Hey Roger. My girlfriend and I are planning to go during Christmas for 13 days from San Diego, CA to South America mainly on the west side. We are not up for beaches but rather historical, adventurous, and scenic places. We are keen on Cusco (Peru) (Inca Trail), Quito (Ecuador), Costa Rica (Rain Forest), Bogota (Columbia). Please can you help us with your expert advice on which cities are a must for first timers to South America. We are not picky and simply want to have a fun time. Thank you for your time.
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.
November brings the annual Vodafone Mexefest Music Festival (Nov. 24-25), a gathering of popular artists in venues throughout Lisbon. The Lisbon & Sintra Film Festival, in its 12th year, is a celebration of cinema with directors, actors, artists, musicians, and writers in town for the event (Nov. 16-25). Billed as the “largest technology conference in the world,” Web Summit began in 2010 as a way to connect industry and the technology community (Nov. 5-8). The year’s new wine and the ripening of chestnuts are celebrated with the Magusto, on Nov. 11, St. Martin’s Day. The holiday spirit becomes apparent at the end of the month, with colorful lights and roasted chestnut vendors along the streets.
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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.
A visit to Vienna in December might be a holiday experience of a lifetime. From the festively adorned palaces, magical Christmas markets, classical concerts, and choirs to the cozy cafes and restaurants, the surreal atmosphere seems like a Hollywood movie. With nearly a dozen Christmas markets to choose from, the one in front of City Hall is notable for its giant tree, ice skating rink, carousel, and reindeer train. At another in Freyung Square, you’ll find delicious mulled wine, gingerbread, roasted chestnuts, and a variety of regional snacks in addition to jewelry, handmade toys, candles, and more. The market at Spittelberg, set amidst lovely townhouses and narrow streets filled with bars, restaurants, and galleries, is a wonderful place to sip champagne and browse the many shops. Set in front of the world famous baroque residence, the Christmas Village at Belvedere Palace should not be missed. Book a Christmas concert at the renowned Kursalon where Johann Strauss was the concertmaster or enjoy a recital at one of the many distinguished churches through Vienna. You can even take a walk or a “hop on, hop off” bus to enjoy the Christmas displays. No winter night is complete without a stop at a sausage stand for a succulent bratwurst served with mustard, horseradish, and a classic bun. In the heart of the city, the magnificent Hotel Grand Ferdinand would be the perfect home base for exploring Vienna.
St. Bart's is a French island and a member of the European Union. First discovered by Columbus in 1493 and named after his brother Bartolomeo, St. Bart's has been populated through the years by native Arawaks, pirates, French colonists, Swedish settlers, and French citizens attracted by the island life. Owned for a time by Sweden before being returned to France, St. Bart's capital, Gustavia, was named for a Swedish king, and the language, along with French, is used for many street signs. In Gustavia, visitors interested in the island’s history can explore 17th-century forts, a lighthouse, and the small Wall House Museum. With 14 public beaches, there’s one for every taste and activity, including a swimsuit-optional spot. Boating, windsurfing, kayaking, sunbathing, shopping, people watching, and exploring the island’s shallow reefs are favorite pastimes. Last September’s Hurricane Irma caused significant damage to the island, but recovery has been swift. After closing a year for renovation, Le Barthelemy Hotel & Spa has just re-opened. Set on the Anse de Grand Cul de Sac, an ideal area for watersports, the eco-friendly hotel emphasizes wellness, with an expansive spa offering hydrotherapy, sauna, and beach yoga. This perfect December island escape is accessible by air or ferry from nearby St. Maarten.
Mother Nature is the gift that keeps on giving this December. In the snowy Swedish village of Jukkasjärvi day-long darkness provides the backdrop for the most magical light show on earth, the swirling aurora borealis, while opportunities to hang out with Rudolf and co. or try husky sledding, snowmobiling and cross-country skiing abound. Swap the blanket of white for a kaleidoscope of colour in the Amazon rainforest. Now is the ideal time to spot dazzling birdlife, especially the rainbow-feathered macaws that come to munch on the mineral-rich clay in Peru’s Tambopata National Reserve.
If you are looking for something far less developed than Phuket or any other Thai island, Boracay might be for you. This gorgeous strip of sand is a bit out of the way, but partly because of that it still feels only partly discovered. You'll spend your days relaxing along White Beach or walking up and down the sandy paths that serve as the only real form of transport for most people. Many visitors come every year, and quite a few of those never seem to leave.
I’m happy to try to help. It’s hard to say whether one 30-day trip would be better than several shorter trips. On one hand, it’s much more efficient to go for a month because it obviously saves you all the going back and forth. Also, one week is a short time to go 7 or 8 time zones away, as it takes pretty much an entire day each way, and at least a few days to adjust to the time change. Hmmm…
If those flights are too expensive you might think about going somewhere else in Mexico or to Costa Rica. The area around Cancun including Playa del Carmen and Tulum and Cozumel has a LOT going on. And if you’ve been there you could instead go to the Puerto Vallarta area, which is very different and also great. For activities though it’s hard to beat Costa Rica. I think they invented zip-lining and the country is about one-third national parks with all kinds of fun activities. Let me know if you have any other questions. -Roger
My second vacation meal was dinner that night. After walking almost ten miles at the park, the hotel, and spending the late afternoon swimming in the pool, we did dinner at the hotel restaurant before heading back to the park to ride a few things one last time. Dinner (Meal 2) consisted of pot roast with carrots and mushrooms (I asked them to go light on my carrots and they did a very good job of it), and a side salad that I again topped with salt, pepper, and blue cheese dressing.
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