting that LGBT+ travellers should avoid the nation altogether.
Although the above advice may present The Gambia as a no-go zone, this is not true, since the nation has been welcoming tourists from the UK and beyond for many decades. However, travellers should equally be aware that they are very much in Africa. Visiting Sub-Saharan, mainland Africa does not entail the same experience as jetting off to the Canaries which – despite their location – still belong to one of the highest-developed countries in the world.
The Gambia requires common-sense, patience, and even some tenacity in the face of local residents whose impoverishment and disadvantages push them towards begging and other petty behaviours. That said, The Gambia’s nickname of ‘the smiling coast’ tells you all you need to know about the average local Gambian, as warm, hospitable, friendly and welcoming people.
The vast majority of tourists to The Gambia will visit a small portion of coastal, western Gambia (indeed, around 2/3 of the eastern stretch of the rest of the nation is not recommended to any other than the most adventurous of travellers). Thankfully for British sunseekers, this region of western Gambia – which incorporates its capital, Banjul – is teeming with beach, cultural and nature experiences.
Truly, there is something for everyone: from 5* all-inclusive hotels situated on pristine beachfronts, to colourful local markets, to bustling nightlife on the Senagambia strip, to stunning national parks and nature reserves, making it a perfect West African winter sun destination.