It's been said Jackson Hole is where Aspen meets Palm Springs. Ski season, however, really starts in mid-December. There's world-class—not to mention some of the most vertiginous—skiing in the continental U.S. Plus, miles and miles of trails and nature to enjoy less vertically trekking through Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park. To put much of this at your fingertips, the Four Seasons Jackson Hole has a ski concierge and is a ski-in/ski-out property.
Actually, all of my best suggestions for those things are in the article above. One challenge you’ll have is that all popular tropical destinations have their peak weeks at the end of December because so many people in cold areas have that time off. So flights to Central or South America are going to be fairly expensive, although buying soon can help. For hiking and views I think Costa Rica could be a good choice, or Nicaragua. You could also go to Bariloche in Argentina, though it’s probably not worth going all that way unless you were also going to spend some time in Buenos Aires and such.
As December begins in the Caribbean, the hurricane season is officially over and the weather is pretty much perfect by any standard. Punta Cana is the Dominican Republic's most popular resort areas, especially for those who aren't particularly interested in absorbing the local culture. This is a resort area with wonderful beaches and not much history.
Oh, did you want a sunny tropical vacation that doesn’t require a passport? Done. Hurricane season is over, flights are cheap, and the water is still warm enough for swimming (and scuba diving). Almost all the tourists come here via cruise ship, which means you’re mostly not competing with them for hotel rooms -- Windward Passage, Emerald Beach, and the Bolongo are all open for business after Hurricanes Irma and Maria last year. On December 16 you can catch Jazz By The Sea down at Coral World Ocean Park, and on December 21 watch the St. Thomas Lighted Boat Parade, where contestants (boats) are judged on lights, originality, and holiday cheer.
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.
In spite of its image of being blazing hot all the time, December in Cairo can actually be on the cool side, at least in the evenings. This is great though because almost all the important sights are outdoors and requite a lot of walking between them. For 9 months of the year it can get very hot doing that, so these few cooler months are ideal for visiting the famous sights.
My top recommendation would be San Juan, Puerto Rico. It offers a wonderful mix of history and culture and nightlife and great food, alongside excellent beaches and abundant activities. Hotels and rental apartments are mostly in the mid-range for the Caribbean, but food and drinks and most other things are great value. You could get a place in the Condado area, which is close to the lovely Old San Juan neighborhood and plenty of nightlife all around. And then perhaps you could rent a car and stay for a few days at one of the smaller beach towns elsewhere on the island. You wouldn’t even need a passport, although it does feel fairly exotic while you are there. But because it’s part of the US, it’s also well organized and safe. Most people you’ll meet will speak at least some English, and many are fluent, so it’s easy even if you don’t speak Spanish.
If you’re lucky enough to have a Farmer’s Market in the city you’re visiting – give it a try! They usually have vendors there that really take pride in what they’re making. You can get some beautiful farm-to-table meat and freshly picked vegetables right from the farmer themselves. It makes for a great experience, and gives you some fantastic product to eat.
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.
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
Make like a Viking and soak those sore muscles in one of the many outdoor heated pools, some hidden away and others modern day gathering spots. The famed Blue Lagoon is Iceland’s best-known geothermal spa with temperatures of 98-104 degrees Fahrenheit. The lagoon’s waters are rich in minerals like silica and sulfur and are reputed to have healing powers for skin problems. There are saunas, lockers, showers, and towels available for a reasonable fee as well as restaurants and a lagoon side bar. Whale watching, though not prime season, is always an option in Iceland, as is dog sledding — on snow if available or dry land if not. Either way it is an amazing experience, and the meet and greet part allows you get up close to these beautiful dogs. The younger crowd might enjoy the Iceland Airwaves Music Festival to be held in Reykjavik this Nov. 7-10 showcasing hundreds of acts, both famous and newcomers. Venues include bars, bookshops, theaters and concert halls.
This is a really interesting question. If you want to avoid crowds then you have already figured out that it’s best to avoid Honolulu and I would avoid Oahu completely. The Big Island is very interesting because of the volcano and some of the other scenery, but the most beautiful islands are Maui and Kauai. I haven’t made it to Kauai yet, but everyone I know has been there and they swear it’s the most photogenic, which looks right based on the photos I’ve seen. Maui is also really gorgeous and all islands other than Oahu are uncrowded even in high season. I drove all over Maui in a rental car and loved it and I don’t think there is as much to see on Kauai. So either of those will be great choices and the weather should be almost perfect in December with warm (but not scorching) temperatures and almost no rain. Have a great trip and let me know if you have any other questions. -Roger
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.
Brazil, on the other hand, has a famous problem with petty crime in tourist areas so I wouldn’t recommend it for a woman and young child. Another to consider is Puerto Rico, which has a lot to offer including great weather, and it’s also more or less part of the US, so it’s fairly safe and well organized. Hotels in Puerto Rico are a bit expensive, but you should be able to get an apartment rental in the San Juan area (gorgeous, by the way) for a modest price if you are staying for more than a few days. Let me know if you have any other questions. -Roger
November is the time to catch the last days of spring’s moderate weather and prices in New Zealand. Temperatures vary during the month, but average in the high 60s with relatively dry weather in most areas. New Zealand's spectacular scenery invites outdoor activities, and November is the perfect time for hiking, biking, river rafting, and exploring the national parks, forests, lakes, mountains, beaches, and thermal reserves. Fresh seafood including green-lipped mussels, crayfish, oysters, and finfish, as well as lamb and award-winning cheeses are served in local restaurants.
If your real goal is to sit on a European beach and not freeze or be alone in December, your only real choice is the Canary Islands. Tenerife is the largest of them, and the best one for English speakers. The average high in December there is 22C with 16C as a low, and in December it’s packed with Swedes and Brits and Germans who actually do sit on the beach or around pools, even though it’s a bit cool for most of us. It’s important to note though that the Canary Islands are technically part of Europe because they are a territory of Spain, but only the largest cities on each island are “European” at all. The beach resort areas are quite generic, and not very special aside from the pleasant weather and modest prices.
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.
Based on your description, you definitely want to go to Costa Rica. The neighboring countries have many similarities, but Costa Rica is the shining star in Central America for tourism. They have endless national parks and nature sights, but also lovely beaches and adventure activities. The area in the north around the town of Tamarindo is the more luxurious part of the country, but there are many other beach towns on both coasts that could work for you. You will also probably want to spend one or more days in the Arenal volcano area, which has many other great activities. The Caribbean coast is more laid back and less family oriented, so better to focus on the Pacific. Have a great trip. -Roger
“November in the desert evokes similar feelings in our hearts as springtime does for most of the world,” says Palm Springs-based Chef Michael Beckman, whose restaurants Workshop and Truss & Twine are among some of the city’s most popular hotspots. “We can set back out hiking, cycling, dining al fresco—all the things that make this place iconic—while the rest of the country is steeped in winter storms.” The Parker, The Colony Palms, and L’Horizon are generally considered the area’s top hotels, but design enthusiasts will relish the chance to stay in one of the area's signature Mid-Century Modern homes (AirBnB has hundreds available.) One thing not to miss: dinner and dancing at Melvyn’s, the beloved Old Hollywood haunt that counts Frank Sinatra, Elvis, and Marilyn Monroe as some of its famous regulars.
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.
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.
My favorite part of Bali is now the area around Lovina along the north coast, which is still very mellow and mostly open spaces with light development. It’s really beautiful and there is plenty to do. You can get similar experiences by visiting the nearby Gili islands, which also feel like Bali used to be 20 years ago when it was much nicer. They are all really beautiful and relaxing islands with great scenery and very friendly people. You just need to steer clear of the places that are the most crowded.
Blisteringly hot in summer, Tokyo is a breeze in the cooler months. Fight the dizzying jet lag and head out for the world's best sushi or ramen, shop in the city's amazing department stores, and visit the parks surrounding the Imperial Palace in the center of the city. Escape the crowds somewhat by heading to Yanaka Ginza, which retains a bit of old Tokyo and has plenty of places to eat and shop. Do make time for a side trip to Hakone, where you can visit a Shinto shrine and see magnificent Mount Fuji on a clear day.
December is the end of the rainy season in Boracay, but by the middle of December you would probably only get a few quick tropical showers a week. Room rates are a bit lower at that time as well, so it can be a great time to visit. If you were looking for a place to go for 2 or 3 days, I wouldn’t recommend it because it does take some time to get there and you could be a bit unlucky with the rain. But if you are going for longer than that I’d highly recommend it. It’s a wonderful little island that feels like you’ve gone back in time to before mass-market tourism in places like Phuket.
Don’t be too shy to ask the wait staff how the food is prepared. If you suspect something might be breaded ask. Ask if any of the dressings have sugar in them. In Italy it’s not common at all for savoury food to contain any sugar, even the sauces. Most are based on olive oil or cream. If you order a steak without any sauce don’t be afraid to ask for olive oil to use on it. You might get some strange looks if you ask for butter and they might not have any available. Try to go for roasted or grilled food rather than fried as even in Italy, the spiritual home of olive oil, the food is usually fried in vegetable oils. Also don’t be afraid to ask for substitutions. I don’t like bell peppers and they always come as part of grilled vegetable sides. I simply ask them to leave them out and I’ll get more of another type of vegetable instead.
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.
Two of the easier other choices would be London or Madrid. From Amsterdam you can take a train to Brussels and then change for the Eurostar train to London, or you can fly. From London to Barcelona you’d want to fly for sure. If you chose Madrid you can go to Amsterdam and then fly to Barcelona and then take a train from Barcelona to Madrid in only 2.5 hours.
In the desert city of Albuquerque, winter is cold but not too cold. The Downtown Growers’ Winter Market usually wraps in November, but this year you can still catch it December 1 and 8. Local produce, artists, live bands -- it is all good. And the whole month of December you can go to ABQ BioPark Botanic Garden to see River of Lights, the largest walk-through holiday production in the state, and one of the most sparkly light shows anywhere in the country.
If you really want to see the city up close, visit in November or December, when the crowds have dispersed. Hotel prices are comparatively low, and gondoliers are more appreciative of customers. And once you have your fill of religious art, head for the Peggy Guggenheim museum, which displays 20th-century American and European art in a home and garden setting. Note: October through January is the time of acqua alta, when Venice may flood. Usually it's not severe, and the city puts up wooden walkways for visitors and residents to traverse the water.