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.
If you are looking for an all-inclusive resort with reasonable airfares from Chicagoland, your best bets will be in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, or the Cancun/Playa del Carmen area. Both have everything on your list, except perhaps wild life, depending on how you define that. You can get cheaper flights into Cancun, and there is a wide variety of offerings once you are there. If you don’t think you want to leave the hotel much, then stay in the Cancun hotel district or along the Maya Riviera nearby. But if you want to interact with a real and lovely town, then stay in Playa del Carmen or over on Cozumel. There are many nearby activities and some very interesting ruins.
Europe in general and Greece in specific are not ideal in January because it’s cold and many sights are closed. I’d go to Thailand, which has a great variety of things to see and do, and January is the best weather month. Spend at least a few days in Bangkok and then either go to one of the islands like Phuket or Kho Samui, or head up to Chiang Mai for its temples and shopping and outdoor activities. You could even head over to Siem Reap to spend a couple days seeing Angkor Wat. Let me know if you have other questions. -Roger
If you’ve got 5 to 7 days and are starting in India I don’t think you want to fly halfway around the world, so it’s probably best to go somewhere between Dubai and Bali. Dubai has cheap flights from most places and it’s very family oriented with large play parks inside shopping malls and that sort of thing. You could get an apartment there in one of the many apartment-hotels for a reasonable price, and the December weather should be pretty good as well.
Rio is probably the most beautiful city in the world as far as the setting is concerned, but it’s also famous for petty crime. As you mentioned, I think it’s quite easy to stay safe as long as you are aware of the situation. The biggest problem by far is tourists getting robbed by someone holding a knife or sometimes a gun, and they are often in groups. However, this almost always happens to people who are walking close to the water on the beaches after the crowds have gone for the day. The sidewalks along Copacabana and Ipanema are brightly lit and safe, but there is a mound of sand between the sidewalk and the water, so if you go to the water you can’t be seen by the security guards and police on the street. As long as you avoid that, and any other situation where you are alone in a dark place late at night, you’ll be fine.
My fiance and I plan to travel for a month starting Oct. 20. We’re thinking about selecting a region that would allow 4 destinations with great food, outdoor activities (hiking, swimming, horses, yoga, etc), nice accommodations that don’t break the bank, and some sight-seeing. We’re planning to get married on the trip, too. Any suggestions? Super appreciate your insight!
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.
“Winter in Eastern Canada” might sound more like a 19th-century prison sentence than it does a pleasant vacation, but Quebec City does the cold better than anywhere in North America. Blanketed in snow, QC looks like the world’s most elaborately constructed Christmas village. The cobblestone streets in Old Quebec densely packed with storefronts beckoning you to come in for hot food and baked goods, and boisterous bars overflow with a cacophony of Quebecoise. In December the streets are draped with Christmas wreaths and populated with carolers, plus there’s an authentic German Christmas market -- a true novelty in a city so overwhelmingly French.
As for my own Top 10 destinations in general, that’s a tough one for someone like me because I can’t help but factor costs into the equation. For example, I really love Amsterdam and I even lived there for awhile, but it’s also very expensive and maybe not a great choice for everyone. And it’s also hard to avoid cliches for a list like this, because I honestly feel that most of the places on these sorts of lists are great.
If this were last year I might have also suggested San Juan, Puerto Rico or Cartagena, but both of those have issues at the moment. If for some reason you don’t like what you see in Costa Rica, there are also some really nice resorts in Panama, especially in the San Blas Islands area. Aside from those you’d probably have to fly longer than you prefer. I hope this helps. -Roger
For traditional holiday atmosphere, think about Rome or Vienna, with Christmas markets, nativity scenes, and decorated cathedrals. In Edinburgh, they know how to welcome the new year with several days of celebrations culminating in New Year’s Eve. For travelers seeking a wintery destination, Tromso in Norway has skiing, reindeer, and a chance to see the Northern Lights. Bundle up for a dogsled tour or join a whale watching excursion.

Traveling during the last ten days of December means crowds and exorbitant prices throughout much of the world, but the first two-thirds of the month—before holiday airfares and hotel rates go into effect—can be a serene, value-laden, and just plain lovely time to vacation. Europe is all decked out for the holidays—with locals generally friendly and in high spirits; in the Southern Hemisphere, spring is in bloom; and in the Caribbean, Hawaii, and Mexico, hurricane season is over, the weather is gorgeous, and there are free upgrades galore.
Walking along the city's tree-lined streets, you'll notice that Spring is in full bloom come November, with vibrant jacarandá flowers dripping down over building facades. The weather is balmy and hotel rates are slightly lower for "shoulder season," which makes it the perfect time of year to plan a visit. Buy tickets to a soccer match, check out one of the world's most beautiful bookstores (El Ateneo Grand Splendid), and catch a tango show at a local theater. Looking for more inspiration? Check out our "10 Things to Do in Buenos Aires" guide.
Let’s just say that November in Colorado is a truly exciting time of year. The city of Denver hosts several hot annual events, including Mile High Holidays, The Starz Film Festival, and the International Wine Festival. There’s also Denver Arts Week, which is a week-long celebration of the visual and performing arts held during the same month. What’s more is that snow aficionados looking to get an early start on winter sport fun should make resort reservations come November. The earlier you claim those spots, the cheaper the prices tend to be.
Orlando’s theme parks are a major draw for families (and big kids, too!), but this iconic experience doesn’t necessarily come cheap. During the pre-Christmas November lull, however, hotels often offer attractive discounted rates, meaning potential savings and – more importantly for the kids – less time spent standing in line. Those looking for a more alternative American adventure should consider the island of Puerto Rico in November. While there’s a chance of rain (but a greater chance of balmy beach-lounging days), the out-of-season discounts are as appetising as the island’s take on Thanksgiving dinner: turkey stuffed with mashed plantain.
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