We spent a month in Costa Rica last year and although we thoroughly enjoyed the trip, we don’t tend to be “repeat customers”, so we’d like to venture somewhere new (we saw that you had mentioned this as kid-friendly a few times, so just wanted to let you know that we’ve already been there). Some available attractions and activities would be ideal, but, we’d also quite enjoy the beach towns of some sort. We love hostel type of accommodations, aren’t overly-indulgent and can get by on a fairly modest budget. We are of the mind-set that spending more time, is more valuable than spending more money.
The biggest single highlight in the region is the Angkor Wat temples near Siem Reap in Cambodia. It’s one of the most impressive tourist sights in the entire world, and Siem Reap is a fun and mellow town that you can linger in for a while. Vietnam is really lovely and cheap as well. The food there is excellent, as it’s a fusion of French and traditional Asian. You can go from Ho Chi Minh City in the south on the train to Hoi An near Da Nang, and then up to Hanoi to see Halong Bay. I wouldn’t start in Vietnam because it can be a bit trickier than the others. In the rest of the region it’s easy to book tours and buses and such, but in Vietnam the travel agencies are a bit harder to trust, so you have to be more careful. Things there are very cheap though, so even if you pay more for a reputable agency, it’ll still be cheap.
You could go somewhere that’s cute in December, or you could go somewhere that’s iconic. If you choose the latter, here’s absolutely everything you need to know about traveling to Yellowstone. In brief: There are tons of winter activities (snowmobiling, skiing, etc.), and even though most of the roads will be closed, there’s oversnow transport to get you around the park. Look for wolves at dawn and dusk, watch frost-covered bison plowing through the deep snow, and see the steam rise off Mammoth Hot Springs. If you’re a backcountry camper who knows what they’re doing, permits in wintertime are free.
Looking to shake up the traditional holiday season table? We’ve got just the foodie forays for you this festive month. Tuck into a spicy blend of fabulous flavours at Malaysia’s hawker food stalls, where bright bowls of creamy laksa (noodle soup) and deliciously deep-fried lor bak (pork or prawn wrapped in tofu skin, deep fried and served with dips) will soon do away with any cravings for Christmas pudding. With tourist numbers low, now is the ideal time to visit Spain’s Basque Country, seeing out the year with a plate piled high with pintxos (tapas); or check out Cuba’s capital, exploring the crumbling, colonial architecture with a rum-based cocktail in hand.
As for Malaysia, I’m a big fan, and with your friend there it should be easy. Interestingly, I was just in China myself recently and a few days ago I published a long article on my advice for whether to go yourself to China or go on a group tour. I also discuss the most popular and best places to visit when you are there in the bottom part of the article. One tricky thing for many of us is that you have to get a China travel visa and some of us can only get that visa issued in our home country, at least according to their rules. I literally spent years traveling around Asia but I was never able to visit China because they required that I get a visa issued in the US and I had to show my flights booked from the US to China and then from China back to the US. If I could have gotten a visa issued at a Chinese embassy in Bangkok or Singapore, I would have done it years ago.
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Cancun is at the north end of the Riviera Maya, which also includes the island of Cozumel, so this is a huge area with over a thousand hotels to choose from. All that competition keeps prices down until the high season begins, so November is still a buyer's market. There are even ruins nearby and other cultural opportunities, so it's not all about sitting on the beach here. If you prefer a high-rise hotel overlooking a beach then stay in Cancun itself, but if you prefer to stay in a friendly town with many restaurant and shopping choices then head to Playa del Carmen, just a bit to the south, instead.
Yes, it's high season and rates edge up, but that's only because everyone wants to make the scene and flee cooler climes. Whether you prefer a hotel right on the beach, one in the midst of Miami's trendy Art Deco or Wynwood art district, or a tower with horizon views and vast swimming pool, there's a place for you. And each December, Art Basel in Miami Beach brings together artists with knowledgeable collectors and gallerists.
Bali is wonderful, or at least parts of it are, but they now have a volcano issue and those flights are very long and never cheap. Machu Picchu is incredible, but it’s a place you visit for half a day or so, and they actually have their rainy season at the end of the year, so it’s actually not one of the better times to go. Actually, you might consider a trip to Argentina, which is warm that time of year, though rarely scorching. Buenos Aires is a wonderful city that is pretty good value now, and you can also visit the Mendoza wine region and Iguazu Falls and Bariloche, which are all even a bit cheaper than Buenos Aires.
Much of Mexico is ideal in December, after the rainy season has ended; if you go early in the month, you’ll avoid the peak holiday-season rates that kick in around December 18. On the Pacific coast, the landscapes are still ultra-tropical green, and the ocean is bathtub-warm (80s), with exceptional clarity for scuba diving and snorkeling. Mexico City is a smart place to spend the holidays, when the locals have headed to the beach and you’ll find much less traffic in this famously congested city. (Do keep in mind, though, that some of the more sought-after restaurants and galleries will be closed.)
I have been reading the thread with great interest. I took my 2 daughters aged 11 and 18 to SE Asia in December and they loved it. Siem Reap – lovely vibe over new year and not too busy. Would stay longer than 3 days because the heat and humidity slows you down and you would rather want to cool down in the hotel pool in afternoons and try and squeeze in more than 1 wat in a day. Easy to get around and good food and vibe in Pub Street.
The rainy season is over so it's an ideal time to base yourself in Chiang Mai for some outdoor activities in the area. There are temples like crazy in the city center between the old walls, but even more interesting ones in the area just around Chiang Mai. There's also great trekking and such, available quite affordably from any travel agency in the city.
If you are interested in a place that isn’t focused on beaches in that area then I’ll point you to some recent answers just above where I mention the charms of Chiang Mai in northern Thailand, or Luang Prabang in Laos, and/or Siem Reap in Cambodia. All of those are wonderful places with temples and other sights, and they are quite affordable once you are there as well.
Hmmm…this is a tricky one. Since you want to get out of SEA, you might have to go a long way to reach someplace that could be considered cheap and also has decent weather in December. Japan and South Korea will be cold, and not really cheap. If you go south you hit Australia, which is very expensive by most SEA standards (although not bad by Singapore standards). Perth is obviously closest and it’s a real city, and of course Sydney and Melbourne will be in early summer in December so those could work if your budget allows. Brisbane and Cairns are both known for outdoor activities, although nightlife might be tough for teenagers and there are no real cultural sights.
The fastest high-speed trains between those cities only take 2.5 hours, although most departures are closer to 3 hours. Definitely take the train and also buy the ticket as far in advance as possible for the lowest fare. Not only is it FAR quicker than flying (and of course the coach), but it’s far more comfortable and more enjoyable. This is a link to the official Spanish rail site. The scenery isn’t all that special, but it’s still interesting. Have a fantastic trip. -Roger
For those looking for an even calmer slice of paradise without all the holiday festivities, try Waimei on Kauai’s southwestern shore, which offers calm waters and sandy beaches that are especially attractive in the early winter months. Get away from all the gloomy weather of the East Coast by trying out a Waimea vacation rental—it’ll definitely make for makes the perfect base to explore all Kauai has to offer.
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.
There is no better time than December to discover a still (somewhat) under-the-radar part of the Caribbean. This verdant, five square mile island has seen a lot of activity recently, from a new mega yacht club to a Soho House to the Mandarin Oriental's first property in the Caribbean. More is on the horizon for this picturesque piece of paradise, but go before everyone else discovers it.
One of the simplest ways to add squash to the Thanksgiving menu is with a classic Baked Acorn Squash, dressed up with maple syrup, balsamic vinegar and freshly grated nutmeg. The dish, which we first shared with readers in 2008, has the ideal balance of sweetness and tang, and the addition of a touch of butter right before serving gives it a boost of richness.
Located just 90 minutes from New York City, the quaint Caribbean island is home to fantastic beaches—like the famed Horseshoe Bay and Elbow Beach—plus a unique style all its own. A balanced mix of charming British heritage and laid-back tropical vibes, Bermuda has, in recent years, become a hotspot over the holidays. The weather is typically temperate (expect temperatures in the 70s) which makes it a perfect destination for golf-lovers, families, and anyone looking for a quick weekend escape.
Of course, the Caribbean has its own share of problems. As I just mentioned to another reader, my list of Caribbean destinations from cheapest to most expensive has 32 entries and only about 6 of them were damaged by the recent storms. I would probably choose one of those instead. November is still technically the final month of hurricane season, but November storms are extremely rare. And the islands closer to South America haven’t been hit in over 50 years or so, such as Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao.
The same resort that charges US$300 per night in January will usually go for US$200 per night in November, especially earlier in the month. And this goes for all-inclusive resorts as well, which start at US$116 per night for two people in the low season when we last looked. If your main goal is relaxation in a perfect climate, Punta Cana is probably the best value in the entire hemisphere. And if you are wondering where to go in November for a beach all-inclusive then this is your best choice.
The Brazilian currency has been falling in recent years, and if this trend continues then Rio de Janeiro will be squarely back into the bargain category. It's certainly not as cheap as it used to be, but for the amazing beaches and scenery it's easily worth it as long as you plan well and stay safe. In fact, Rio has some of the best beaches in November anywhere in the world, and a vibrant city right next to them.
When it comes to flights over the Christmas holidays, you should book as early as possible. The airlines know they can fill every seat at a high price so they don’t have an incentive to lower fares like they do for flights in January or February. Air Asia now flies from the US to Asia and at good fares. Aside from them it’s just the major airlines as well as some Chinese airlines that do those routes.
If this were last year I might have also suggested San Juan, Puerto Rico or Cartagena, but both of those have issues at the moment. If for some reason you don’t like what you see in Costa Rica, there are also some really nice resorts in Panama, especially in the San Blas Islands area. Aside from those you’d probably have to fly longer than you prefer. I hope this helps. -Roger