So, you’re getting hitched and want the big trip to celebrate. But if an all-inclusive in the Maldives don’t sound like your thing, don’t be afraid to buck the trend.
These destinations are perfect for honeymooning couples wanting R&R — but also adventure, style, culture and great food...
1. Yucatán Peninsula, Mexico
Best for… active explorers
While gateway Cancún might be known for its hulking all-inclusive resorts, strike out to the wider Yucatán – a vast peninsula hugged by warm Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico – and you’ll discover a sun-soaked landscape perfect for adventurers. Besides creamy swathes of palm-studded beach, your twosome will get Mayan ruins for exploring, cool cenotes (sinkholes) for wild swimming and pretty towns for wandering. Not to mention all the zingy honeymoon margaritas you can drink. Salud!
What to do: Base yourselves on the Riviera Maya coast, between buzzy Playa del Carmen and trendy Tulum, and you can spend mornings striking out to jungle-cloaked temple complexes such as Coba, and afternoons kicking back on the white sands at a beach club or snorkelling with turtles at Akumal. Inland, the atmosphere changes and culture takes precedence, with enchanting towns like yellow-painted Izamal and Valladolid, home to a beautiful cathedral. While you’re in the vicinity, don’t miss one of the world’s most famous sights: Chichén Itzá, an elaborate, sacred Mayan temple complex.
Where to stay: Near dynamic capital Mérida, romantic Hacienda Santa Rosa (From £138, marriott.co.uk) is a hacienda-turned-hotel with Mayan bee hives, historic chapel and indoor-outdoor restaurant. If you’re craving a wellness fix after the chaos of organising a wedding, the spa at Chable Yucatán (From £822 per night for a Casita with private pool, chablehotels.com) has its own cenote, acres of Mayan jungle and dozens of transformative treatments, rituals and healing ceremonies.
On the beach, Palmaïa, The House of AïA (From £914 all-inclusive, thehouseofaia.com) is a new holistic wellness retreat that pairs spa-ing with plant-based meals, tai chi and a beach club.
Best for… once-in-a-lifetime wildlife
If you and your other half are animal lovers, mark your honeymoon with one of the planet’s most epic wildlife experiences: gorilla tracking. Rwandan safaris might be a spendy, but they’re also small-scale, sustainable and help the conservation of these rare apes, as well as local communities. And besides, who can really put a price on seeing a baby gorilla in the wild? It beats an all-you-can-eat resort buffet any day.
What to do: Centre your trip around the safari; expert operators such as Volcanoes Safaris (volcanoessafaris.com) have packages ranging from four days to a week or more, including misty treks through lush Volcanoes National Park to see gorillas and golden monkeys, a visit to Dian Fossey’s grave and the chance to participate in local conservation projects. On either side you can explore greater Rwanda, chilling out by vast Lake Kivu, visiting some of the country’s other national parks (Nyungwe, for example, has chimpanzees and birds) or touring rambling tea plantations.
Where to stay: Volcanoes Safaris’ Virunga Lodge (From £798 all-inclusive) opened nearly 20 years ago but still feels cushy, coddling and romantic, with locally inspired food and private butlers. The views from the cosy lodges – of Virunga Volcanoes, Musanze Valley and Lake Bulera – are enough to wow, even before you start looking for the apes.
3. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Best for... city cool
Blanketed beneath Sugarloaf Mountain, at the foot of towering Art Deco statue Christ the Redeemer, Rio de Janeiro needs no introduction. From its rambling golden beachfront, populated with bronzed volleyball players, to its buzzy samba-filled clubs and vibrant churrascaria grill restaurants, this is one sexy city. It’s just the pick for hedonistic couples.
What to do: Days are blissfully spent lazing on the powdery sands of Copacabana or Ipanema beaches, people-watching, nibbling bowlfuls of fruity acaí or sipping sweet iced teas purchased from roaming vendors. But there’s too much to see to simply stay put: take the cable car up Sugarloaf for jaw-drop views, spot modernist architecture by Oscar Niemeyer or shop in chic Leblon. When night falls, head with your other half to Lapa to sip limey caipirinhas under the stars until the wee hours.
Where to stay: After a night out-out, there’s no better place to wake up together than the stylish Hotel Fasano Rio de Janeiro (From £394, fasano.com.br), where a slick rooftop pool overlooks Ipanema’s sands. Meanwhile, contemporary rooms with balconies let you appreciate a similar view à deux, from under the sheets.
4. Rome, Italy
Best for... old-world romance
OK, so it’s not exactly a secret that Rome is romantic. From the opulent architecture to the candlelit trattorias and the hotels drenched in marble, the Italian capital has long been a prime getaway for couples seeking unabashed amore. But just because it’s ‘obvious’ that doesn’t mean that it can’t be cool – from underrated museums to a slew of fabulous new hotel openings, Rome is a 2023 must-visit, whatever one’s marital status.
What to do: You’ll have to tick off the classic highlights, of course: the Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, the Vatican Museums. But beyond its historical big-hitters Rome’s real romance comes through in the atmospheric moments. Rise early for sleepy wanders through Piazza Navona before the crowds descend; tour underrated aristocratic mansion Palazzo Altemps or carb up on local favourite cacio e pepe (who needs a diet post-wedding?) at a neighbourhood eaterie. Later, admire the street art over cocktails in hip Pigneto.
Where to stay: Soon you’ll be able to stay at new branches of Bulgari Hotels, Six Senses and Nobu Hotels in the city. But for classic old-world Roman romance, book into Palazzo Manfredi (From £352, manfredihotels.com). Rooms and a restaurant terrace overlook the Colosseum; views in this city hardly get better.
5. Okinawa, Japan
Best for… castaway vibes with brag-factor
While other honeymooners head to the Maldives and Mauritius, you can get a dose of castaway romance in Japan’s answer to the tropical idyll. Closer to Taiwan than Tokyo, Okinawa’s dozens of islands come with swaying palms, soft beaches and Listerine-blue waters, but also distinct Ryukyu culture. What’s more, any water babies can indulge in some first-rate diving in the coral reefs and caves.
What to do: For full-blown relaxation, the resorts on the main island of Okinawa will appeal – pool or beach days are complimented with nightlife and restaurants in capital Naha, ruins of Ryukyu kingdom castles and lush tropical landscapes. Or dial up the remoteness in the Yaeyama chain, a jewel-like string of islands further south. At jungly Unesco World Natural Heritage Site Iriomote you can kayak through mangroves, and on bucolic Taketomi see locals weaving dyed cotton.
Where to stay: Get immersed in the jungle landscape at sustainable Treeful Treehouse (From £750, treefulnet.com), near Yanbaru National Park on Okinawa’s main island or check into Hoshinoya Okinawa (From £588, hoshinoya.com) for proper resort-style pampering. In the Yaeyama chain, ANA InterContinental Ishigaki Resort (From £164, ihg.com) is a great base for exploring.
6. Saint Lucia
Best for… Carib romance with oomph
If you’re thinking that the Caribbean feels clichéd for a honeymoon, then you don’t know all the excitement Saint Lucia has in store: hikes up rainforested mountains, tastings at chocolate plantations, indoor-outdoor hotels that let the symphonious sounds of local birdlife pour in. Add in the fabulous beaches and plunging waterfalls, and it’s an active paradise that’s dreamy for couples who want sun plus excitement.
What to do: The island’s iconic twin peaks – Gros Piton and Petit Piton – are perfect territory for working off indulgences sourced from the island’s cocoa farms (Hotel Chocolat has their 140-acre Rabot Estate here, as an example). Or swap the effort for a drive-up scale of Mount Soufrière, where sulphur-rich mud baths await for a twosome soak. Afterwards refresh yourselves with a dip at Toraille Waterfall, surrounded by lush jungle. Or get refreshment of a different kind at the weekly Friday night Gros Islet street party, where icy Piton beer meets barbecue and DJ tunes blaring until late.
Where to stay: There’s no more romantic option than Jade Mountain (Two nights from £1,574, jademountain.com), tucked high in the hills overlooking the Pitons. Rooms are open to the jungle, so you can fall asleep (and wake to) the sounds of local birdlife.
7. Queensland, Australia
Best for… natural wonder
If it’s epic scenery that makes you and your other half go weak at the knees, then Australia’s north-eastern tropical state will make you both really swoon. It’s home to the Great Barrier Reef, for starters – the world’s most important ocean coral reef system – but also the dense, ancient Daintree, our planet’s oldest rainforest. To match the lustworthy landscapes, you’ll also get luxe hotels, enchanting wildlife (including koalas and kangaroos) and truly astounding sunrises.
What to do: Queensland’s huge, so there’s plenty of amazing landscapes to fuel your social feeds. Start active, taking indigenous food tours through the Daintree Rainforest and boat trips to the Great Barrier Reef for snorkelling adventures; at Hardy Reef sleep overnight under the stars, rising with the sun to swim with Nemo. Then, when it’s time for R&R, sail off to the Whitsundays on a cruise or enjoy a few beachy days on Hamilton Island. From here you can even take a helicopter ride over a heart-shaped slice of reef – consider it nature’s ode to your ‘moon.
Where to stay: With all the exclusivity that you want in a honeymoon pad but none of the tack, glam Qualia (From £932, qualia.com.au) on Hamilton Island comes with gourmet food and paradisical views. In the Daintree Rainforest, try recently refurbished Silky Oaks Lodge (From £1,477, silkyoakslodge.com.au).
8. Central Coast California, USA
Best for… food and wine
World-famous Napa Valley may grab the headlines, but there’s much more to California’s wine and food scene. Head further south along the Pacific coast, midway between San Francisco and Los Angeles, to San Luis Obispo (SLO) county for a thriving indie wine scene – plus breweries, beaches and cute towns. You can cheers to your nuptials over a bottle of lauded local Cabernet Sauvignon.
What to do: With more than 200 wineries spread across Paso Robles, California’s third-largest wine region, you’ll be spoiled for choice; and with a mix of Italian, Rhône Valley and Spanish grape varieties, a range of eclectic styles to sip through too. In between tastings at the likes of Justin Winery, road trip along Highway 1 to sandy beaches like Oceano or the trails of Morro Bay State Park. Then make for laid-back Santa Barbara for fresh seafood and sunshine before spending a few glitzy days in Los Angeles.
Where to stay: Cali-cool White Water Cambria (From £218, whitewatercambria.com) is right on the waterfront and is a short drive to Paso Robles and Morro Bay. Or splurge at tranquil, historic San Ysidro Ranch in Montecito (From £2,063, sanysidroranch.com). It’s where John and Jackie Kennedy spent their honeymoon, so you’re in good hands.