Similar to so many on this list, Cape Town begins its busy season in the second half of December, so November is ideal in that the weather is nearly perfect and you don't have to worry about high-season crowds or prices. This is a city that has things available at almost any price level. Many of the hotels cater to the 4-star resort crowd, but there are also plenty of hostels and cheap hotels so backpacker-types should be able to get by on a low budget.
As you suspected, this is a tricky one. Most of the places that would work for you are having a very rainy month in November, so it’s not a good time. Thailand would actually be a good choice if you can deal with the travel time. The rainy season there ends in October and yet the crowds don’t start appearing until December, so you get low hotel prices with nearly perfect weather. As mentioned, all of the good options in Central or South America have a wet season in November. Argentina could be a good option, as November is late spring there, and it has everything you are looking for. The flights to get there are also fairly long though.
If this were last year I might have also suggested San Juan, Puerto Rico or Cartagena, but both of those have issues at the moment. If for some reason you don’t like what you see in Costa Rica, there are also some really nice resorts in Panama, especially in the San Blas Islands area. Aside from those you’d probably have to fly longer than you prefer. I hope this helps. -Roger
For those from the Northern hemisphere in need of decent a blast of winter sun, the picturesque coastal town of Essaouira is the perfect place to put your feet up and relax. Fresh-caught fish sizzles on beachside grills, whitewashed houses with blue shutters lend a Mediterranean vibe, and you can lose hours wandering through the dozens of art galleries and workshops.
As for the hurricane, it’s true that it did go through that area a few days ago, but I think that was the first one in almost 10 years to do so. In other words, it’s an extremely rare event, and even when it does happen, they know about it long in advance so everyone is evacuated or safely sheltered. Also, the “Hurricane Season” technically goes through the end of November, but November hurricanes are actually far rarer than the earlier months. Personally, I love to book into places like Punta Cana during that season because the weather is the same about 95% of the day, and prices can be half as much as December or January.
Yes, it's high season and rates edge up, but that's only because everyone wants to make the scene and flee cooler climes. Whether you prefer a hotel right on the beach, one in the midst of Miami's trendy Art Deco or Wynwood art district, or a tower with horizon views and vast swimming pool, there's a place for you. And each December, Art Basel in Miami Beach brings together artists with knowledgeable collectors and gallerists.
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
That’s an interesting question. On my main list of Caribbean destinations ranked from cheapest to most expensive, I have a list of the 6 islands that suffered heavy damage and are not going to be open for normal business this coming winter. But that leaves 26 other destinations on the list where things are totally normal. Fortunately for the industry in general, the busiest destinations such as Jamaica, Dominican Republic, and the Cancun area, are all still unscathed.
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.
The rainy season is over so it's an ideal time to base yourself in Chiang Mai for some outdoor activities in the area. There are temples like crazy in the city center between the old walls, but even more interesting ones in the area just around Chiang Mai. There's also great trekking and such, available quite affordably from any travel agency in the city.
Wine aficionados will enjoy sipping Argentina’s well-respected wines, Malbec, a rich red wine, and Torrontes, an aromatic white. Malbec is a perfect match for Argentina’s beef dishes, and Torrontes would make a delightful partner to Milanesa, whether veal or chicken, pounded thin, breaded, and fried. The country’s cuisine demonstrates the influence of Italy; about 3 million Italians migrated there during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Pizza, pasta, and helado, an ice cream similar to gelato, are as much a part of the cuisine as their asados, barbecued beef grilled on a parillo. Consider a stay at the historic Savoy Hotel, WorldHotels Collection in the artsy Avenue Corrientes area with its elegant neo-baroque lobby, adorned with chandeliers and frescoes.
Lovers of historic architecture should consider tiny Malta in November, which still basks in glorious warm weather as much of Europe starts to shiver. The baroque palaces, churches and fortifications of its harbour-hugging capital Valletta look much the same as they did 400 years ago, and are extra lovely when observed from a traditional dghajsa (open boat) water taxi. If a life on the high seas has always appealed, then charter a course for the Cayman Islands come November, when the serene Caribbean isle hosts Pirate Week, a fun-filled festival that includes costume contests, street dancing and a horde of swashbucklers ‘invading’ the island and capturing the governor.
Bali, which is just south of the equator, would be a good choice in November. It does rain a bit that month, but they are summer storms that tend to only last 30 minutes or so. It’s a wonderful island with great prices on most things, including massages. The complicated thing about Bali is that the main tourist areas of Kuta, Legian, and Seminyak are now so crowded that they can be unpleasant. I spent a month there again earlier this year, and I don’t think I’ll go back to that part of the island.
There are not one but a cornucopia of hotspots to check out in the Aloha State come November. First, Oahu, which has, throughout the years, been transformed by Asian-Pacific locals from a holiday outpost into a globalized, cosmopolitan destination that offers all the glory of paradise in one locale. You’ve got the allure of the Island landscape, plus the buzz of modern living mixed in a relaxed, slow-paced daily lifestyle near the shores. It is (along with Honolulu) the center of the Hawaiian universe, and will no doubt sprinkle excitement into any Thanksgiving celebration. You might even want to go all out by getting a taste of authentic, fantastic Hawaiian flavor by cooking that turkey in a traditional imu (underground oven)! Those who want to work off all that feasting can hop on into the Turkey Trot 10 Mile Run on Thanksgiving morning and then spend Black Friday enjoying the annual Waikiki Holiday Parade—instead of braving those restless shopping crowds.
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.
This classic Thanksgiving side came from Julia Child. We don’t see many creamed vegetables any more, except maybe creamed corn or spinach, so this might be a bit of a novelty. And it’s delicious. If people complain about the richness, just remind them that Thanksgiving dinner is supposed to be a feast, right? (And you can get by with an awful lot be invoking the name Julia Child).
Warm weather, Caribbean beaches, and fascinating history beckon visitors to this coastal city during December. Once a 16th-century Spanish port, Old Town Cartagena, surrounded by ancient stone walls, is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Visitors strolling through its streets will see original Spanish Colonial architecture among new restaurants, restored homes, and boutique inns. From street food to upscale restaurants, Cartagena offers the best in local seafood, meat, and fresh fruits. In December, the city becomes a festival of lights, with nativity scenes, decorations, and holiday celebrations culminating with New Year’s Eve fireworks. Holiday shoppers will want to take home gifts of colorful handcrafts sold at markets throughout the city, with special Christmas markets arriving in December. Colombia supplies nearly 90 percent of the world’s emeralds, and a quality gem from a reliable source would make a memorable keepsake. Nearby Rafael Nunez International Airport makes arriving by air quite convenient, and visitors will find a range of lodging in and around Cartagena. For a luxurious vacation, the new Conrad Cartagena offers four pools, a private beach club, a golf course, seven restaurants, tennis courts, a spa, and stunning ocean views from every room.
Prices go up a bit when you go south into Malaysia, but it’s worth it if you’ve got the money. You might even consider Myanmar as well, which I’ve yet to visit, but I keep hearing great things about. It’s honestly the perfect time of year there. By April it’s insanely hot (the hottest month of the year), but December through February is lovely. It’s all quite safe as well, as long as you keep your wits about you. I’m happy to help with more information if you need it.
Vietnam and Sri Lanka could both be excellent choices for what you have in mind. Both are best for people who already have experience in these sorts of places, which you do. Twelve days could be a perfect length of time for a classic tour of Vietnam, flying into Hanoi and spending a few days there and in Halong Bay (with a possible side trip up to Sapa), and then taking the train down to Denang for a quick transfer to Hoi An. Hoi An is really a wonderful place and 3 or 4 days there would be great. There are good beaches nearby as well. Then take the train down to Ho Chi Minh City for a few more days before flying home from there. You could also do a side trip to Nha Trang (wonderful beaches) or Dalat up in the mountains. Vietnam really is gorgeous and the food is wonderful (French influences remain) but it can be a bit complicated for new travelers because you’ll find that many people you meet are trying to hustle you a bit, particularly travel agents booking trips and tours. The hotels are generally honest and great value, and so are the restaurants. You’ll learn to ignore the annoying people quickly.
If you’re a fan of cheese, this place is really fun. It’s a quaint little shop that’s right across the street from Pike’s Place Market. With hundreds of competitive awards under their belt over the last decade, you know their cheese is going to be good – and they do too. They let you sample different varieties of cheese before you buy it, so you know exactly what you’re getting into.
It’s going to be pretty cold in December all over Europe, although not quite so bad in the south, of course. As far as where to go, I’ll refer to our Europe 3-star traveler index, which lists every major city in Europe from cheapest to most expensive. The price is the typical daily expense per person for a couple traveling and staying in 3-star hotels. Once you scan through that list you should have some ideas.
Since you’ve been to several of the top places in Asia already, and you love it, I think Bali might be your best bet. As I’ve written many times recently, I feel that the main tourist area of Kuta/Legian/Seminyak is just too crowded and overdeveloped to recommend, although it is interesting for a couple days and some nightlife. The arts and crafts town of Ubud is still nice, although also a bit crowded, but it’s not anything like a city so I still think you’d enjoy it.
Australia is so large and varied that one cannot simply say ‘go to Australia in November’ and expect everything to be fine beachy. That said, November is probably as close as it gets to being perfect weather country-wide. The tropical rainy season in the North hasn’t properly settled into humid downpours yet, while the cooler southern states of Victoria and Tasmania are shaking off the winter frost and basking in warmer days. Vino and meals are taken al fresco, outdoor music and food festivals pop up everywhere, and beaches across the country begin to buzz.
Hmmm…this is a tricky one. Since you want to get out of SEA, you might have to go a long way to reach someplace that could be considered cheap and also has decent weather in December. Japan and South Korea will be cold, and not really cheap. If you go south you hit Australia, which is very expensive by most SEA standards (although not bad by Singapore standards). Perth is obviously closest and it’s a real city, and of course Sydney and Melbourne will be in early summer in December so those could work if your budget allows. Brisbane and Cairns are both known for outdoor activities, although nightlife might be tough for teenagers and there are no real cultural sights.
Early December is the end of the rainy season in those areas. The storms tend to be short by that time, but still you will probably get a few quick downpours a week. I’m not an expert on getting around in the Philippines, though I do know that it’s rarely fast or easy. If you want a place to relax then Boracay Island might be the best. Sorry I couldn’t be of more help. -Roger
If you are looking for a place to go abroad for a few months starting in early December, you are right on the money with Thailand as the best starting location. The weather is really nice that time of year, and it’s quite easy to keep things extremely cheap if you need to. Many of us in the travel writing community have spent months or years traveling around southeast Asia, and I’ve probably spent close to two years there myself. Bangkok is the obvious place to start and it’s an amazing city. After that you can either go north to Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai and then over to Laos, or you can head south to one or more of the islands. Cambodia has a lot to offer, and especially in Siem Reap, and Vietnam can be entertaining for all three months of your first visa there.
The idea of holidaying in a country where the depths of winter are approaching may seem a little counter intuitive but stick with us. The aurora borealis, or Northern Lights, is the best light show on Earth, and a trip to Iceland in November is the perfect ticket to see them. Explore thermal geysers, stunning waterfalls, and epic glaciers by day then stay up late and watch the skies dance with green light by night. Just make sure you pack your thermals though – the average day time temperature only reaches highs of 4c (40F)!
As for the alcohol thing, I’m a bit of a drinker myself, so it’s hard to offer advice to an AA person. I guess one factor could be that there are many places around the world where alcohol is so cheap and the days are so warm that many people drink during the day AND at night. If I were in your shoes, I’d probably want to avoid those places. Probably the easiest places to go would be Muslim countries and India because there is little or no drinking culture there, so they have endless evening alternatives that don’t revolve around drinking.
Since you mention the temperature in Fahrenheit, I’ll assume you are in the United States. You might have to go to the Southern Hemisphere to reliably get 84F or higher, but you can get over 80F in most of the Caribbean. You’ll get low 80s in Hawaii in early December as well. Fortunately, neither of those places get too crowded until just before Christmas, so either should work.
It’s only fitting that the closest big tourist destination to the North Pole would do Christmas up big. Reykjavik feels almost like a mini-New York in December, with the Oslo Christmas tree standing sentinel over the city and a public skating rink in Ingolfstorg Square. Seeing the northern lights is never a guarantee, even during days of near-perpetual darkness, but your odds are much greater in winter. On the other hand, who needs ’em when you have 13 official Santas walking around town posing for pictures? The Christmas Village at Hafnarfjordur is a top weekend destination for both locals and the newfound throngs of American visitors. Just beware their holiday tradition of eating ruinously smelly fermented skate.
One of the best things about Puerto Vallarta is that, unlike most of the Caribbean destinations, this is a real historic town rather than a purpose-built resort community. That means that there are small and authentic (and cheap) restaurants catering primarily to locals, so you get a much more authentic experience if you prefer one. The hotel zone close to the airport is modern and posh, but you are a short taxi ride away from the lovely center of town.
Spend the past two days discussing your ideas. Group thoughts; Is that adventurous and cultural enough? We want a “wow” factor. We have vacationed in Cayman Islands about a dozen weeks since the kids were little (been there done that.). We have ruled out Asia only because don’t see a huge Wow factor for the amount of travel. What about African Safari? Still not ruling out your ideas, just want to know what is Wow about Puerto Rico? Costa Rica?
This diverse and rapidly growing capital city of Texas is known for its live music scene, world class museums, beautiful outdoor spaces, pleasant weather, fine dining, and nightlife. A little bit city, a little bit country, Austin has no shortage of December activities for all. The Zach Theatre presents a rocking adaptation of the Dickens classic "A Christmas Carol" from Nov. 21 through Dec. 30, guaranteed to have you dancing in your seat. In its 56th year, Ballet Austin’s annual production of "The Nutcracker" returns to the Long Center Dec. 7-23. Holiday shoppers gather at the Blue Genie Art Bazaar to purchase unique handmade gifts including paintings, photography, jewelry, clothing, and more. Zilker Park transforms into a glittery wonderland with more than 2 million lights, 40 displays, interactive experiences, food trucks, and live music on two stages. The Armadillo Christmas Bazaar, an art and music festival, runs from mid-December through Christmas Eve with live music, two full bars, and local food specialties. Over 175 national and local artists display paintings, sculptures, woodworks, and an assortment of handmade gifts. Winter Wonderland at the Circuit is great family fun with holiday lights, a skating rink, Santa’s Village, petting zoo, carnival rides, and of course, live music. In the heart of downtown, the historic Driskill Hotel celebrates with an enormous Christmas tree and seasonal music. On Sunday, Dec. 16, Austin’s best bakers will share their holiday cookie collection, with the event’s proceeds supporting the Driskill’s traditional charity, “Cookies for Caring,” benefitting the community.
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