Weirdly enough, Central America and South America aren’t really known as top “culture” destinations, as the colonial history has mostly wiped out the indigenous history in the larger places. There are Aztec, Maya, and Inca ruins and sights, but not really enough to build a whole trip around. I’d say the most interest of those would be the Inca culture of Peru, specifically around Machu Picchu and the valley around Cusco. Alternatively, visiting Argentina is pretty much like visiting Europe from a culture standpoint. It’s quite nice there and prices are low if you know about the blue market for currency, but otherwise it may not be what you are looking for.
You mention New Zealand and of course it’s summer there then, so it would be a good choice. However, all of these places will be crowded and near peak hotel rates if they are warm. So I’ll be happy to give you advice if you tell me if you’d rather visit one or more European cities in the cold season, or if you are looking for a warm place like New Zealand where it will be fairly crowded. By the way, the southern European cities such as Rome and Barcelona are lively and enjoyable that time of year, as the Christmas season goes on, and there aren’t too many tourists except for a few that travel to see their families around the holidays. So it can be a good time for southern Europe, as long as you don’t mind wearing a jacket or jumper during the day, and maybe a bit more in the evening. Give me a bit more guidance and I’ll be happy to try to help. -Roger
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.
Those who find a healthy dose of decadence aids the de-stressing process should make a beeline for UAE capital Abu Dhabi, where infinity pool-rimmed spa hotels offer a taste of the world of the rich and famous amid guaranteed November sun. In Madrid, it’s the laid-back lifestyle of the madrileños that draws travellers, who can browse works by Picasso in the Reina Sofia, quaff Tempranillo in grand plazas and tuck into warming cocido madrileño (traditional chickpea stew), without the stifling crowds of summer.
Located on the north Pacific coast of Costa Rica, the 15-mile peninsula is home to lush jungles, postcard perfect beaches, and five-star hotels. It is decidedly remote (the nearest “town” is a 45 minute drive away) but sometimes, remoteness is exactly what a winter getaway calls for. Though Papagayo is the kind of place where you might be tempted to never leave the confines of your resort—there’s an Andaz, a Four Seasons, and a community of luxury villas to rent—it also caters to adventure lovers, with activities like ziplining, jetskiing, and four-wheeling through the jungle. Stick with later in the month to avoid any lingering rain (rainy season goes from May to early November.)
Reading through your wonderful comments- looking for Xmas for 6 people that have travelled extensively. Caribbean now is “out” and still fear zika since my kids are in their 30s- or do you think zika is a scare of the past? Uruguay has been on our radar and so i thought it interesting that you had a recent comment. Galapagos is filled. Maldives? Do you think Cuba is still an option after Irma and with current US relations? Thanks
Fortunately, it rarely rains at all in Cairo, so even though December is one of the wetter months, that means nothing and you are unlikely to see even a drop of rain. Hotel prices do reach their peak in Cairo starting late in December, so it's best to go early in the month if possible. Egypt is definitely one of the cheapest places to travel in December, and the weather is surprisingly nice as well.
Hotel prices remain low through all of November for the most part, so you'll have a good shot at deals at 3-star and above beach resorts that are trying to fill rooms during the slow season. Even if you are paying near the high season rates the hotels and everything else are bargains here compared to almost anywhere else. Cartagena is one of the cheapest places to travel in November on a beach, and you'll get less rain as the month goes on.
Sri Lanka could also be great, and it’s very different. In fact, you might even consider a trip to India itself, which is obviously similar to Sri Lanka. But Sri Lanka is far easier to do in about 12 days, with most of your time spent in the mountains and a bit along the southern coast. Colombo is mainly just good for flying in and getting your bearings. Sri Lanka is also a bit more expensive than Vietnam, but both are great value. And again, you could instead go to Kerala and Goa in India on a short trip, although those are more about relaxation than culture. Let me know if you have any other questions, and I hope this helps. -Roger
My girlfriend and I want to plan a trip anywhere from December 24th ish to January 6th ish mainly for my bday and new years to get away from south Florida! Last year we went to Colorado which was awesome but I’m not sure we want another cold vacation though it’s not out of the question! Saw your blog and Bali looks awesome but very expensive flights! Been to Costa Rica which was pretty cool and always kinda wanted to see machu pichu too. Even maybe somewhere in Europe or the Mediterranean would be great but have to keep the budget down too as we don’t have a ton of money to blow! Any insight or recommendations would be greatly appreciated! Thank you!
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.
The last suggestion would be to start in Bangkok, which is an amazing city even if you avoid the Khosan Road party area, and then head south along the coast and into Malaysia and finally Singapore if you feel like it. There are many nice beaches and islands in Thailand that aren’t filled with party folks, and some really interesting places in Malaysia as well. George Town on Penang is really nice with excellent food, and Kuala Lumpur is my favorite city in Asia for few reasons. The town of Malacca is really nice, and Singapore is amazing, if a bit expensive.
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
Mauritius would be an interesting option if you wanted to mainly stay in one place, which I think is typical on a honeymoon. Sri Lanka is fascinating and really nice, though most people who visit tend to tour around seeing some beach areas and some of the hills and jungles. So I’m not sure if it’s ideal if you want to just stay in one place. Kerala has some really nice resorts that are within easy reach of the backwater boat tours and other attractions.
As for the alcohol thing, I’m a bit of a drinker myself, so it’s hard to offer advice to an AA person. I guess one factor could be that there are many places around the world where alcohol is so cheap and the days are so warm that many people drink during the day AND at night. If I were in your shoes, I’d probably want to avoid those places. Probably the easiest places to go would be Muslim countries and India because there is little or no drinking culture there, so they have endless evening alternatives that don’t revolve around drinking.
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.
As for alternatives, the most obvious are the various islands of Thailand, with Phuket being the largest. It’s peak season in December in Thailand, but still pretty affordable by most standards. I spent a month in Phuket the following December, interestingly enough, and I prefer Bali even though it’s hotter and more humid. Hopefully this helps and let me know if you have other questions. Helping people figure out where to go is something I really enjoy. -Roger
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
The Maldives could be great if you can afford it. December is the most expensive month there, at least the second half of December. There are about 100 private-island resorts there, and most of them have water villas that start at around US$400 per night and go WAY up from there. But island rooms are cheaper. I wouldn’t recommend going to Male or any of the other populated islands that have several smaller hotels. It’s just not the same experience that you get from the private-island resorts. I can help much more with this if you decide to go to the Maldives.
My other two suggestions are San Juan, Puerto Rico and Cartagena, Colombia. Both cities have really wonderful colonial districts and modern resort districts nearby. San Juan is more expensive, but still reasonable, and it has far better beaches. Both have a bit of rain in November, but it tends to come and go quickly. You’ll get similar rainstorms in most of the Caribbean in November, so it’s a bit tricky. I hope this helps. If you had something else in mind let me know and I’ll try again. -Roger
Two other suggestions would be India or Sri Lanka. Except for a few beaches in Goa, neither of those attract the party crowd, and both are excellent for scenery and culture. India is cheaper as long as you minimize time in Mumbai and other big cities, but that is good advice for many reasons. Sri Lanka is a bit better organized, and on your budget it is good value and easily affordable. There are good beaches along the south coast of Sri Lanka, but India is probably better for beaches.
Most hotels these days include at least a small refrigerator, and some even include a full kitchen and stove. This is great because it allows you to shop locally for some fresh food options. Search online for nearby farmer’s markets or grocery stores and see if you can pick up some local meats or fresh veggies to have in your room. This is more likely to be an option in the warmer months.
The Maldives is amazing for relaxing beach holidays and it’s within your range. The tricky thing for most people is that it’s quite expensive for a shorter trip. Of course the Maldives is famous for its water villa resorts, and those water villas start at around US$350 per night. Nearly all of those resorts also have island villas and rooms and those can start at as low as US$100 per night, but you also have to pay for a speedboat or sea-plane transfer from Male Airport to your resort. That can be as low as US$100 per adult for the closer speedboat islands, and up to US$600 per adult for the more remote sea-plane islands. On a shorter stay, that obviously adds to the price. Speaking of that, I run another site all about overwater bungalows and I have links from an article on this site about the cheapest overwater villas in the world. Have a look at that list as it will show you the more affordable options in the Maldives, as well as even cheaper options in Malaysia and elsewhere.
There were fresh croissants, cereal, doughnuts, crackers, sandwiches, nutella, jams, fruit juices and the hot option was Spanish rice. I hadn’t eaten anything yet and was starting to feel a bit hungry. I had planned to bring bacon with me (emergency purse bacon) just in case but I didn’t want to have to cook and clean up after I had already showered. I took a couple of the cheese sandwiches and took the cheese off the bread and ate that. I also had a couple of cups of coffee which filled me a bit.
New Zealand is an excellent option in December, as it’s before the Christmas crowds and just before the summer holidays there. The best and most popular way to explore New Zealand is to rent a camper van or a car and drive from one “holiday park” to another. Auckland is a pretty generic city so it’s not worth spending more than 1 or maybe 2 days there. Just fly in, and rent a vehicle to leave the next morning, and drive south. The North Island has a lot to see, but the South Island is even more scenic and pleasant. You can take a ferry between the two with your vehicle.
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.
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.