I’d recommend 1 night in Auckland, then 3 nights on the North Island, and then a ferry to the South Island. If you can spend a week there, and return the camper van or car to Christchurch for a flight to Auckland and home, it would be perfect. As long as you can spend at least 4 nights on the South Island, it will be worth it. But if your schedule or budget don’t allow that much, you might just stay on the North Island. The most interesting place on the South Island is Queenstown, but there is plenty to see all over.
The great thing is, many hotels that have rooms with kitchenettes don’t charge more (or it’s minimally extra) than what a normal room would be. Be sure you call in advance to make sure you’re getting a full kitchen. We spent one night at a hotel that claimed they had a kitchenette, but it was really only a dorm room size refrigerator and a microwave.
As for key events in December, I typically avoid those sorts of things myself, so I’m not a good source on that. I actually visited Rio de Janeiro during Carnival, by accident, and it drives hotel prices so high and also crowds that it’s probably the worst time to visit unless you specifically want to spend all night watching the parades. And Oktoberfest, as another example, literally triples the prices of hotel rooms in Munich, so it’s only worth it if you REALLY want to get involved in the Oktoberfest thing yourself. But plenty of other travelers love to go witness the biggest events, and I assume they love it, so there is no right or wrong.
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.
Thank you for the kind words. Interestingly, had you not included that you’ve been to Costa Rica, I’d say that was the obvious suggestion because they really do that sort of thing well and it’s at least a bit better organized than its neighbors. And if you were less concerned over travel time, I’d have some interesting suggestions for you in Asia. However, as you know, it takes nearly a full day just to get to Asia from the US or Canada, and then a few days to adjust, so you might be best off saving that for later.
I like your comment about how “rainy seasons” are almost always overstated. I totally agree based on my own experiences and research, although there are a few places where they should be taken more seriously than others. On my most recent December trip to Bali (2.5 years ago, I think), I spent 30 days there and the rain only became a problem that one time I mentioned. It was just an insane cloudburst while taking a minibus from Kuta to Ubud, and in the end it’s actually probably my best Bali story. Aside from that, it’s very humid during Bali’s wet season, but even that really didn’t slow me down. The thing is, in Bali you are usually on or near the beach or a hotel pool (feeling the breeze) or in your air-conditioned room. Or you might be touring around to see temples and rice terraces and whatnot, and everything is outdoors and beautiful. When it does rain it’s usually over in 15 minutes, but often the rain comes over night. That kind of humidity can be a killer when visiting a city, but for me it’s a small issue on a tropical island like Bali.
In addition to the obvious perks of pleasant weather and fewer tourists, off-season rates at accommodations are abundant. Voted No. 1 continental U.S. island by Travel + Leisure readers for the third time in 2018, Hilton Head has much to offer visitors. One of the most popular activities, perfect with autumn temperatures, is biking on the more than 60 miles of pathways covering the island, including along 12 miles of beaches. Bird watchers will keep busy spotting egrets, sandpipers, wood storks, sea gulls, pelicans, and ospreys. Well known as a golfer’s paradise, the Hilton Head Island area boasts more than 33 courses.
Early in your message you say the last week of November, and then later you mention “late December,” so I’m not sure which it is. But if it’s late November, I think Italy could be a great option, as the weather there is still quite nice, at least in the south. You could go to Venice for a day or two and then Florence and Rome, and then maybe spend 5 or so days in Sorrento. I spent 5 days in Sorrento in mid November two years ago and the weather was very nice, even if it wasn’t warm enough to sit on the beach.
We are looking to explore warm Central American destinations safe for kids and affordable in price. We love beaches. Not in the typical sun-bathing type of way, but rather appreciating the raw beauty of the nature. We also like to eat out and having activities for the kids and as a family would be excellent. Could you suggest a destination that fits the bill? Central America appeals to me but open to other suggestions you may find worth mentioning.
Another option is Thailand, and Phuket has the most family-friendly beach areas. You could get a family hotel room at one of the many beach resorts that has a Kids Club in addition to swimming pools and the beach itself. Those are my top suggestions for a family trip that is also suitable for an anniversary. I hope this helps. Let me know if you have any other questions. -Roger
Hi Roger, Just wanted to thank you for taking the time to compose this list. I always refer to your destinations (with great weather) lists prior to booking future-dated vacations. I was a little worried that you didn’t mention Bali but there was more than enough in the comments to reassure me that it would be a great spot to visit in December. I also saw your other post for places to visit over Christmas and NYE. Thanks again!
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
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