Mexico’s spectacular Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead), bewitches Mexico City at the start of each November. Donning the skeleton face paint for the mass parades in the main Zócalo square is a must, but take time to step back from the party and seek out more intimate family celebrations where deceased loved ones are honoured with candles, sugar skulls and, of course, tequila. If you’d prefer to relax with a rum, then Barbados in November may be more to your tastes. The sugar-cane liquor is thought to have originated here in the 17th century and continues to be the local tipple of choice. Toasting the sunset from one of the island’s magnificent beaches is a quintessential experience.
Since you’ve been to several of the top places in Asia already, and you love it, I think Bali might be your best bet. As I’ve written many times recently, I feel that the main tourist area of Kuta/Legian/Seminyak is just too crowded and overdeveloped to recommend, although it is interesting for a couple days and some nightlife. The arts and crafts town of Ubud is still nice, although also a bit crowded, but it’s not anything like a city so I still think you’d enjoy it.
If you are going to that region I suggest you visit a site called travelfish.org, which is by far the best website on SE Asia and it’s run by a friend of mine who lives in Bali. They have busy forums where you can ask questions and quickly get them answered by experts on every imaginable topic there. I’m happy to help more as you are planning, so let me know if you have any other questions. -Roger
Oh, and I just noticed you asked about general safety as well. Buenos Aires is fine as long as you don’t wander into the bad neighborhoods after dark, which is pretty much true almost anywhere you go, including Europe. But Rio is sadly famous for petty crime and it’s a real issue. As long as you know what NOT to do it’s quite safe, so I’ll still recommend it as long as you read up a bit on the topic. The most common problem is when people walk down to the water on the beach after dark. As long as you know NOT to do that you should be fine, but if you did go for an evening walk near the water and out of sight of the well-lit sidewalks, the chances of getting mugged are extremely high. Again, it’s worth learning about it and it’s easy to stay safe if you do. Let me know if you have any other questions. -Roger
Portugal does have one of Europe’s best autumn climates, but as you’ve noticed November can be a bit rainy. That said, in my experience it rarely rains for long periods in that part of Europe so I think it’s very unlikely that a big part of your trip would be “rained out.” Also those cities have lots of great indoor attractions so if you see that it’s supposed to be clear in the morning and drizzly in the afternoon, you can plan to explore neighborhoods in the morning and plan to visit a museum or castle in the afternoon. It’s a bit of a crap-shoot and generally Portugal has nicer weather than most of the rest of Europe at any given time. I hope this helps. -Roger
Jamaica Montego Bay, Negril, Ocho Rios Martinique Martinique Netherlands Antilles Bonaire, Curaçao, St. Martin/Sint Maarten Puerto Rico Rincón, San Juan Saint Kitts and Nevis St Kitts Saint Lucia St. Lucia Trinidad and Tobago Trinidad and Tabago Turks and Caicos Islands Turks and Caicos Virgin Islands, British Tortola Virgin Islands, U.s. St. Croix, St. Thomas
Located on the north Pacific coast of Costa Rica, the 15-mile peninsula is home to lush jungles, postcard perfect beaches, and five-star hotels. It is decidedly remote (the nearest “town” is a 45 minute drive away) but sometimes, remoteness is exactly what a winter getaway calls for. Though Papagayo is the kind of place where you might be tempted to never leave the confines of your resort—there’s an Andaz, a Four Seasons, and a community of luxury villas to rent—it also caters to adventure lovers, with activities like ziplining, jetskiing, and four-wheeling through the jungle. Stick with later in the month to avoid any lingering rain (rainy season goes from May to early November.)
This looks great and I wish I could be of more help. As I mentioned before, my first safari will probably be in 2017. I have a couple safari articles on this site from writers who have done them, and I’ve read a lot about the experience and the extremely positive reviews that most of them get. But having not yet done one, I wouldn’t feel comfortable offering specific advice. There are hundreds of articles on the internet that discuss these safaris, so I recommend you seek advice from someone with plenty of first-hand experience. Just be careful not to rely too heavily on a commercial safari outfitter, and try to seek advice from a travel blogger or other regular consumer. Have a great trip. -Roger
Increasingly popular, Lisbon is quite warm in summer, but November’s cooler temperatures and fewer crowds make it a pleasant time to visit. A city of hills and spectacular views, many terraces (miradouros) offer vistas for those who climb (or take a taxi) to the top. Alfama is the city’s historic district, defined by hilly, narrow cobblestone streets. The Fado Museum, in Alfama, honors Portugal’s soulful folk music and provides some background on the sounds heard nightly in the city’s fado houses and bars. Seafood is plentiful in Lisbon, and the traditional Portuguese dried salted cod (bacalhau) is on most menus along with octopus, shrimp, sardines, clams, and tuna.
If you have a budget that allows at least US$300 per night, you should be able to rent a nice condo in Hawaii. If you haven’t been there before, it’s worth knowing that each of the 4 main tourist islands is quite different from each other, and only Oahu has an urban center that should probably be avoided. You’ll want to rent a car as well, as getting around is difficult without one.
The largest national park south of Alaska, Death Valley is located 295 miles northeast of Los Angeles and 120 miles northwest of Las Vegas. Much of the park is below sea level, and it is surrounded by mountain peaks, often covered in snow. December’s temperatures are moderate, generally in the mid-60s during the day and 40s at night. Daily guided walks and naturalist talks are presented by the National Park Service, acquainting visitors with the natural beauty, history, geology, and wildlife of the area. Stargazers will be in awe of the Milky Way and starry nighttime skies of this “Gold Tier” Dark Sky Park, a designation by the International Dark Sky Association. The newly renovated Oasis at Death Valley (formerly Furnace Creek), hosts the elegant 4-diamond Inn at Death Valley and the family-oriented Ranch at Death Valley, offering visitors a range of lodging options and activities. At Furnace Creek Stables, guests can explore the valley floor or foothills of the Funeral Mountains on guided horseback rides. The Stables also offer carriage and hay wagon rides. Jeep rentals, tours, and a variety of hiking and walking paths provide many ways to experience Death Valley. Play golf at the world’s lowest elevation golf course or enjoy a rejuvenating spa treatment at The Inn.
Regarding Thailand, I’m not familiar with any islands that are beautiful and not touristy. Phuket has beaches all over the island and many of them are isolated so the only guests are those staying at the resort in front of them. If you search other travel sites, including travelfish.org, which I think is the best site for southeast Asia and it’s run by a friend of mine, you can find more information about more obscure Thai islands. One challenge could be that you might have to take two or three total flights and then a ferry ride to reach them.
Vietnam might be your best choice of the three. Most people (if they can) fly into Hanoi and fly out of Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) or the other way around. Again, you can travel between them by train, although getting tickets can be a bit complicated. Hanoi is really interesting and nice (and super cheap). The best tourist city in Vietnam is Hoi An, which is between the two big cities. There’s a nice beach there and a bit farther away is Denang, which has large resorts along an excellent beach. Nha Trang is another good beach city in Vietnam, but probably not great for families. Ho Chi Minh City is bigger and more crowded than Saigon, but it’s also more modern (and hotter). You could spend two really nice weeks going north to south in Vietnam with a long stop in Hoi An.
If it’s not on there already, a visit to Iceland should be added to your bucket list. November will be chilly, but you’ll miss the high season crowds and arrive during peak viewing season for the Northern Lights (November through March) when the nights are longest. The infusion of colors, mostly bright green and at times a mix of purple, pink and red, is a breathtaking sight. November is prime time to visit the gorgeous ice caves, crystal and sparkling in stunning shades of blue with cave tour options that include hiking or snowmobiling.
New Zealand is an excellent option in December, as it’s before the Christmas crowds and just before the summer holidays there. The best and most popular way to explore New Zealand is to rent a camper van or a car and drive from one “holiday park” to another. Auckland is a pretty generic city so it’s not worth spending more than 1 or maybe 2 days there. Just fly in, and rent a vehicle to leave the next morning, and drive south. The North Island has a lot to see, but the South Island is even more scenic and pleasant. You can take a ferry between the two with your vehicle.
I think a side trip or two will be a great idea. Singapore is a large and very interesting city, but you can see everything that you want in maybe 3 days or so. You have almost limitless options if you include the possibility of a flight. Even though Singapore itself (especially hotels) is kind of expensive, you can get cheap flights to all points of Asia from there, and the airport is awesome. Air Asia and Tiger are two great low-cost airlines with many flights out of Singapore, so you could check their destinations and find something good.
Hotel prices remain low through all of November for the most part, so you'll have a good shot at deals at 3-star and above beach resorts that are trying to fill rooms during the slow season. Even if you are paying near the high season rates the hotels and everything else are bargains here compared to almost anywhere else. Cartagena is one of the cheapest places to travel in November on a beach, and you'll get less rain as the month goes on.
To the life aquatic now and Micronesia’s little-known islands scattered in the Pacific Ocean, which serve as the mating grounds for giant manta rays. With wingspans that can reach up to 5m, the chance to dive alongside these dancing behemoths shouldn’t be missed. From colossal to downright cute, rare (and ridiculously adorable) pygmy hippos can be found in Sierra Leone, once you've had your fill of lounging on palm-fringed beaches.
Trekking in Nepal during peak season might not sound like the most sensible choice for penny-pinching backpackers. But you can still enjoy the ideal weather without spending a fortune on in-demand hotels and expensive permits if you're happy to swap big-name trails, like Everest Base Camp and the Annapurna Circuit, for quieter treks to Kanchenjunga Base Camp and around the Langtang Valley. Idyllic conditions (dry but not witheringly hot) are also on offer in Rajasthan, one of India’s most vibrant and varied states. Chug between notable, attraction-rich cities like Jaipur, Jodhpur and Udaipur on an atmospheric and wallet-friendly Indian train, snacking on spicy pakoras and sipping sugary chai en route.