Five winter escapes for snowbirds seeking sunshine and adventure....
Wednesday Nov 01st, 2023
Those fortunate enough to be able to take off during the colder months prefer the term “Winter Vacationer” over “Snowbird.” But whatever you call them, they are escape artists, seeking a break from the relentless grey skies and snow in most parts of Canada.
There’s a movement among snowbirds to seek out destinations that include culturally immersive experiences. The new generation of Canadian snowbirds, notes Stephen Fine, president and managing editor at Snowbird Advisor, are more adventurous, especially as non-U.S. destinations become more accessible and, perhaps more importantly, more affordable.
“My snowbird clients are mostly heading to Portugal and Spain,” says Georgia Rakopoulos, a travel advisor with Uniglobe Enterprise Travel, “although I anticipate more demand for Greece in the future.”
Generally, Rakopoulos’s clients are seniors looking for stays of more than three weeks. Most, she adds, want opportunities to discover the region and experience the culture and food: “They’re seeking enriching and meaningful experiences.”
Georgia Kourakos, director at MRG Travel, says Italy, Portugal, Greece and Spain top her clients’ lists. “They have the desire to explore these destinations further, hit the beaches, meet the locals and experience a deeper connection to the local culture,” she says.
So, where to next? If you’re already planning next winter’s escape, consider these destinations.
CLOSER TO HOME
Loreto, Mexico, a coastal town on the Gulf of California, has an established Canadian expat community. IMAGINEGOLF/GETTY IMAGES
Baja California Sur
It’s an aquatic and art lover’s dream, and the climate is dry compared with mainland Mexico, making it a wallet-friendly wellness alternative to Arizona.
Loreto, a coastal town on the Gulf of California that separates the Baja Peninsula from mainland Mexico, has an established Canadian expat community, particularly in the Loreto Bay area of Nopolo. Living close to water has proven mental- and physical-health benefits, as does social networking and opportunities for volunteering within the community.
If eco- and marine preservation is your thing, try the non-profit Eco Alianza (ecoalianzaloreto.org); Caritas, a division of the Mission Church, helps to raise funds, food and clothing for local families in need; and if you’re a vet or just an animal lover, there are opportunities to help out at Animalandia (facebook.com/animalandialoreto/), or at Stray Paws Loreto (straypawsloreto.org/home).
Calgary-based travel journalist Theresa Storm and her husband Reid winter in Nopolo and, although Storm would like to see more health care options, the Community Hospital of Loreto does have a couple of good bilingual doctors and several good dentists.
“I have travelled the world,” says Storm. “So, the fact we chose to snowbird here says a lot.” Average prices run from US$85 to $300 a night, but if you book a six-month stay, it can be as little as US$80 a night. Many are locally operated, such as Hotel 1697, Posada de las Flores, Hotel Oasis and Hotel La Mission, so best to contact them directly to negotiate long-term rates.
Tourists sail at Los Cabos, in Baja California Sur State, Mexico, on March 8, 2018.DANIEL SLIM/AFP/GETTY IMAGES
Los Cabos, on the southern tip of the peninsula, is making the safety of its annual three million travelers a priority, with a $50-million investment to upgrade security infrastructure and personnel. Digital nomads are also drawn to the solid tech infrastructure. Art lovers will appreciate San Jose del Cabo, with its established expat community of artists. Quality health care is easily accessible, but it is privately run, so visitors need to travel with health insurance above and beyond their provincial plan.
An aerial view of Nokomis beach in Sarasota County, Fla. U.S. News and World Report listed the city of Sarasota as the best place to retire in the U.S. in 2022.BILANOL/GETTY IMAGES
Ah, the Sunshine State: sea, sand and the immune-boosting sunshine vitamin D.
Florida is many Canadians’ home away from home, clocking more than four million Canadian visitors in 2019 – 65 per cent of whom were vacationing. After lockdowns, in 2022, almost three million Canadians returned to walk the beaches again.
But let’s think outside the Fort Myers or Miami box: Sarasota County, for example, is home to 56 kilometres of beaches along the state’s Gulf Coast, and draws wellness seekers for barefoot strolls on Siesta Beach’s superfine, quartz-crystal sands and for soothing soaks in the 29-degree Celsius Warm Mineral Springs Park.
U.S. News and World Report listed the city of Sarasota as the best place to retire in the U.S. in 2022, and the historic town of Venice, a suburb of Sarasota, was named one of the top five affordable places to retire near a beach (because oceanfront living on the Gulf of Mexico is not always cheap!) by the U.S.-based personal finance news and advice firm GOBankingRates.com.
Although a place on a beach in the U.S. averages about US$390,000, the median price of a condo here is slightly higher, at US$405,000. (Vero Beach and Daytona Beach, also in the top five, both scored as less expensive on average, but are located on the Atlantic Ocean side of the state, where water temperatures can run about 10 degrees cooler.) But there’s no income tax in Florida, sales tax is at 6 per cent with groceries and medicine tax-free, and more than 60 per cent of Venice’s 26,000 citizens are over the age of 65, so it’s like living in an exclusive seniors’ community that comes with concerts, festivals and community theatre. Sarasota is an hour’s drive from either Fort Myers or Tampa International airports.
With its combination of warm climate, wine industry, orchards and lake, Osoyoos, B.C., appeals to people ready to shift from city to small town. HANDOUT
Osoyoos and the Okanagan Valley, B.C.
A year-round oenophile and foodie delight – and duffers love it, too.
It’s been a tough summer for Osoyoos, with wildfire evacuation orders that were just lifted this week. But that’s not the norm in this town of 5,500 nestled in the fertile Okanagan Valley. Located in Canada’s desert in the southern part of British Columbia, the area is also home to world-class vineyards, chef-driven farm-to-table cuisine and is one of the warmest places to winter in Canada – daytime temperatures can hover at a downright balmy 6 C in February with only about five inches of snowfall annually. It’s perfect for hikers, birdwatchers and golfers, where you can hit the fairways well into the colder months, then trade in the clubs for low-impact snowshoes and cross-country skis if the snow does fly.
Many wineries in the Oliver Osoyoos area stay open year-round, including award-winners Tinhorn Creek and Canada’s first Indigenous-owned winery, Nk’Mip Cellars. The area also holds the annual Winter in Wine Country festival, the last weekend of November and the first weekend in December.
The town of Osoyoos, nestled in the Canadian Rockies of British Columbia. ISTOCK/ISTOCKPHOTO / GETTY IMAGES
Further south, Watermark Beach Resort (watermarkbeachresort.com), on the shores of Osoyoos Lake, offers long-stay rates. From Oct. 11, 2023, to March 31, 2024, monthly prices at press time ranged from $2,069 for a one-bedroom city view to $2,799 for a two-bedroom beach residence – and all include taxes, fees, Wi-Fi, parking and once-a-week housekeeping.
The bonus? No passport is required and no need to purchase additional medical insurance, as any costs incurred will be billed to your home province – just don’t forget your provincial health card. Plus, it’s pet-friendly and you might even spot the legendary Okanagan Lake monster, Ogopogo.
Typical colonial architecture in Quito, Ecuador. WIRESTOCK/GETTY IMAGES
From the Amazon to the Andes to the Galapagos Islands, the country is close to many bucket-list experiences.
Nature and culture lovers will revel in the options, plus this South American country scores on the weather front – especially if you suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder – as Ecuador’s days offer 12 hours of light, without variance, throughout the year.
Health care, through the Public Health Network and its centers, is accessible to everyone; private health care is also affordable. Ecuador has low crime rates, features more than 300 tourist police officers throughout the country and has the Safe Travels Seal, awarded by the World Travel and Tourism Council. Quito, the capital, has a modern infrastructure surrounded by Old World charm; and, according to International Living magazine, which is dedicated to life and retirement overseas, retired couples on a budget can live comfortably here for less than US$22,000 a year.
In Quito, expect to shell out about US$1,800 a month for a two-bedroom apartment rental, maid service, health care, entertainment and dining out. And, although the official language is Spanish, many people speak English in the major cities, but it’s also a good opportunity to learn a few phrases in a new language (consider the networking and the brain-boosting benefits). ecuador.travel/en/
The white tower at Thessaloniki city in Greece PANOSKARAPANAGIOTIS/GETTY IMAGES
While places like Greece have seen the devastating impact of extreme heat this summer, it remains high on the wish list for travelers in colder seasons. This birthplace of democracy is experiencing a revival and inviting digital nomads of all ages, a trend that exploded during the pandemic.
For travelers looking to tap into this Blue Zone of longevity (areas of the world where people on average live the longest) yet still keep a toe in the work force, it’s an option worth considering.
With 250 days of sunshine a year, the country may have you thinking of the Mediterranean and its gorgeous islands but, in the winter months, you can ski in parts of the mainland. Hit the slopes on the Voras Mountains, where the Kaimaktsalan resort is located. With an altitude of 2,524 metres from which to head downhill on one of its 13 runs, it also has views of the Thermaikos Gulf, Lake Vegoritida and the home of the gods, Mount Olympus.
The square of Aristotelous, in Thessaloniki, northern Greece, on July 11. SAKIS MITROLIDIS/AFP/GETTY IMAGES
A high-speed train connects Athens and Greece’s second-largest city. Thessaloniki, which hugs the northern Aegean and where centuries of Greek, Balkan, Byzantine, Jewish and Eastern influences have created a unique, multicultural city, is worth a stay.
According to the global cost-of-living database Numbeo, a one-bedroom apartment in the city’s core can run on average about $680 a month; in Athens, about $750. Add about $1,200 for utilities, a mobile phone, Wi-Fi, a monthly transit pass, food and entertainment etc., and you should budget between $2,000 and $2,200 a month. English is widely spoken; its proximity to other ancient-world, bucket-list destinations such as Egypt, Israel, Jordan and Turkey also make Greece a convenient European hub. visitgreece.gr
By VIVIAN VASSOS