Really my first bit of advice is that the best place to get a really nice hotel that is on a beach or a hill and has the other nearby and also has great weather in December is Phuket, Thailand. You could go almost anywhere in southeast Asia in December and get good weather and low prices. But Phuket has over 1,000 hotels and hundreds of those are wonderful fairly luxurious hotels or villa complexes that could be perfect for a romantic honeymoon stay.
My two years in southeast Asia was over a few trips, although I did have my own apartment in Bangkok for 3 months and in Chiang Mai for another 3 months. As an American I didn’t have a national health restriction and I didn’t even have travel insurance. I don’t recommend it for everybody, but healthcare in those areas is extremely cheap and of pretty good quality. I went to a hospital once in Chiang Mai and I saw an English-speaking doctor for about US$7, and spent another US$25 or so on a prescription. My longest total trip was 3 years and 7 months (only a few years ago), and I went in and out of Southeast Asia a few times in that period.
Otherwise the big draws are the Great Barrier Reef, which is obviously focused on diving, snorkeling, and water activities, so it may not be too interesting, and Uluru, which is the big rock in the center of the country (and not near anything else of interest). There is also wine regions in the south near Sydney, and of course nature parks to see kangaroos and the other indigenous animals.
Far from the crowds and heat of summer, a visitor to Rome in December will find that it’s a lovely time there, with fewer lines at popular tourist spots, more attractive prices, and a chill in the air. With a warm jacket, comfortable shoes, cozy hat and gloves, you’re ready to explore the Eternal City. Stroll through the main streets to enjoy colorful lights, decorated trees, and Nativity scenes. The Piazza Navona hosts a Christmas market, and stores welcome shoppers with longer hours and attractive displays. Rome’s Jewish community celebrates Hanukkah with a large Menorah in Piazza Barberini where candles are lit each evening of the eight-night holiday, this year from December 2–10. The Catholic community celebrates the Immaculate Conception on December 8 when the Pope leads a procession from the Vatican to the Piazza di Spagna. December is the perfect time to visit the Vatican Museum, Sistine Chapel, St. Peter’s Basilica, Colosseum, Trevi Fountain, and museums that are usually filled with tourists during warmer months. Even without crowds, it’s still most convenient to book ahead through a tour company such as City Wonders or Access Italy, for no-wait entry, professional guides, and early admission. Food is always one of the great pleasures of a visit to Italy, and in December, a warming plate of spaghetti carbonara or hot chocolate and seasonal panettone taste especially good. The new Pantheon Iconic Rome Hotel, Autograph Collection is a convenient home base in the center of the action with a beautiful rooftop overlooking the Pantheon.
Pay homage to the Native American heritage of the U S of A by taking in the sights and sounds of Arizona’s capital city for pure rest and relaxation before the holiday season. Phoenix anchors a sprawling, multicity metropolitan area known as the Valley of the Sun, which is highly regarded for its luxury resorts, vibrant nightclubs, designer golf courses, and long lasting sunshine and warmth—even through the winter months. Attractions include the Heard Museum and the Pueblo Grande Museum & Archaeological Park. Be sure to check them out!
For the record, the official Hurricane Season runs from June 1 to November 30, but hurricanes in November are extremely rare, so we have likely seen the last of them for this season. The devastated islands will need help rebuilding, and the remaining islands are hoping that visitors know they need the business as well, and that there is no risk of big storms starting in December and usually earlier. -Roger
If you ask at a hotel in India about getting train tickets, they almost certainly know a way of getting them for you. They share in the profits of the commission, so they will usually find a way. However, perhaps in Goa it is less common because the train stations are a long way from the beaches so it could be a 3-hour return trip to the station instead of a 20-minute trip in the cities.
The eleventh month of each year brings nice fall foliage, a nice pre-holiday calm, and tons of things to give thanks for—especially when it comes to traveling. From the Big Apple to the Sunshine State and all the way to the Pacific Coast, it’s easy to rest and relax before the seasonal hoopla by escaping into the grey blue skies and cooler temperatures of late fall by attending a star-studded annual parade, adventuring into the wonderful world of Disney with the kids, or even getting away to a tropical paradise to experience a warmer weather vacation getaway.
Uruguay is an interesting place. It seems to be a less modern and less developed version of next-door Argentina. Buenos Aires is a larger and more interesting city than Montevideo. There is a town there called Colonia, which is worth a couple days if you like old and charming cities. But most people who go to Uruguay either go to one of the posh beach resort towns (mainly Punta del Este), or they go to the tourist cattle ranches, which are surprisingly popular. If you haven’t been to Argentina yet you might find that it has more and different options, such as the Mendoza wine region and the mountain resort town of Bariloche.
Much of Mexico is ideal in December, after the rainy season has ended; if you go early in the month, you’ll avoid the peak holiday-season rates that kick in around December 18. On the Pacific coast, the landscapes are still ultra-tropical green, and the ocean is bathtub-warm (80s), with exceptional clarity for scuba diving and snorkeling. Mexico City is a smart place to spend the holidays, when the locals have headed to the beach and you’ll find much less traffic in this famously congested city. (Do keep in mind, though, that some of the more sought-after restaurants and galleries will be closed.)
If you are referring to days trips and that sort of thing, it will be much cheaper if you book once you get there. In Vietnam in particular it’s amazing how cheap tours can be if you book them through your hotel. I once did a 6-hour bus tour to Mỹ Sơn, which is near Hoi An, and I think I paid about US$6. It even included a boat ride and a basic lunch. That same day tour online would probably cost US$30 because the booking company takes a share and there is very little competition.
The December weather is pretty much perfect and dry, and airfares and hotel rates are very reasonable up until Christmas itself. If you are in California you might also consider Los Cabos, although Puerto Vallarta is more interesting and usually cheaper as well. This is definitely one of the best places to go in December if you are anywhere near the Pacific Ocean.
Even though November is one of the busy months in Pokhara, they've built so many new hotels in the past few years that finding a room – even at a decent price – should always be possible. The high-season rates are still very cheap by almost anyone else's standards, and food and drinks are always very affordable, but if you look around a bit you'll be able to do even better.
Vacationing to Sicily during Italy’s traditional “off-season” has been trending in recent years, according to American Express Travel. What gives? Well, for starters there's Sicily's fabulous Mediterranean setting, as well as its rich baroque aesthetic and festive Catholic traditions. Plus, the crowds are more manageable than they are in the summer, which makes travel for families and large groups a breeze.
December is a popular month to go cruising around Hawaii and Mexico. It’s an ideal family trip, especially with most kids in the US out of school for the holidays. Experience the Hawaii’s tropical paradise. Pick a popular cruise liner and visit ports of call like Nawiliwili on Kauai, Honolulu on Oahu and Kona on the Big Island. If the Caribbean floats your boat, we recommend taking a cruise to explore Mexico’s Costa Maya, Cozumel, Ensenada, Acapulco, Cabo San Lucas, Puerto Vallarta and more.
Mexico’s spectacular Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead), bewitches Mexico City at the start of each November. Donning the skeleton face paint for the mass parades in the main Zócalo square is a must, but take time to step back from the party and seek out more intimate family celebrations where deceased loved ones are honoured with candles, sugar skulls and, of course, tequila. If you’d prefer to relax with a rum, then Barbados in November may be more to your tastes. The sugar-cane liquor is thought to have originated here in the 17th century and continues to be the local tipple of choice. Toasting the sunset from one of the island’s magnificent beaches is a quintessential experience.
Late October (when the rains end) through February is an exceptional time to visit the northern part of the country, from Sukhothai through Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai. The King’s Birthday, on December 5, ushers in the festive season (Christmas and New Year’s certainly aren’t traditional holidays here, but many Thais celebrate them anyway) and cooler, less humid weather. In general, the beaches are blissful from the end of December through March. Mid-November through January see the lowest temperatures and least humidity in Bangkok.
Unlike Bangkok, which has warm evenings and blazing hot days pretty much all year, Chiang Mai cools off nicely during December, at least in th evenings. This is an outdoor city with an emphasis on hiking and exploring temples so the cooler temperatures will be welcome for most people. It's still hot most days, and quite dry as well, so it balances nicely.
The 2nd option is a bit early in the year. The Greek Islands are cold and mostly deserted until mid April or so, and the good weather really starts in May or June. This is true in Mallorca as well. The Canary Islands are much farther south so they have acceptable beach weather almost all year, although you might get some cooler days in March as well. Even still I wouldn’t really recommend them for a younger person. In my opinion, the Canary Islands are pretty boring because the majority of visitors that time of year will be retired people from northern Europe who just want to sit in the sun. The nightlife tends to be cheesy and/or weak if you can find it at all. Let me know if you have any other questions. -Roger
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.)
If you book a resort hotel from home you'll probably think Goa hotel prices are much higher than you were expecting, but if you book a family-run place once you arrive you'll still find fantastic bargains. It's probably wise to book a few nights online before you get to India, because it can be incredibly confusing at first. After that you might be able to find a similar place for half the price by just checking around the same area.
For those looking for an even calmer slice of paradise without all the holiday festivities, try Waimei on Kauai’s southwestern shore, which offers calm waters and sandy beaches that are especially attractive in the early winter months. Get away from all the gloomy weather of the East Coast by trying out a Waimea vacation rental—it’ll definitely make for makes the perfect base to explore all Kauai has to offer.
It can still be rainy in Belize in November, so it’s not an ideal time to visit. I quite like Belize and there is a lot to do there, including of course the second largest coral reef in the world. You can also head over the Guatemala border to visit Tikal and even down to Antigua for something different. You don’t get many great beaches there, but aside from that it is great.
The other place that comes to mind is Croatia, which also has reasonable weather in November. I’d recommend focusing on Split, which has many similarities with the more-famous Dubrovnik, but it’s easier to reach, much cheaper, and more authentic because Dubrovnik has become kind of cheesy as a cruise port. You could even take a bus to Mostar or Sarajevo in Bosnia for a couple days. The coast in that area is beautiful and there won’t be many other tourists that time of year. I hope these ideas help. Let me know if you have any other questions. -Roger
If you are more interested in nature and adventure than culture, then the top choice would be Costa Rica. The country has many beautiful national parks and it’s filled with things like zip-lining and canopy tours, just to name a few things. There are also volcanoes and surfing beaches and much more, plus a very good backpacker infrastructure of cheaper hotels and hostels.
Vietnam is generally cheaper than Thailand, so if that is your primary factor, Vietnam could be the best choice. The beaches in Nha Trang are quite nice and the town is pretty easy for English-speaking tourists. But the other thing about Vietnam is that visitors have to be much more careful, especially when booking tours and that sort of thing. The travel agencies in Vietnam (even those in hotels, but mostly the independent ones) are famous for over promising and under delivering. That said, it’s a lovely country and you can have a wonderful time there on a modest budget. It’s just that you have to be more careful, compared to Thailand where the travel industry is a bit more honest about what you get and how much you’ll pay.
This creamy-yet-virtuous gratin of greens from Ivy Manning is crowned with crunchy homemade bread crumbs tossed with nutty-tasting brown butter. Make ahead: The gratin can be assembled up to one day in advance. Allow the gratin to cool completely before covering it with plastic and storing it in the refrigerator. Add 10 additional minutes to the baking time.
In India I’ve always had good luck with the trains by booking at least a couple days in advance, and also being flexible and only going when an AC3 ticket is available. As you know, the actual train stations are nightmares. But every hotel has a person who can fetch a ticket for you by going through the back door and bribing someone at the train office. Like a AC3 ticket might cost US$20, and for an extra US$4, your hotel will go buy it for you and it’ll be waiting at the front desk later that day. It’s a pretty sweet system.
Turkey has bars all over Istanbul and the other tourist cities, but there are also cafes and tea shops and that sort of thing that are filled with locals (and some tourists) all evening. In Dubai and Abu Dhabi, the only bars are attached to hotels (and there are a LOT of them), but almost no locals drink, so there are unlimited evening alternatives. Other nearby Muslim countries such as Oman and Bahrain are similar, except with far fewer tourists (and drinkers).
In Central America you could consider Belize. It’s small, but it’s got islands and beaches (not everywhere though) and forests and other cultural sights, and English is more or less the official language. It’s not as well organized as Costa Rica, but it’s not bad and it feels safe. The other to consider there is Panama, which obviously has a lot in common with Costa Rica. It has far fewer adventure activities and the good beaches are spaced out a bit, but still it’s a relatively rich country with tens of thousands of Americans and Canadians living there as well as visiting, so they have a good tourist infrastructure and it’s safe.
Unfortunately I’ve only been to Cartagena in Colombia, although I know of some travel bloggers who live in Medellin and love it there. The mild weather year round is one reason people love it. I don’t speak much Spanish, which is a problem in much of Latin America, but evidently there is a pretty big scene of various expats and English speakers, so Spanish isn’t so critical. In other words, I like the sound of your idea and I imagine it’ll be great, but I haven’t been there yet so I am really not qualified to give real advice. Best of luck with whatever you choose. -Roger
Another consideration is that Thailand is generally easier to get to with far more flights that are often cheaper, and Thailand also has FAR more beach options because of its long southern coastline and especially the islands. The posh beach areas on Phuket are typically the most expensive beach hotels in Thailand, but there are other more remote beaches in Phuket with lower prices so it’s worth a look. Aside from Phuket you should also look at Ko Samui, Ko Pha Ngan, and Ko Phi Phi. You might also look at the town of Pattaya, which is the closest beach resort to the Bangkok Airport. Parts of town have a lot of single foreign men in certain bars at night, but most of the town is actually quite family friendly and very good value. Let me know if you have other questions. -Roger
In Vietnam every hotel will have a “tours desk” that will happily book a tour or visit to any local sight imaginable. There are also dozens of independent travel agencies around booking these same tours, but some of them are better than others. I prefer to book tours through my hotel, even if it costs a bit more, because it helps them and they have a strong incentive for you to be happy with the tour. If a hotel would consistently book guests on tours that the guests felt were rip-offs, that would be in the reviews and they would lose future business. More expensive hotels tend to charge more for the same tours, but things in Vietnam are so cheap that it’s not worth worrying about. And you might get a better pick-up at the nicer hotels as well.
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.
Never thought of Moscow as a Winter destination! It is quite the place to go especially after the world cup hype. I second Rajasthan, India as one of the best places to travel in December. Love this list, Wendy. I have even listed Rajasthan and other offbeat places to travel in December and January over here: https://www.thegonegoat.com/inspiration-and-tips/2018/11/29/the-best-places-to-travel-december-january
From England I would say your cheapest and best late December destination with warm weather and reasonable prices is going to be Phuket. There are some other Thai islands that might be a bit cheaper, but they would be more complicated to reach, and they’d have fewer activities for the boys. Here are some Phuket resorts good for families. You can see that the price range is wide from cheapest to most expensive. In late December it’s peak season so you’ll pay at or near the top of those ranges.
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.
I’ll be happy to give you some suggestions, but it would really help to know your starting point and approximate budget. At this moment I am writing this reply from Cancun, which could be perfect if you are in or near the US, but if you are in another part of the world there will likely be better choices. Although thinking about it, even if you are in Europe, a place like Cancun might still be best. Let me know and I’ll give you my best answer and an alternative or two. -Roger
If you are really only going for 4 or 5 days you only have time to visit one or maybe two cities anyway. I’d say that Lisbon would be ideal and you’d have time also for a short visit to Porto or the Algarve in the south, or at least the historic small town of Sintra, which is near Lisbon. Lisbon has fantastic weather for Europe and it’s a lovely city with plenty to see and do.
From December through February there are literally no European cities that could qualify as having “great weather,” except for the Canary Islands, which is listed below. So during the winter Europe is all about cultural tourism, and lower hotel prices make it especially appealing for those who like to stretch their travel budgets and avoid crowds at the same time.