When you mention, “not too touristy”, the first thing that comes to mind is San Juan, Puerto Rico. I’m not sure if you’ve been there already or not, but one great thing about it is that the “tourist” areas close to Old San Juan are filled more with apartments than with hotels, unlike Cancun, where it’s nothing but hotels and timeshares. I can highly recommend the Condado neighborhood, which does have some large hotels but is mostly apartments for expats and seasonal visitors. There is even a free bus that goes from there to the heart of Old San Juan, which is a gorgeous colonial town filled with great restaurants, bars, and interesting attractions.
As for Europe, it’s the low season there at the end of the year and you might be able to find a reasonable flight. Have a look at my list of best Europe destinations in December for weather and comments about each of the better places. If money is tight then Europe can be challenging because getting from place to place can add quite a bit to the daily total. I think two weeks in Spain and Portugal could be very nice, with reasonable weather and relatively low prices. Let me know what you think and I can try to help you more. -Roger
Far from the crowds and heat of summer, a visitor to Rome in December will find that it’s a lovely time there, with fewer lines at popular tourist spots, more attractive prices, and a chill in the air. With a warm jacket, comfortable shoes, cozy hat and gloves, you’re ready to explore the Eternal City. Stroll through the main streets to enjoy colorful lights, decorated trees, and Nativity scenes. The Piazza Navona hosts a Christmas market, and stores welcome shoppers with longer hours and attractive displays. Rome’s Jewish community celebrates Hanukkah with a large Menorah in Piazza Barberini where candles are lit each evening of the eight-night holiday, this year from December 2–10. The Catholic community celebrates the Immaculate Conception on December 8 when the Pope leads a procession from the Vatican to the Piazza di Spagna. December is the perfect time to visit the Vatican Museum, Sistine Chapel, St. Peter’s Basilica, Colosseum, Trevi Fountain, and museums that are usually filled with tourists during warmer months. Even without crowds, it’s still most convenient to book ahead through a tour company such as City Wonders or Access Italy, for no-wait entry, professional guides, and early admission. Food is always one of the great pleasures of a visit to Italy, and in December, a warming plate of spaghetti carbonara or hot chocolate and seasonal panettone taste especially good. The new Pantheon Iconic Rome Hotel, Autograph Collection is a convenient home base in the center of the action with a beautiful rooftop overlooking the Pantheon.
Anyone in the western half of the US or Canada will probably get a shorter and cheaper flight to Puerto Vallarta than to any of the Caribbean destinations above. The November weather in Puerto Vallarta is pretty much perfect and usually dry, and yet crowds are smaller and hotel prices are lower until Christmas itself. Mexico is, of course, one of the hot countries in November, in more ways than one.
The last suggestion would be to start in Bangkok, which is an amazing city even if you avoid the Khosan Road party area, and then head south along the coast and into Malaysia and finally Singapore if you feel like it. There are many nice beaches and islands in Thailand that aren’t filled with party folks, and some really interesting places in Malaysia as well. George Town on Penang is really nice with excellent food, and Kuala Lumpur is my favorite city in Asia for few reasons. The town of Malacca is really nice, and Singapore is amazing, if a bit expensive.
Escape the cold weather to sunbathe on the beaches in Rio de Janeiro and ring in the New Year with a fun celebration on Copacabana Beach. And while you're near Copa, visit the neighborhood and beach that inspired the song, “The Girl from Ipanema.” Don’t overlook the other beaches, including Baixo Baby for families, Praia do Arpoador for surfers and Sao Conrado Beach if you want to leap from nearby peaks and go hang gliding.
Unlike most cities on South America's west coast, Buenos Aires has fairly consistent rainfall all year long, and you might see a bit of the wet stuff even during December. Still, the temperatures should be ideal for being outdoors, and this is really mostly an indoor city anyway, so when it does rain you'll be able to pop into a shop or museum or cafe and have a great time.
Hi great site it’s very helpful! My husband and I are looking to do a last minute vacation to somewhere with warm beaches next mid November (14-21). We live in California so don’t want to travel to far more than 8 hours flight. We’re looking into Kauai, Cancun, Costa Rica. Weve been to Maui and Oahu, Puerto Vallarta and recently Bahamas last November. Any recommendations? Thanks in advance!
If you are looking for something far less developed than Phuket or any other Thai island, Boracay might be for you. This gorgeous strip of sand is a bit out of the way, but partly because of that it still feels only partly discovered. You'll spend your days relaxing along White Beach or walking up and down the sandy paths that serve as the only real form of transport for most people. Many visitors come every year, and quite a few of those never seem to leave.
Impressive year-round, November in Sedona is a feast for the senses, offering perfect temperatures and colorful fall foliage along with its majestic red rocks. Sedona is rich in wellness activities, spa treatments, art galleries, and locally-made arts and crafts. Along the Verde Valley near Sedona, quaint wineries with passionate winemakers offer personal tours and tastings. Red Rock State Park, a nature preserve with stunning scenery, native vegetation, wildlife, and a wide variety of birds, is popular with hikers. Visitors can also tour by jeep, horseback, hot air balloon, or helicopter. Many travelers hike among the red rocks seeking the much discussed vortexes—places of energy that are said to come directly from the core of the earth. Whether they are truly healing areas is not clear, but there are believers who experience spiritual effects and others who simply enjoy the breathtaking views. L’Auberge de Sedona Resort, centrally located in Sedona’s Red Rock Country, provides access to these activities in addition to both fine and casual dining featuring seasonal menus and locally sourced foods. Accommodations are available in the main lodge or in secluded cottages with panoramic views and exquisite rustic indulgence.
The most important holiday in Japan is oshogatsu (New Year), and the month leading up to it is packed with fun festivals and markets. Standouts are Shimai Kobo (December 21) and Shimai Tenjin (December 25) both of which offer great ceramics and handicraft shopping, in addition to lots of good things to eat and drink. From December 8 through the 17th, thousands of lanterns will be placed around Arashiyama, including in the enchanting bamboo forest. If you’re there on New Year’s, you’ll catch the famous the bell-ringing ceremonies -- get up real early and see the monks at Kyoto’s largest temple, Chion-in, or drop by a small-scale local shrine instead.
If I were you I’d fly into Bali and spend a couple days in the Kuta area to get your bearings and then head to Ubud, which is in the foothills and easily reached by shuttle bus. It’s also fairly crowded, but it’s still quite nice and there are scores of little spas and yoga places and that sort of thing. Then after a few days there, head up to the northern coastal town of Lovina, which is sort of like how Kuta was 25 years ago. It’s still only partly developed and there are still many open spaces, which is no longer true in the Kuta area. It’s cheaper than Kuta, and somewhat like Boracay in how mellow it is. You could also take a ferry from Bali to the island of Lombok, which is the next large one over. Things there are also more like Boracay and less chaotic than the Kuta area. Again, I really love Bali and still recommend it, but unless you are an Australian surfer, it’s best to stay somewhere other than the general Kuta area.
My recommendations depend on your starting location so for now I’ll just assume you are starting somewhere in the USA. If you are looking for a really nice beach AND really good night life your best choices are the Cancun area, Puerto Vallarta, and San Juan, Puerto Rico. If you are in the eastern US or Canada it’s probably faster and cheaper to go to Cancun and if you are in the west Puerto Vallarta is better. San Juan will be more expensive because there just aren’t many cheap hotels in the good parts of the city. For the Cancun area I would recommend Playa del Carmen (about an hour south of Cancun Airport) because there are fairly cheap hotels near the town center, which is packed with bars and restaurants. In Cancun itself the best nightlife is in the heart of the hotel zone, and all of the hotels there are pretty expensive. Let me know if you have any other questions. -Roger
If you’re a bit more on the timid side, you can always use Yelp and TripAdvisor to get good insights on places people have visited. As a disclaimer, some of the ratings may not be accurate on these sites, so make sure you go through and read some of the more recent reviews that people have written. We did this for a few of the places we visited and had no issues.
November is a tricky month in tropical Asia, as you’ve discovered. In Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam, it can be rainy, and that includes some days where it rains the whole day rather than the quick cloudbursts you get in June and July. The best tourist beach in Vietnam is in a town called Nha Trang in the south, and there is Da Nang near Hoi An in the center of the country, but you’ll get November rains in both of them.
New Zealand will also be crowded, but the country is otherwise mostly empty so it is still wonderful. You could fly to Auckland for one day or so and rent a campervan/motorhome. Drive it for 3 or so days on the North Island, and then onto the ferry to the South Island for the rest of your time. The South Island is far more scenic and less crowded. You’ll be doing some driving and looking, but after a few hours of that you can stop at a campground and have plenty of things to do such as hiking or water sports and much more.
This creamy-yet-virtuous gratin of greens from Ivy Manning is crowned with crunchy homemade bread crumbs tossed with nutty-tasting brown butter. Make ahead: The gratin can be assembled up to one day in advance. Allow the gratin to cool completely before covering it with plastic and storing it in the refrigerator. Add 10 additional minutes to the baking time.
This popular island in the Andaman Sea boasts mountains, rainforests, white sand beaches, nightlife, and a range of hotels from casual to ultra-luxury. Watersports of all kinds are popular, with snorkeling and scuba diving among the colorful fish and coral reefs a favorite. Boat trips take visitors to smaller nearby islands and among the limestone cliffs, caves, and karsts — steep limestone structures rising from the clear aqua sea. The white marble “Big Buddha” statue, nearly 150 feet tall, on top of Nakkerd Hills is visible from miles around, and it provides a stunning viewpoint. The island has been settled from early times and through the years with migrants from India, Arabia, China, Portugal, Sri Lanka, Netherlands, France, and Great Britain, all attracted by Phuket’s natural resources. Old Phuket Town’s shrines, temples, museums, shophouses, and buildings provide some evidence of the island’s history. Today, for lively nightlife, head to Bangla Road at Patong Beach for restaurants, pubs, music, open air cafes, and street performers. For many visitors, Phuket’s beaches are the main attraction, and with more than 30 around the island along with ideal December weather, everyone can find the perfect spot for sunning and swimming. For the ultimate in luxury, the beachfront Banyan Tree Phuket offers villas with private pools and open-air bathtubs, an award-winning spa, several dining options, golf, and a tranquil saltwater lagoon.
Brazil, on the other hand, has a famous problem with petty crime in tourist areas so I wouldn’t recommend it for a woman and young child. Another to consider is Puerto Rico, which has a lot to offer including great weather, and it’s also more or less part of the US, so it’s fairly safe and well organized. Hotels in Puerto Rico are a bit expensive, but you should be able to get an apartment rental in the San Juan area (gorgeous, by the way) for a modest price if you are staying for more than a few days. Let me know if you have any other questions. -Roger
As for the hurricane, it’s true that it did go through that area a few days ago, but I think that was the first one in almost 10 years to do so. In other words, it’s an extremely rare event, and even when it does happen, they know about it long in advance so everyone is evacuated or safely sheltered. Also, the “Hurricane Season” technically goes through the end of November, but November hurricanes are actually far rarer than the earlier months. Personally, I love to book into places like Punta Cana during that season because the weather is the same about 95% of the day, and prices can be half as much as December or January.
Make like a Viking and soak those sore muscles in one of the many outdoor heated pools, some hidden away and others modern day gathering spots. The famed Blue Lagoon is Iceland’s best-known geothermal spa with temperatures of 98-104 degrees Fahrenheit. The lagoon’s waters are rich in minerals like silica and sulfur and are reputed to have healing powers for skin problems. There are saunas, lockers, showers, and towels available for a reasonable fee as well as restaurants and a lagoon side bar. Whale watching, though not prime season, is always an option in Iceland, as is dog sledding — on snow if available or dry land if not. Either way it is an amazing experience, and the meet and greet part allows you get up close to these beautiful dogs. The younger crowd might enjoy the Iceland Airwaves Music Festival to be held in Reykjavik this Nov. 7-10 showcasing hundreds of acts, both famous and newcomers. Venues include bars, bookshops, theaters and concert halls.
All of my best suggestions are in the article above, but I’ll try to expand a bit more. The tricky thing, as you probably know, is that November is part of the heavy rain season in most of Thailand and the other popular southeast Asian countries. There are wet months in summer with just short rain storms, but in November it can often be rainy all day.
November is a pretty slow month all over the Caribbean. I just tried a few random dates in the middle of the month and I’m seeing all-inclusives starting at US$142 for two people including all taxes on Expedia.com. There are many more closer to US$200 per night, including many that get very good guest reviews. I stayed at Bahia Principe Luxury Ambar, which is an adults-only hotel within their huge complex there, and rooms are US$198 per night for two people, fully all-inclusive. So the resorts are showing some very good rates considering the quality you get there.
If the thought of another year crawling to a close has left you feeling a little low, November is the perfect time to give yourself a travel-fuelled lift, with an array of destinations primed for exploration during the penultimate month of the year. Trek in perfect conditions in Ethiopia and Nepal, visit Orlando’s theme parks at discount rates, sample an unusual Thanksgiving dinner in Puerto Rico or don your skeleton outfit for Día de Muertos in Mexico – trust us, the year is far from over!
From December through February there are literally no European cities that could qualify as having “great weather,” except for the Canary Islands, which is listed below. So during the winter Europe is all about cultural tourism, and lower hotel prices make it especially appealing for those who like to stretch their travel budgets and avoid crowds at the same time.
Of the others, I’d say that Thailand would probably be your better choice. Goa is obviously famous for its beach parties, and drugs are easily available there just in case that is important, but there really isn’t much else to see or do there. Goa is a collection of beach towns, some of which are filled with raucous Westerners all winter. But once you go inland, it’s kind of falling apart, and it’s not even very “Indian” because it was run by the Portuguese until about 60 years ago.
In spite of its image of being blazing hot all the time, December in Cairo can actually be on the cool side, at least in the evenings. This is great though because almost all the important sights are outdoors and requite a lot of walking between them. For 9 months of the year it can get very hot doing that, so these few cooler months are ideal for visiting the famous sights.