You would probably get some rain in Cartagena in November, but mostly in the first half of the month, and even then it tends to come down in short bursts rather than all day, so it’s usually easy to avoid. I love Cartagena for trips like this because the walled historic part of the city is really lovely and fun, with plenty to see and do. The nearby beaches are big, but the sand isn’t white and fluffy, so they won’t make too many “best beaches” lists. It’s also very cheap there, and especially at the tail end of the off season like that. As long as you don’t mind the possibility of a couple of quick rain storms, it should be great.
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.
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.
If you are looking for a cheap, beautiful, and relaxing beach destination during December then Goa is ideal. This has become hugely popular with package tourists from Europe and Israel (and more recently Russia), and the facts that pretty much everyone speaks English and there aren't many cultural opportunities means that it's a perfect place to just vegetate in a beach chair for a week or two.
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.
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.
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.
My top recommendation would be San Juan, Puerto Rico. It offers a wonderful mix of history and culture and nightlife and great food, alongside excellent beaches and abundant activities. Hotels and rental apartments are mostly in the mid-range for the Caribbean, but food and drinks and most other things are great value. You could get a place in the Condado area, which is close to the lovely Old San Juan neighborhood and plenty of nightlife all around. And then perhaps you could rent a car and stay for a few days at one of the smaller beach towns elsewhere on the island. You wouldn’t even need a passport, although it does feel fairly exotic while you are there. But because it’s part of the US, it’s also well organized and safe. Most people you’ll meet will speak at least some English, and many are fluent, so it’s easy even if you don’t speak Spanish.
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.
Cambodia could work because Siem Reap is inland and the amazing Angkor Wat temples are worth a full day or two, and the town of Siem Reap itself is quite nice. You could actually combine a couple days in Siem Reap with a few days in Bangkok, and take a (cheap) luxury bus between the two. Bangkok is a really fascinating city with a lot to see, plus it’s a great transport hub. The other main non-beach option in Thailand is the city of Chiang Mai, which is wonderfully inexpensive with quite a bit to see. It’s even a bit cool during December, so that might be a nice change of pace from India. Many people are also going to Myanmar these days, although I haven’t been yet so it’s hard for me to recommend it. I’d say if you combined 2 or even 3 of these places you could have a very interesting holiday.
But if you wanted more to explore the area near Singapore then Malaysia and Thailand are the obvious choices. The three most popular stops in Malaysia are Malacca, Kuala Lumpur, and George Town on the island of Penang. I quite like all of those so it’s hard to recommend one over another. I really like Kuala Lumpur and have spent quite a bit of time there, but honestly compared to Singapore it seems a bit untidy and old fashioned. In other words, if you are tired of a big and busy city like Singapore, then don’t plan much time in KL. Malacca and George Town are both smaller tourist cities with great food and interesting sights. There is frequent and cheap bus service from Singapore going through Malacca and onto KL. Then more buses from there to Penang and onto Bangkok.
On my own trip I spent 3 nights on the North Island after leaving Auckland, and then 4 nights on the South Island. The South Island is more scenic and interesting, and much less crowded, so I would have liked to have stayed another 2 or 3 nights if I had the time. So I’d recommend 3 or 4 nights on the North Island and 5 to 7 nights on the South Island. With smaller towns and smaller crowds on the South Island, that is the better place for star gazing, though most of the North Island is fairly empty as well. It’s an amazing place and I’m sure you’ll love it. Have a great trip. -Roger
November is a perfect time to visit Bermuda, with temperatures in the mid-70s and pink sand beaches that are less crowded than in high season. There are many ways to explore the 21-square-mile island, from under the sea where you can snorkel or dive among coral reefs or shipwrecks to the Bermuda Railway Trail, an 18-mile abandoned rail bed that winds through scenic landscapes and shorelines. The Crystal Caves take you into an underground world with a subterranean lake and white limestone stalagmites. The 36-acre Botanical Gardens, established in 1898, inspired John Lennon during a two-month Bermuda stay that led to his Double Fantasy album.
This is a really interesting question. If you want to avoid crowds then you have already figured out that it’s best to avoid Honolulu and I would avoid Oahu completely. The Big Island is very interesting because of the volcano and some of the other scenery, but the most beautiful islands are Maui and Kauai. I haven’t made it to Kauai yet, but everyone I know has been there and they swear it’s the most photogenic, which looks right based on the photos I’ve seen. Maui is also really gorgeous and all islands other than Oahu are uncrowded even in high season. I drove all over Maui in a rental car and loved it and I don’t think there is as much to see on Kauai. So either of those will be great choices and the weather should be almost perfect in December with warm (but not scorching) temperatures and almost no rain. Have a great trip and let me know if you have any other questions. -Roger
The food, including its famous ceviche dishes, is a particular highlight here, and the tourist district of Miraflores is packed with interesting and cheap restaurants. Basic and cheap hotels are in the same neighborhood, so it's a better alternative to the historic center of Lima for most people. By the way, the rainy season in Cusco starts in December, so the trails can sometimes be cut off, although many people go anyway.
My favorite part of Bali is now the area around Lovina along the north coast, which is still very mellow and mostly open spaces with light development. It’s really beautiful and there is plenty to do. You can get similar experiences by visiting the nearby Gili islands, which also feel like Bali used to be 20 years ago when it was much nicer. They are all really beautiful and relaxing islands with great scenery and very friendly people. You just need to steer clear of the places that are the most crowded.
The best places in December with good weather and that are inexpensive and also fairly close to India are Sri Lanka and Thailand, and they are both mentioned in the article above. Sri Lanka is obviously closer and you have many nice and scenic areas in the hills as well as the beach areas along the southern coast. But Sri Lanka has many similarities to India, as you may know.
I haven’t followed the Zika list, but I do understand the concern. Since you aren’t big beach people, you might just bring jackets and go to a more romantic city like Paris, and then maybe down to Nice for part of the trip and something a bit different. I’m not sure if this is helping, but if you have any questions about any of this I’m happy to keep trying. -Roger
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.
The subtropical climate of Hong Kong means that summers are particularly hot and wet, and spring is warm and humid. November is the sweet spot, with clear, sunny days and mild temperatures. During your trip, you'll want to take a traditional junk boat ride on the harbour (seen here) and check out the sweeping city views from Victoria Peak, which you can reach by tram. Another can't miss? Stockton, a hidden speakeasy-style whiskey bar in Central.