This popular island in the Andaman Sea boasts mountains, rainforests, white sand beaches, nightlife, and a range of hotels from casual to ultra-luxury. Watersports of all kinds are popular, with snorkeling and scuba diving among the colorful fish and coral reefs a favorite. Boat trips take visitors to smaller nearby islands and among the limestone cliffs, caves, and karsts — steep limestone structures rising from the clear aqua sea. The white marble “Big Buddha” statue, nearly 150 feet tall, on top of Nakkerd Hills is visible from miles around, and it provides a stunning viewpoint. The island has been settled from early times and through the years with migrants from India, Arabia, China, Portugal, Sri Lanka, Netherlands, France, and Great Britain, all attracted by Phuket’s natural resources. Old Phuket Town’s shrines, temples, museums, shophouses, and buildings provide some evidence of the island’s history. Today, for lively nightlife, head to Bangla Road at Patong Beach for restaurants, pubs, music, open air cafes, and street performers. For many visitors, Phuket’s beaches are the main attraction, and with more than 30 around the island along with ideal December weather, everyone can find the perfect spot for sunning and swimming. For the ultimate in luxury, the beachfront Banyan Tree Phuket offers villas with private pools and open-air bathtubs, an award-winning spa, several dining options, golf, and a tranquil saltwater lagoon.
It’ll definitely be too chilly in Portugal or Malta to go in the water in November, and Malta has almost no beaches anyway. I really like Malta a lot, but it’s not a great beach destination. It will be warm enough in the Canary Islands, but the flight from Atlanta would be long and expensive because you have to change planes in Madrid. Also, I find the Canary Islands to be pleasant and the weather is wonderful, but it’s kind of boring there compared to the other places we are discussing.
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.
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.
People don’t think of Moscow for winter, but it’s such a wonderful time to be there. The weather is no worse than what you’d find in New York City, and the huge advantage is the people—or, really, the lack of people! No masses of tourist buses descending on the Kremlin, no huge lines for museums (of course, we ensure our travelers skip all museum lines anyway), and no crazy crowds in Red Square. Something magical happens in Moscow in the off-season: It actually becomes more approachable and less intimidating. (Plus, December falls in the heart of the theater season, so for culture vultures this is the best time to visit.)
Even though November is one of the busy months in Pokhara, they've built so many new hotels in the past few years that finding a room – even at a decent price – should always be possible. The high-season rates are still very cheap by almost anyone else's standards, and food and drinks are always very affordable, but if you look around a bit you'll be able to do even better.
In November you can find excellent resort deals all over the Dominican Republic, but Punta Cana is typically the first choice, especially if you are looking for an all-inclusive resort with all the luxury extras at a great price. The resort is actually a collection of little beach areas on the eastern tip of the island, so it's very secluded and well away from some of the confusion closer to the capital city.
From December through February there are literally no European cities that could qualify as having “great weather,” except for the Canary Islands, which is listed below. So during the winter Europe is all about cultural tourism, and lower hotel prices make it especially appealing for those who like to stretch their travel budgets and avoid crowds at the same time.
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.
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
I too am a planner, which is how I got involved in this, and so I totally understand your motivation. I think your plan sounds quite good. The weather in the places you are planning is actually fairly mild, and none of them are too far north. For some of us it’s easy to forget how far north parts of Europe are, and in those areas it’s not so much the cold but the fact that the sun rises at 10am and sets at 3pm that time of the year.
Steamed pumpkin sautéed and seasoned with fresh orange juice makes a tasty fall or winter side dish. Pumpkin steamed in the pressure cooker is easy to peel and dice and the steaming liquid can be used as a flavorful liquid in another recipe. You can pressure cook spaghetti squash this way too: use the same timing, but tease out the “spaghetti” flesh with a fork instead of dicing it.
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.
Spend the past two days discussing your ideas. Group thoughts; Is that adventurous and cultural enough? We want a “wow” factor. We have vacationed in Cayman Islands about a dozen weeks since the kids were little (been there done that.). We have ruled out Asia only because don’t see a huge Wow factor for the amount of travel. What about African Safari? Still not ruling out your ideas, just want to know what is Wow about Puerto Rico? Costa Rica?
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.
In SE Asia you have many choices, but probably the best choice for a family would be Phuket, Thailand. It’s more expensive than Goa, but the infrastructure there is much better. Patong Beach is the biggest town on the island and the main tourist hub, but for a family I’d recommend Karon Beach or Kata Beach, both of which are just a bit south of Patong, and both lovely.
Costa Rica, as you probably know, is all about nature and adventure sports, along with some decent beaches. It would be perfect if you are up for that sort of thing. If not, Santiago and Valparaiso (nearby cities in Chile) could be good for more of an urban adventure. Or Buenos Aires is even nicer and more interesting (and probably cheaper if you bring cash) if you can get a deal on a flight there.
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.
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.
On the hunt for a non-traditional ski vacation? Look no further than the Japanese Alps. According to American Express Travel, the region has seen an increase in bookings during the holidays in recent years. And while December has historically been less popular than Japan’s peak season—April-November—adventurous travelers are now intrigued by the wilderness of Japan in the winter. The Hida, Kiso, and Akaishi alps are home to indigenous snow monkeys, volcanoes, and lava plateaus, plus, visitors are drawn to the area for its pristine ski offerings, natural hot springs, and rural hiking.
So long story short, if you want to visit Istanbul and perhaps another city, I think December could be okay. But for almost anywhere else in Turkey I just don’t think it’s worth it. Fortunately there are plenty of other places to choose from and hopefully you can find time for Turkey another time of the year. Let me know if you have any other questions. -Roger
While the most recent hurricane has hit some areas of Florida pretty hard, most people know that come wintertime, the further down south or towards the desert you go, the warmer the weather will be. This tried and true fact makes November one of the best times to visit Florida, especially for travelers wanting to engage in lots of opportunities for nature-viewing. You won’t need binoculars in the Sunshine State to spot the sight of wintering birds at Florida’s Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge -- they make an annual pit stop along the major migration corridor located near Cape Canaveral. You and the entire fam can also stare at a colorful gathering of pink roseate spoonbills that hide out in various estuaries around the area come November.
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.
Once again, it's worth noting that the first half of December will be cheaper and far less crowded than the time around Christmas, so if it's possible you should come early for best value. Still, compared to, say, Miami Beach, Cancun and the other Mexican resort towns are far cheaper and at least as fun as well. By the way, Cancun is mainly just a strip of high-rise hotels along a lovely beach, while Playa del Carmen (about an hour south) is a real tourist-friendly town with smaller hotels as well as hundreds of restaurants and shops to choose from.
Heading east, India could be a possibility, although it’s not for the faint of heart. As a resident of Singapore, I assume you know a fair bit about India. Outside of Mumbai, it’s all quite cheap and the weather will at least be good. Personally, I love the southern state of Goa, and it has everything you are looking for, without the insanely crowded conditions of India’s big cities.
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.
For our early dinner (Meal 4) we found a burger joint, where I had a bacon and cheese (shredded, not the gross, carb-laden “cheese” sauce) hot dog. I grabbed some green beans with salt and pepper as my side, and sidled up to their topping bar where I smothered my dog with mayo, mustard, onions, and pickles. Dinner was great, and I wasn’t hungry again until much later in the evening (around 9 pm) when the kids and hubby stopped for ice cream. I walked down two shops to the coffee joint and got a plain iced coffee blended with ice, heavy cream, and some sugar free caramel flavor. I accompanied this treat with one packet of my almond butter and was good to go. I sat with my family while they were enjoying their sweet treat and didn’t feel deprived in the least.
The rainy season in Belize doesn’t really end until early January, which is why it didn’t make the December list. Belize is definitely affordable enough to make this list and it appears for many of the following months. If you are thinking about going to Belize in December I think it’s a good choice. As you probably know, the Tropical rain patterns are such that the showers tend to come and go quickly, and they are often overnight. -Roger
Pretty much everywhere is going to be at or near capacity for those dates because half the world is on Christmas break. Between Australia and New Zealand, I think New Zealand would be far more interesting for 10 to 14 days. In Australia you pretty much have to spend a few days in Sydney, a few days in Melbourne, and a few days at the Great Barrier Reef, all of which require flights and will be very crowded over those weeks.
December is a popular month to go cruising around Hawaii and Mexico. It’s an ideal family trip, especially with most kids in the US out of school for the holidays. Experience the Hawaii’s tropical paradise. Pick a popular cruise liner and visit ports of call like Nawiliwili on Kauai, Honolulu on Oahu and Kona on the Big Island. If the Caribbean floats your boat, we recommend taking a cruise to explore Mexico’s Costa Maya, Cozumel, Ensenada, Acapulco, Cabo San Lucas, Puerto Vallarta and more.
I am trying to find advice on going to Cartegna, Colombia with my husband and 2 daughters next month, November 2017. We have never been there been, speak Spanish, and like the idea of the history and the hot weather. There is a US Travel Warning to Cartegna (as of June 2017) and I am thinking of cancelling our trip. There are so many websites of things “not to do” and “do not go there” and “do not where that” and “always have a full tank of gas” that I am scared. AND, the Travel Warnings says kidnapping! Do you think we should cancel and go to the Caribbean instead?
It’s going to be pretty cold in December all over Europe, although not quite so bad in the south, of course. As far as where to go, I’ll refer to our Europe 3-star traveler index, which lists every major city in Europe from cheapest to most expensive. The price is the typical daily expense per person for a couple traveling and staying in 3-star hotels. Once you scan through that list you should have some ideas.