Lace up your boots for an end-of-year adventure at the wild ends of the Earth. December is the ideal time to explore Patagonia’s mind-blowingly beautiful Torres del Paine National Park. Embark on an epic trek along the eight-day circuit, or take the four-day ‘W’ trek for Instagram-worthy views of Los Cuernos (the ‘horns’), the region’s iconic jagged granite peaks. Similarly breathtaking experiences can be had diving the coral reefs around Thailand’s Similan Islands. Beneath the sparkling surface of the ocean you’ll find sharks, barracuda, rays and green and hawksbill turtles – it’s Finding Nemo brought to life.
By the time November rolls around, Cancun has pretty much perfect weather for anyone. The heat of summer and early autumn has turned into a tropical warmth that is usually accompanied by pleasant breezes so it's lovely all day and all evening. The peak season doesn't start until late December so this is the perfect time to visit when rates are still nearly at their summer lows.
As for Costa Rica, I think it would be ideal for what you have in mind. It’s by far the most tourist-friendly (and English speaking friendly) country in that area, so it’s a great starting point. Belize is pretty easy as well, although there is far less nature to enjoy. Panama and Nicaragua are a bit cheaper and have similar things to offer, but Costa Rica has the best infrastructure and nature parks, so it’s less stressful for a first-timer. The snorkeling is better on the Caribbean coast, I believe, but the better tourist beaches are on the Pacific. The country is pretty quick to get across, so you could easily spend a few days on both sides, plus another few exploring the rain forests and volcanoes and such.
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.
I am from Chennai, India. Me and my wife are planning to spend about 8 days in SE asia around christmas time. Based on your inputs we are looking at either Vietnam or beaches of thailand. We are on a strict budget constraint so which one of these two will be a better option as far as budget goes ? And if it is thailand beaches, where do you suggest we go to avoid over crowding and for budget deals during christmas ? Thanks in advance 🙂
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
Heat your winter up and pack your backs to explore Australia. Celebrate New Year’s Eve at The Opera Gala in Sydney. Eat your way through the Taste Festival in Tasmania. And if music is your thing, we recommend checking out the Life’s a Beach Music Festival in Rockingham (30 minutes south of Perth) or experience the Woodford Folk Festival in Queensland, one of Australia’s biggest cultural festivals.
The article was written in 2013, but then updated and expanded every year. Since so many people visiting New Zealand do it in a rented car or camper van, all of the companies have deals that include the ferry crossing and returning the car on a different island. Just shop around online and you’ll find prices that include all of that. And also look into renting a campervan if that appeals to you at all. It’s really a wonderful way to see the country, and it’s cheaper than renting a car and staying in hotels or cabins.
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.
That said, I think going to Siem Reap in Cambodia would also be a great idea. And Vietnam is also really wonderful, especially that time of year. Hanoi is quite chilly in December and Saigon is still very warm. It’s worth visiting both of those along with Halong Bay near Hanoi and Hoi An in the center of the country on your way between them. You could easily spend 10 days in Vietnam or more.
18 to 29s Active Active adventures advice Africa Asia Australia Central America China City guide Cuba Europe Family Food guide Hiking India intrepid Intrepid traveller Intrepid trip Italy Japan Local leaders Mexico Middle East Morocco Nepal North America Peru photography Responsible Travel solo travel South America South East Asia Thailand tips travel traveller stories travelling Travel tips trekking Turkey USA Vietnam Wildlife
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.
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.
Thank you, and I’m always happy to hear that people find this useful. Buenos Aires is a wonderful city and it feels very modern and very European, at least compared with most of the rest of South America. I would think that bringing a baby there would be similar to bringing one to, say, London or Paris. Rio de Janeiro is perhaps the most beautiful city location on earth, and it’s got some very rich areas (mostly along the beaches) and many dodgy areas. They also seem to struggle more with infrastructure there so bus service isn’t very modern and that sort of thing. That said, I haven’t been since they hosted the World Cup and Olympics and I’ve read that much of the situation has improved. Long story short, I think you might just have to be a bit more careful in Rio when choosing a hotel and neighborhood and that sort of thing, but generally I think you’d be good.
By early December the rainy season is pretty much over in Cartagena, and it cools down just a bit more as well, so the weather really doesn't get any better than this. As with most others on this list, right around Christmas you'll find that hotels get more expensive and are more crowded, so if you can go earlier in the month you'll be paying less and dealing with fewer crowds.
In South America, and you start getting into some longer flights here, the best and safest places are Argentina, Peru, and Chile. I’m not sure if this helps you much, but at least it should let you know that you were thinking along the right lines already, and there are no obvious places that you’d overlooked. Let me know if you have any other questions. -Roger
In colder weather it’s probably better to focus on the great cities rather than places more known for scenery and outdoor activities. If your budget is generous then my top choice would be London, Paris, and Amsterdam. You could fly into any of those and then visit the others by high-speed train. The train that connects London to Paris and Amsterdam is called the Eurostar, and the earlier you buy your tickets the cheaper they will be. Paris and Amsterdam are linked by normal high-speed trains, which are also cheapest when you buy early. Speaking of that, your dates are prime travel dates over the Christmas holidays so the airfares will be kind of expensive and they will only go up from here. In other words, buy as soon as you can.
Thanks for all of this Roger! It looks like in the comments you mention Portugal a couple times and I wanted your opinion – we’re looking at the first two weeks and probably focusing on Lisbon to Porto (since we know it will be too cold to do the beaches in the south). While Portugal seems to be highly recommended, I keep seeing conflicting information about November being rainy – we definitely don’t want to spend 2 weeks in the rain but in your experience what are the chances of that? Thank you!!
The secret to a pleasurable European vacation in November? Go south. While cities like London, Paris, and Berlin feel the winter chill this time of year, Lisbon has the good fortune of a subtropical Mediterranean climate—which means temperatures are in the mid 60s. Book a room at the landmark Tivoli Lisboa in the center of the city. The luxury property sits on Avenida da Liberdade, a bustling boulevard that’s akin to New York’s Fifth Avenue. Ask the hotel to arrange a “Vintage Lisbon” walking tour and explore the city’s rich art and architecture scene.
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)!
Amazing post! I am taking vacation the last two weeks of November. I am planning to visit Germany for the first week. I also want to soak in some sun and enjoy the beach life during the second week of my vacation . Initially I wanted to go to Spain, but after reading your post I’m a bit discouraged because is not going to be warm enough . I love to sunbathe and outdoors activities . Just as running, hiking, tennis etc . Also I love to learn new cultures and fit in with the locals. Keep it economical .I been to must of the Caribbean and wouldn’t mind revisiting . But open to new warm destinations that would make sense. I would love to hear some of your suggestions .Thank you in Advance and safe travels..