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8 sunny spots for a winter getaway

We've put together a list of eight sunny spots around the globe where you can escape the cold this winter. So grab your flip-flops and read on!
Image: A lone surfer prepares to take to the water in an attempt to break the Guinness World Record for the highest number of riders on a single wave
Winter in the northern hemisphere means things are heating up in Cape Town, South Africa, where visitors can sun themselves on the city's many clean, white sand beaches.MIKE HUTCHINGS / Reuters
/ Source: Independent Traveler

Chilly temperatures got you down? If shoveling your driveway and scraping ice off your car sound less appealing than hiking in a rain forest or sunning yourself on a white sand beach, it's time to start planning a warm-weather getaway. Forget about hurtling down a frozen slope on skis or trying to defrost in front of a fire after a day out touring in sub-zero temperatures. We've put together a list of eight sunny spots around the globe where you can escape the cold this winter. So grab your flip-flops and read on!

Go Hiking in a Rain Forest: Costa Rica
Costa Rica has it all — vibrant rain forest; diverse wildlife; clean, white-sand beaches (bordering both the Pacific and the Atlantic); and a slow, easy local culture. Fabulous all-inclusive Costa Rican beach resorts abound, but travelers seeking real adventure can head to wilderness lodges deep in the rain forest, where electricity, Internet access and room service are practically extinct. (We doubt you'll miss checking your e-mail while spotting toucans, sloths and squirrel monkeys as you relax on your porch.) The winter months mark Costa Rica's dry season; this is the best time of year to find stunning weather (and crystal-clear diving conditions) in the region.

Learn to Tango: Buenos Aires, Argentina
Sure, in Buenos Aires it's easy to take in a show at a tango hall or even stumble upon a pair of lithe locals locked in a passionate dance on the sidewalk — but wouldn't it be more fun to try the tango for yourself? Learning the tango is a popular immersion experience for visitors to Buenos Aires; you can strap on your dancing shoes at a milonga (a place where the tango is danced) such as Confiteria Ideal and study the basic posture and steps of the dance. Buenos Aires Tango also offers tango lessons. Wintertime in the Northern Hemisphere is the height of the sultry summer season in Buenos Aires.

Explore Ancient Temples: Cambodia
The temperate, dry winter season is the best time to visit Cambodia (summertime tends to be oppressively hot, rainy and humid). Visitors flock to the Angkor area to discover hundreds of ruined temples dating back to the Khmer empire of the 9th through 13th centuries. Of course, the crown jewel is the five-towered Angkor Wat, the world's largest religious building. To fully appreciate the rich details of the temple's bas-relief scenes and carvings, hire a knowledgeable local guide.

Go Diving or Snorkeling: Bonaire
This tiny island in the Southern Caribbean, measuring just 112 square miles, is one of the world's best diving destinations. The western side of the island is rimmed by colorful reefs swarming with parrot fish, sea turtles, butterfly fish, eagle rays and hundreds of other marine species. More than 50 of Bonaire's 86 official dive sites can be accessed from the shore — keep your eye out for the yellow stones that mark these sites. Bonaire enjoys warm, sunny weather year round and is located south of the Caribbean's hurricane belt.

Go Museum-Hopping: San Diego, Calif.
Sunny San Diego is well known for its year-round temperate climate (highs are typically in the 60's during the winter months), and its dozens of world-class museums are likewise an all-season attraction. You'll find 15 of them at Balboa Park, with collections devoted to anthropology, sports, photography, historic automobiles, art from around the world and much more. You could easily spend a week exploring these museums alone, but don't forget to allow time to wander the city's historic Gaslamp Quarter and — of course — walk along the beach.

Hit the Beach: Cape Town, South Africa
The World Cup soccer fanatics have gone home, but Cape Town is still a must-visit African destination — especially during its summer season (winter in the Northern Hemisphere), which is prime time for sunning yourself on the city's many clean, white sand beaches. One favorite is Bloubergstrand, where you can enjoy stunning views of Table Mountain, South Africa's most famous natural landmark. Another strip of sand you won't want to miss: Boulders Beach, where you can rub shoulders with a colony of African penguins.

Go Climbing: Blue Mountains, Australia
When winter comes to the Northern Hemisphere, things are just heating up Down Under. Once you've checked out Sydney's urban attractions, head an hour or two out of town to enjoy summer in the Blue Mountain region — home to densely forested peaks, lush gardens and dozens of hiking trails. The most famous attraction is the Three Sisters, a spectacular sandstone rock formation. If you're not up for hiking, hop on the Katoomba Scenic Railway (one of the world's steepest) or ride in the Scenic Skyway, a cable car that has a glass floor for dizzying panoramic views.

Indulge Yourself at the Spa: Mexico
Mexico's sunny climate and abundance of resorts in all price ranges make it a great place to treat yourself to a relaxing spa getaway. For true decadence, try the Kinan Spa ("kinan" is the Mayan word for the sun's healing energy) at the Marona Mayan Riviera in Quintana Roo. Many of the unique spa treatments draw on Mayan traditions, such as a detox herbal wrap incorporating local honey and healing herbs. For a smaller price tag, check out Rio Caliente Hot Springs Spa Resort, an affordable resort about 45 minutes outside Guadalajara, where you can soak in volcanic hot springs, take yoga classes or go horseback riding.