Lace up your boots for an end-of-year adventure at the wild ends of the Earth. December is the ideal time to explore Patagonia’s mind-blowingly beautiful Torres del Paine National Park. Embark on an epic trek along the eight-day circuit, or take the four-day ‘W’ trek for Instagram-worthy views of Los Cuernos (the ‘horns’), the region’s iconic jagged granite peaks. Similarly breathtaking experiences can be had diving the coral reefs around Thailand’s Similan Islands. Beneath the sparkling surface of the ocean you’ll find sharks, barracuda, rays and green and hawksbill turtles – it’s Finding Nemo brought to life.
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.
Vietnam might fit the bill for what you are looking for. The most popular itineraries are to start in Hanoi and end up in Ho Chi Minh City, or the other way around. There is a nice train connecting them that is scenic in many places, and the best must-stop place in between them is Hoi An. You also don’t want to miss Halong Bay, which is just outside Hanoi. Vietnam mostly attracts cultural travelers rather than party people. The food is excellent (France used to run the place) and there is plenty of culture all around, in addition to some nice beaches in Nha Trang and Da Nang (next to Hoi An).
I’m happy to hear that this information is helpful. My first thought is to wonder if you’ve been to Goa yet? I’ve spent 4 total months in India to about 15 different places, and I know all about the insane crowds and whatnot that you would prefer to avoid. In my experience, Goa is totally different, and that’s where I’ve spent by far the most time. I remember spending time on Calungute Beach and I was surrounded by mostly domestic Indian visitors including many families. There are other beach towns and areas that are even more mellow in the south. The beaches there are quite nice as well, which is something I didn’t find as much of in Kerala, Putacherry, or even Puri. At least it would be the fastest and most affordable destination, and it should be very nice in December.
In Cambodia the best place by far is the Angkor Wat temples just outside of Siem Reap. Siem Reap itself is a nice town with plenty to see and do, but 3 or maybe 4 days should be enough. Otherwise you have Phnom Penh, which isn’t too special, or Sihanoukville, which is a pleasant beach town that doesn’t really match up to most of what you are used to in the Philippines.
The easiest meal of the day to eat out is by far breakfast. Many places offer eggs, omelets, sausage, bacon, or other type of high-fat foods that are easy to order without too much effort. Dive bars or café’s will usually be quick to serve and have some great tasting food. We had the pleasure of eating breakfast at a great place called The 5 Point Café, which featured a fantastic omelet with smoked salmon (pictured below) and hollandaise sauce.
This looks great and I wish I could be of more help. As I mentioned before, my first safari will probably be in 2017. I have a couple safari articles on this site from writers who have done them, and I’ve read a lot about the experience and the extremely positive reviews that most of them get. But having not yet done one, I wouldn’t feel comfortable offering specific advice. There are hundreds of articles on the internet that discuss these safaris, so I recommend you seek advice from someone with plenty of first-hand experience. Just be careful not to rely too heavily on a commercial safari outfitter, and try to seek advice from a travel blogger or other regular consumer. Have a great trip. -Roger
When you mention, “not too touristy”, the first thing that comes to mind is San Juan, Puerto Rico. I’m not sure if you’ve been there already or not, but one great thing about it is that the “tourist” areas close to Old San Juan are filled more with apartments than with hotels, unlike Cancun, where it’s nothing but hotels and timeshares. I can highly recommend the Condado neighborhood, which does have some large hotels but is mostly apartments for expats and seasonal visitors. There is even a free bus that goes from there to the heart of Old San Juan, which is a gorgeous colonial town filled with great restaurants, bars, and interesting attractions.
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.
Unlike most cities on South America's west coast, Buenos Aires has fairly consistent rainfall all year long, and you might see a bit of the wet stuff even during December. Still, the temperatures should be ideal for being outdoors, and this is really mostly an indoor city anyway, so when it does rain you'll be able to pop into a shop or museum or cafe and have a great time.
There are many other Thai islands that could also be ideal and have what you are looking for. Another option is Boracay Island and I mention it because I spent an evening hanging out with some guys visiting from Saudi Arabia and they liked it a lot. The weather won’t be “cool” but it should be nice, and they do have very good nightlife in the Boat Station 1 area.
This is a very good month to visit because the weather continues to be perfect here, while the largest crowds from northern Europe haven't quite started arriving yet. So finding an affordable hotel or apartment rental should be easy, and the restaurants and bars are always reasonably priced. If you want to be among other English speakers you'll want to focus on the southwest area of the island around Los Cristianos and Playa de la America.
As you begin to cross off the final 31 days on your calendar you may be tempted to put away the passport and swap those itchy-footed escapades for quiet nights in. But with nearly a year of adventures behind you, why stop now? December is jam-packed with high-octane adventures on mountain peaks and coursing rivers; indulgent escapes with mulled wine, rum cocktails and spicy Malaysian street food galore; walks on the wild side with kaleidoscopic creatures and soaring giants; and countless seasonal celebrations whisking you from the sunny Caribbean to Santa’s hometown.
Thank you so much Roger. This is a huge help. Thailand then….Going forward. Assuming I start in Thailand then to ?? What makes sense? i was thinking Peru then? I checked airfare from Lima to Cape Town…Huge money $1600.00. If you were doing a once in a lifetime trip around the world what would you ‘must see’? As I mentioned I’ve been to India, Egypt and Jerusalem but my friend has not. I’m not adverse to revisiting but there might be more sensible options. I need to consider ‘safer’ countries as well. I’m one of those people that sold my house, quit my job and am going to travel. Mid life crisis. LOL. How do you spend 2 years abroad? Do you need special visas for being out of the country for so long. As a Canadian we are restricted to 6 months to retain our health care. Problem!
I have been reading the thread with great interest. I took my 2 daughters aged 11 and 18 to SE Asia in December and they loved it. Siem Reap – lovely vibe over new year and not too busy. Would stay longer than 3 days because the heat and humidity slows you down and you would rather want to cool down in the hotel pool in afternoons and try and squeeze in more than 1 wat in a day. Easy to get around and good food and vibe in Pub Street.
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