Costa Rica is kind of the Thailand of Latin America in that they have great tourist infrastructure and it’s the easiest place to get around. They also have a lot to offer with the beaches on both coasts and many natural sights and activities, plus of course the Arenal volcano, which is a really nice area. San Jose is best as a place to just pass through on your way somewhere else.
This sounds like a really fun trip you have in mind. I think the challenge is that most of Europe is much closer to 50F than 80F in November, and a good chunk of Europe is already colder than that. I’m running a new series highlighting the best places in Europe (and Asia) to go each month of the year, and I think that the best Europe destinations in November would be helpful to you. Another tricky thing is that you’ve been to many of the warmer places already, and I do understand your boyfriend’s desire to go someplace that neither of you have been.
This is a very good month to visit because the weather continues to be perfect here, while the largest crowds from northern Europe haven't quite started arriving yet. So finding an affordable hotel or apartment rental should be easy, and the restaurants and bars are always reasonably priced. If you want to be among other English speakers you'll want to focus on the southwest area of the island around Los Cristianos and Playa de la America.
I am wanting to plan a college graduation trip for 10 days/2 weeks during the last days of December and early January. We live in Az. The graduate would like to do the Galapagos or Austraila or New Zealand. I am thinking it is too late to plan the Galapagos as those trips seem to get booked so far in advance. We want to have a memorable trip. Are these destinations you would suggest? Any other suggestions? We want to be somewhat active, not just driving and looking at sights.
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!
Aside from Indonesia you might also consider Thailand, which has great infrastructure so it’s much easier to travel with young children. Phuket has by far the most options, and its rainy season usually ends in early November. For families I recommend Kata Beach and Karon Beach, which are both just south of the main shopping and nightlife town of Patong Beach.
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.
Cartagena is a lovely place as well, but another reader just pointed out that the US government has a new travel warning to all of Colombia as of June, 2017. The US has travel warnings to many countries that people still safely travel to every day, but it is something to consider. Many years ago Colombia had quite a few problems, and yet Cartagena was always okay because it is this little cruise port and tourist city far away from the major urban centers. Seeing this, I would think twice myself, although I wouldn’t rule it out, but I also wouldn’t go anywhere except Cartagena at the moment.
As for key events in December, I typically avoid those sorts of things myself, so I’m not a good source on that. I actually visited Rio de Janeiro during Carnival, by accident, and it drives hotel prices so high and also crowds that it’s probably the worst time to visit unless you specifically want to spend all night watching the parades. And Oktoberfest, as another example, literally triples the prices of hotel rooms in Munich, so it’s only worth it if you REALLY want to get involved in the Oktoberfest thing yourself. But plenty of other travelers love to go witness the biggest events, and I assume they love it, so there is no right or wrong.
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.
In her dynamite cookbook “Martha Stewart’s Vegetables,” the queen of domesticity shows how acorn squash can be a canvas for a variety of flavors. Roasted with sesame seeds and cumin, the squash takes on the warmth of the Mediterranean. Tossed with bacon, maple syrup and a touch of cayenne, it echoes the comfort of the breakfast table. And paired with orange peel, sage leaves and a touch of grated Parmigiano offers the perfect balance to rich gravy and herbed stuffing.
If you are looking for an island that is moderately priced in late November I would probably head to Thailand. The rainy season typically ends in the middle of November in Phuket and Ko Samui and the other popular islands, although you might still get a few quick storms in late November. One nice thing is the crowds don’t start coming until mid December so you have a huge selection of hotels at really good prices.
I totally agree about the solo traveling thing being down to luck in many cases. Right now I’m on a long trip around Europe again, and from one night to the next I might meet a bunch of interesting people, or be sitting there alone in a sea of locals with no interest in chatting with foreigners. At least in a place like Goa, everybody is on holiday, so I’ve had good luck meeting people.
Another consideration is that Thailand is generally easier to get to with far more flights that are often cheaper, and Thailand also has FAR more beach options because of its long southern coastline and especially the islands. The posh beach areas on Phuket are typically the most expensive beach hotels in Thailand, but there are other more remote beaches in Phuket with lower prices so it’s worth a look. Aside from Phuket you should also look at Ko Samui, Ko Pha Ngan, and Ko Phi Phi. You might also look at the town of Pattaya, which is the closest beach resort to the Bangkok Airport. Parts of town have a lot of single foreign men in certain bars at night, but most of the town is actually quite family friendly and very good value. Let me know if you have other questions. -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.
Another reason to consider Dubai is that the busy airport has cheap non-stop flights coming in from almost every major airport in Europe and Asia. As a result it's popular to book long weekend trips of 3 or 4 days to Dubai, where you can enjoy some sunshine and shopping before flying back home where it gets colder by the day. You might also consider stopping for a few days in Dubai and then moving onto somewhere else with cheap direct flights such as the Maldives.
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
For those from the Northern hemisphere in need of decent a blast of winter sun, the picturesque coastal town of Essaouira is the perfect place to put your feet up and relax. Fresh-caught fish sizzles on beachside grills, whitewashed houses with blue shutters lend a Mediterranean vibe, and you can lose hours wandering through the dozens of art galleries and workshops.
Those who adore the holidays and don’t mind the cold (the average high is around 48 degrees) might consider an end-of-year trip across the pond. Arguably Europe’s most festive destination, December in London promises charming Christmas markets, show-stopping Christmas trees, and streets covered in twinkling lights. A number of posh hotels, like 45 Park Lane and The Dorchester even have Christmas-centric packages available to get you into the holiday spirit.
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
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
First of all, applause to all your kind help (and your time). My 8 years old boy and I want to travel in December to a warm country and I am a little bit nervous to be only two of us since my hubby could not join us. I am just wondering if Costa Rica (or Brazil) safe to travel for a woman alone with young kid? Any other safe countries in your mind (with affordable price)? We live in D.C and don’t want to fly too far like Asia, Australia, etc. We have been in Dubai and Mexico.
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.
If you are going for one week I wouldn’t go all the way to Thailand, but if it’s two weeks I think it’s worth it. It takes most of a day in each direction, but flights are often reasonably priced, and everything there is cheap once you get there. I’ve actually lived in Thailand for 6 months and have visited many more times and it’s actually very easy and stress free once you are there. All the important signs are in English and nearly everyone you’ll encounter as a tourist will speak enough English to help you as well. You can get around by train or VIP bus for cheap, or fly to the islands for cheap. It’s very safe there as well. You could spend a few days in Bangkok and then head to one of the islands or take a train up to Chiang Mai.
Unsurprisingly, the end of December is the beginning of the peak season for resort prices, so those who are able to come earlier in the month will be getting better deals. Still, the all-inclusive resorts are locked in heavy competition all year so this area can be a great deal compared to the alternatives, even in high season. If you are looking for where to go in December for an all-inclusive beach holiday, this is your best option for most people.