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.
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
I’m sure you’ll have a great time. I don’t have any good suggestions for where to celebrate Christmas, but I’m sure you’ll have no problems finding something by just walking around or checking online. The top draw in Barcelona is the architecture, and especially the 20th Century buildings by Gaudi. I recommend the hop-on, hop-off bus tour because it allows you to see almost all of the famous buildings from the street in just a few hours. Park Guell is worth a visit, but of course the main attraction is the Sagrada Familia cathedral. Check opening times and reserve a ticket in advance if you can.
Hmmm…there may not be a Wow Factor in Puerto Rico, especially if you are that used to Caymen. I was thinking more about a really nice place that was easy and with great weather. Costa Rica could have the Wow Factor, however. The country is something like one-third national parks and it is packed with great scenery and adventure activities. It is the zip-lining and canopy tours capital of the Americas, so there are many great options along those lines. And there is the volcano and hot springs and really nice beaches. I’m not sure what you’d consider a Wow Factor, but Costa Rica is probably the most Wow destination other than Hawaii.
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.
If a warm weather getaway sounds appealing, consider seeking the sun in Cartagena where summer is approaching. The South American city offers history, Christmas spirit, and unique gifts for holiday shopping. Sun-drenched Phuket, Thailand’s popular island, is a place to relax during the day and party at night. St. Bart's in the Caribbean is recovering nicely from hurricane damage, an ideal spot for a winter vacation. Miami’s December weather is perfect for a warm Christmas, and Art Basel, early in the month, is an exciting time for fans of contemporary art. In Santa Barbara, a few days of pampering might fit the bill, or you can join in their holiday festivities throughout the month. Death Valley, in the middle of the Mojave Desert, offers a respite from the crowds and a chance to enjoy quiet days and starry nights.
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
November is a pretty slow month all over the Caribbean. I just tried a few random dates in the middle of the month and I’m seeing all-inclusives starting at US$142 for two people including all taxes on Expedia.com. There are many more closer to US$200 per night, including many that get very good guest reviews. I stayed at Bahia Principe Luxury Ambar, which is an adults-only hotel within their huge complex there, and rooms are US$198 per night for two people, fully all-inclusive. So the resorts are showing some very good rates considering the quality you get there.
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.
The reason for the recommendation is that Bali is not only a yoga and “spiritual” hot spot, but it’s also the most popular island for solo women travelers in the region. The book and movie “Eat, Pray, Love” was inspired by this trend, and they have in turn inspired thousands of solo female visitors to go there and stay for long periods, particularly in and around the Ubud area. It’s gorgeous and quite cheap once you get there, and the locals are generally gentle and kind to all. Most other tropical hot spots in Asia have far more solo male visitors than solo females. Just avoid lingering in the Kuta Beach area, because it’s packed with bars and loud backpacker party people. Most of the rest of the island is quite mellow.
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.
This is a huge question and I’d need to know more about your preferences and your budget to answer it properly. But I can give you a short version here. In my opinion, which is matched by many other people, the most interesting and dramatic cities in Europe are London, Paris, Amsterdam, Rome, and Venice. Visiting those would require about 16 days to do it properly because you’d want to spend 3 or 4 days in each city, except maybe only 2 days in Venice because it’s quite small.
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.)
It would be hard to beat Chiang Mai for its combination of great November weather and low prices. Even though it's officially the start of the high season for hotels, the beginning of the month is usually very slow anyway, so bargains are common. Hotels in Chiang Mai are among the best bargains in the entire world, so even if you do have to pay full price for a room it'll be cheaper than a dorm bed in most European cities.
If you are looking for an island that is moderately priced in late November I would probably head to Thailand. The rainy season typically ends in the middle of November in Phuket and Ko Samui and the other popular islands, although you might still get a few quick storms in late November. One nice thing is the crowds don’t start coming until mid December so you have a huge selection of hotels at really good prices.
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