The final month of the year marks the time when people in northern climates start looking around for an escape to the sun. Fortunately, there are big parts of the world that have their best weather of the year at this time, and are very cheap as well, once you get there. The best places to visit in December are of course close to the equator or even below it.
If you do want to go to Thailand then Bangkok is the obvious starting point and it’s a wonderful city. You also want to visit Ayutthaya, which you can do on a day trip but it’s better to stay a few days. Chiang Mai is the highlight of the north, partly because it’s insanely cheap and the weather is a bit cooler than Bangkok. Luang Prabang is another town not to miss and it’s fun for at least a few days. Don’t bother spending much time in Vientiane though.
In Central America you could consider Belize. It’s small, but it’s got islands and beaches (not everywhere though) and forests and other cultural sights, and English is more or less the official language. It’s not as well organized as Costa Rica, but it’s not bad and it feels safe. The other to consider there is Panama, which obviously has a lot in common with Costa Rica. It has far fewer adventure activities and the good beaches are spaced out a bit, but still it’s a relatively rich country with tens of thousands of Americans and Canadians living there as well as visiting, so they have a good tourist infrastructure and it’s safe.
The idea of holidaying in a country where the depths of winter are approaching may seem a little counter intuitive but stick with us. The aurora borealis, or Northern Lights, is the best light show on Earth, and a trip to Iceland in November is the perfect ticket to see them. Explore thermal geysers, stunning waterfalls, and epic glaciers by day then stay up late and watch the skies dance with green light by night. Just make sure you pack your thermals though – the average day time temperature only reaches highs of 4c (40F)!
Wine aficionados will enjoy sipping Argentina’s well-respected wines, Malbec, a rich red wine, and Torrontes, an aromatic white. Malbec is a perfect match for Argentina’s beef dishes, and Torrontes would make a delightful partner to Milanesa, whether veal or chicken, pounded thin, breaded, and fried. The country’s cuisine demonstrates the influence of Italy; about 3 million Italians migrated there during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Pizza, pasta, and helado, an ice cream similar to gelato, are as much a part of the cuisine as their asados, barbecued beef grilled on a parillo. Consider a stay at the historic Savoy Hotel, WorldHotels Collection in the artsy Avenue Corrientes area with its elegant neo-baroque lobby, adorned with chandeliers and frescoes.
If you are looking for first-rate destinations that are among the cheaper European cities, I’ll suggest Prague, Budapest, Krakow, and Berlin. You could visit all four of them by taking trains, or choose any one, two, or three. In December you can get quite a nice room in any of those cities, with Berlin being the most expensive by a bit. Food and attractions are also quite affordable in those cities.
This country-style dish from vegetarian cooking icon Deborah Madison is delicate and delicious and makes a lovely side dish for turkey. The recipe calls for baking it for 50 minutes in a 375 degree oven, but the results can be achieved in a 325 oven – the temperature for most turkey recipes – so it can be baked at the same time as the bird (provided your oven is large enough). Just allow 60 to 70 minutes total baking time.
The three places that jump out to me are the Playa del Carmen area just south of Cancun in Mexico, the island of Puerto Rico, or Costa Rica. All of those have endless beach activities and sights and great food and everything else, and they are all well within your budget. Puerto Rico would be easiest, and probably my first choice. Costa Rica is better known for adventure activities that might suit the younger ones. There are several good resort areas along the Pacific coast that would work.
If those flights are too expensive you might think about going somewhere else in Mexico or to Costa Rica. The area around Cancun including Playa del Carmen and Tulum and Cozumel has a LOT going on. And if you’ve been there you could instead go to the Puerto Vallarta area, which is very different and also great. For activities though it’s hard to beat Costa Rica. I think they invented zip-lining and the country is about one-third national parks with all kinds of fun activities. 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
As with other Caribbean resort destinations, the weather in Montego Bay is perfect in December, and the first half of the month is still cheap for flights and resort prices. The weekend before Christmas is when peak season here starts, and if you book early enough you can still get a good deal then, but don't expect many last-minute bargains during that period.
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.
One thing about Cancun that is interesting. Cancun itself is essentially a very long beach sticking out into the Caribbean that is lined with high-rise hotels and time-share properties. Except for a busy area at the corner of that peninsula, most of the hotels are spread out quite a bit, so there aren’t many things that most guests can walk to. Many people love it and are happy to basically stay in their own hotel most of the time, and maybe take a taxi down to that busy corner area once in a while. Personally, I’m a much bigger fan of Playa del Carmen, which is a full-on tourist town about 50 miles south of Cancun. It’s got hundreds of small hotels, restaurants, bars, shops, and everything else a visitor wants. The beaches aren’t quite as nice, but I find the town to be very fun and vibrant. Also, up and down the coast from south of Playa del Carmen to north of Cancun there are large resorts that are far from each other and on huge properties. Many of them are all-inclusive, so that is another option.
One of the best things about Puerto Vallarta is that, unlike most of the Caribbean destinations, this is a real historic town rather than a purpose-built resort community. That means that there are small and authentic (and cheap) restaurants catering primarily to locals, so you get a much more authentic experience if you prefer one. The hotel zone close to the airport is modern and posh, but you are a short taxi ride away from the lovely center of town.
The traffic in Bali makes sightseeing notoriously challenging in June through August, but November is less crowded so it's a good time to come and spend a day in Ubud or even take a tour of the towns along the northern shore. In fact, if you want to avoid the huge Kuta crowds altogether you should consider basing yourself in the Lovina area of the north shore. It's as lovely and charming as the whole island was 20 years ago, but that may not last.
Another option would be Cambodia and/or Vietnam. The town of Siem Reap, which is just next to the Angkor Wat Temples is the real highlight. Phnom Penh is worth a quick look, but not on a shorter trip. Vietnam itself is a wonderful and gorgeous country, and you can see a lot of the highlights in 10 days or so. It’s also very cheap, even around Christmas. You could fly into Hanoi and then go see Ha Long Bay, and then take a train down to Hoi An. After that you could go to Nha Trang for the best beach experience or the hilltown of Sapa. The city of Ho Chi Minh City is quite crowded and you might not like it for more than a day or two.
Adrenaline junkies should make for Tasmania’s Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park for roaring waterways and world-class river rafting. Punctuate your trip by exploring the surrounding scenery, from rocky gorges and mountains to tangled emerald rainforests. In Alta the snow has arrived but the crowds haven't, so get there quick to make your mark on some of the USA’s finest ski terrain.
If you didn’t want to go to Asia you could instead consider the ABC islands, which don’t get much rain and haven’t had a major storm in many decades. Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao are known for good snorkeling as well and you’d get good hotel rates that time of year. Two weeks might be a long time to spend on those islands though, so I would go to Asia if you can. Late November is a perfect time of year for a visit there, and you can even include a few days in Siem Reap to visit Ankor Wat. Let me know if you have any other questions. -Roger
Two of the easier other choices would be London or Madrid. From Amsterdam you can take a train to Brussels and then change for the Eurostar train to London, or you can fly. From London to Barcelona you’d want to fly for sure. If you chose Madrid you can go to Amsterdam and then fly to Barcelona and then take a train from Barcelona to Madrid in only 2.5 hours.
Overall, I’m declaring this vacation a great success! Not only did we have a wonderful time at the parks riding all the rides and enjoying the shows, I did not feel at all deprived or put upon food-wise, and not even once did I go hungry. All but one of our meals, including those at the hotel, were counter-service only establishments and I was able to find something filling and tasty for each meal. After this experience here are my recommendations for eating on vacation:
And if you are mostly interested in adventure and nature rather than cities, you might also consider India. The cities in India are complete insane asylums, but once you get outside of them it’s a beautiful country. The area of Kerala and its backwaters are a big highlight. They’ll remind you a bit of Sri Lanka in some ways, although things are cheaper and the scenery is quite different. The various beach areas of Goa, just to the north of Kerala, are also worth considering.
If you're determined to travel during the holiday periods, though, book your vacation flights, hotels, and cruise far in advance. If it works with your schedule, fly on Thanksgiving Day or Christmas day; those are the least crowded days of the holiday season. And if at all possible, avoid traveling during weekends, on the days right before or after the holiday, and late in the day. It's not only crowded at airports but also northern storms can wreak havoc and create weather delays that cascade across the system.
In Laos, Luang Prabang is a really lovely city, and Vang Vieng is nice, but Vientiane is kind of plain and probably not worth a stop. I don’t think I’d recommend Laos for a multi-generational trip, unless you just want to fly into and out of Luang Prabang. Laos is really interesting for backpackers and adventure travelers, but it’s behind the times for family travel.
It's actually a bit chilly in Hanoi in December, but generally very dry and exceedingly pleasant around the clock, so it's a very good time to visit. Nearly everyone who visits Hanoi will be doing it as part of a larger tour of Vietnam or other countries in Southeast Asia, and this is one of the cooler cities this time of year, therefore a nice balance to some of the places that are still quite hot.
My other two suggestions are San Juan, Puerto Rico and Cartagena, Colombia. Both cities have really wonderful colonial districts and modern resort districts nearby. San Juan is more expensive, but still reasonable, and it has far better beaches. Both have a bit of rain in November, but it tends to come and go quickly. You’ll get similar rainstorms in most of the Caribbean in November, so it’s a bit tricky. I hope this helps. If you had something else in mind let me know and I’ll try again. -Roger
Thank you so much for the kind words and I’m always happy to hear that people find this information useful. As far as Turkey in December is concerned, I wouldn’t recommend it. I actually lived in a small town near Antalya on the Mediterranean for a bit over a year and I was surprised by the fact that almost everything closed down around 1-November and didn’t start opening again until March or April. Actually, I think Istanbul would still be enjoyable in December and so would Bodrum or any of the other larger cities including Antalya. But anywhere on the coast will be a ghost town and I’m pretty sure that Cappadocia would also be mostly shut for the winter. Ephesus probably stays open, but similar to Cappadocia, the attractions are all outdoors and they can get pretty fierce rainstorms in winter.
If you are open to Africa you should consider Morocco. It will be a bit chilly in December, but still warm enough to enjoy everything. The culture there is fascinating and it’s also very tourist-friendly and safe. I think it would be cheaper for you to fly to Morocco than to the Americas, and the daily costs are very reasonable as well. Those should give you some things to think about, and feel free to follow up if you have other questions.
If that doesn’t interest you I would point you towards the Playa del Carmen area, which is just south of Cancun and just across the strait from Cozumel. November is technically the last month of hurricane season and early in the month you’ll probably get at least a few quick rain storms, but actual hurricane in November are very rare. And at least Playa del Carmen is on the mainland and near a huge airport, so tourists would never be trapped there as they might on some small islands. Playa del Carmen is a fairly large touristy town with hundreds of little hotels, restaurants, bars, and things to do, so it’s good for a solo visit or with another person. Cancun proper, on the other hand, is mainly a long strip of beach hotels and time-share residences that are spread out and not well suited to solo visitors or small groups.
We are looking to explore warm Central American destinations safe for kids and affordable in price. We love beaches. Not in the typical sun-bathing type of way, but rather appreciating the raw beauty of the nature. We also like to eat out and having activities for the kids and as a family would be excellent. Could you suggest a destination that fits the bill? Central America appeals to me but open to other suggestions you may find worth mentioning.
As for flight connections, Barcelona and Madrid should have decent connections to Toronto and Delhi, while Casablanca (Morocco’s largest airport) probably does not. So Spain is the better choice by that standard. On the other hand, you can get to Morocco by ferry from Spain in a short time, so you could go to Spain and also visit Morocco for a day or two.
It would help to know your starting location, but I’ll assume it’s the US or Canada because you didn’t say. My first thought for this is Argentina, which of course is in mid spring in late October. Buenos Aires is a wonderful city with great food and culture. You could also visit Mendoza, which is the lovely wine region, and Bariloche, which is a mountain resort area with year-round activities and such. Then there is always the amazing Iguazu Falls on the border with Brazil and Paraguay. It’s by far the most amazing waterfalls and area I’ve seen. Things are pretty cheap in Argentina these days for outsiders because of their weak currency. It’s also got very good outdoor activities in many different areas that should have nice weather in late October. It’s easier if you know Spanish, but still doable if you don’t. I don’t speak Spanish and I enjoyed it so much I stayed for a month. Let me know if you have something else in mind and I can try again. -Roger
Plan ahead. Research a little on supermarkets if you’re self catering and restaurants if you’re not. Luckily we’re both a little bit familiar with Italy so we knew we would be able to get plenty of keto food without too much searching. I did have an issue with chocolate though. I ran out of my Lindt 90% and didn’t bring any with me so I had to hunt a bit to find a grocery store that stocked it. Most shops only sold milk chocolate.
As chilly temperatures arrive in the northern hemisphere, it’s spring in Buenos Aires, an ideal time to visit. The city’s jacaranda trees are decorating the streets in purple petals, hotel prices are attractive, and the weather is comfortable and dry. A cruise along the Rio de la Plata would be a good place to start, for a relaxing overview of neighborhoods, homes, markets, and the waterfront. On Sundays, get some authentic local flavor at Feria De Mataderos, about an hour from downtown, with gauchos on horses, craft vendors, musicians, tango dancers, and regional foods.
My boyfriend and I are trying to plan a somewhat last minute trip for the second two weeks in December. We would love somewhere that is a little more laid back, but interesting enough that we wouldn’t get bored. We also would prefer a one-stop destination that doesn’t require a lot of additional travel outside the initial flight. If it was a beach that was good for surfing that would be a huge bonus, but we also like snorkeling or hiking. We aren’t really fans of all-inclusives, mostly just because we’re not heavy drinkers and don’t like buffets so it seems like a bad fit. Any ideas off the top of your head for a budget friendly place that would fit all that? I greatly appreciate your time and think it’s really awesome you’ve been replying to all the comments!
Fortunately, Bangkok remains very cheap by almost anyone's standards. If you want to splash down for a nice 3-star room then it'll be half the price of a similar room in Europe or the US, and if you are fine with something more basic then you can find a room for next to nothing, even in the fun Khaosan Road backpacker district. Street meals for around a dollar are always there too, so you'll be able to afford a bit more for a room anyway.
Hi Roger, What a great list! Answers to this question may not involve “great” weather. My 40+ yo boyfriend has never been outside the US (!) while I’ve traveled a bit (France, Spain, Italy, Greece, Iceland, Lebanon, E/W Canada, Mexico) and he’d rather go somewhere we both haven’t. We’re in Richmond VA and we’ll be travelling 11/22 – 26 this year. We love being outdoors and solo adventuring, don’t mind putting on rain jackets and lightly hiking/biking around old sites in 50-80 degree F weather; we enjoy delicious cuisine in hole-in-the-wall restaurants and staying in quirky hostels/Airbnb but also spending at least one day being tourons on a big red bus if available. Any ideas in eastern/western Europe? He’s really looking forward to going there. Thanks!