There is no better time than December to discover a still (somewhat) under-the-radar part of the Caribbean. This verdant, five square mile island has seen a lot of activity recently, from a new mega yacht club to a Soho House to the Mandarin Oriental's first property in the Caribbean. More is on the horizon for this picturesque piece of paradise, but go before everyone else discovers it.
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.
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)!
We flew with EasyJet and I was pleasantly surprised at the availability of keto food on the flight. I got a tapas box which had jamon serrano, chorizo and a tomato salsa that was, amazingly, sugar free! It was plenty to keep me going until we had dinner at the villa that evening. I didn’t track my carbs on this trip because I was eating keto the whole time so even when I went over slightly I wasn’t massively over. I also spent a lot of time swimming in the Mediterranean Sea and it was so hot I think I must have lost 5lbs in sweat alone! Sorry.
In addition to the obvious perks of pleasant weather and fewer tourists, off-season rates at accommodations are abundant. Voted No. 1 continental U.S. island by Travel + Leisure readers for the third time in 2018, Hilton Head has much to offer visitors. One of the most popular activities, perfect with autumn temperatures, is biking on the more than 60 miles of pathways covering the island, including along 12 miles of beaches. Bird watchers will keep busy spotting egrets, sandpipers, wood storks, sea gulls, pelicans, and ospreys. Well known as a golfer’s paradise, the Hilton Head Island area boasts more than 33 courses.
Those who adore the holidays and don’t mind the cold (the average high is around 48 degrees) might consider an end-of-year trip across the pond. Arguably Europe’s most festive destination, December in London promises charming Christmas markets, show-stopping Christmas trees, and streets covered in twinkling lights. A number of posh hotels, like 45 Park Lane and The Dorchester even have Christmas-centric packages available to get you into the holiday spirit.
Even if you can't sunbathe, the weather is still reliably pleasant all the time, with almost no rain. Weekly and monthly apartment rentals here are very popular, but there are plenty of hotels and hundreds of restaurants for those coming for shorter periods. If you want to be with the most English speakers you'll want to focus on the southwest area of the island around Los Cristianos and Playa de la America.
Another option would be Cambodia and/or Vietnam. The town of Siem Reap, which is just next to the Angkor Wat Temples is the real highlight. Phnom Penh is worth a quick look, but not on a shorter trip. Vietnam itself is a wonderful and gorgeous country, and you can see a lot of the highlights in 10 days or so. It’s also very cheap, even around Christmas. You could fly into Hanoi and then go see Ha Long Bay, and then take a train down to Hoi An. After that you could go to Nha Trang for the best beach experience or the hilltown of Sapa. The city of Ho Chi Minh City is quite crowded and you might not like it for more than a day or two.
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.
Oh, and I just noticed you asked about general safety as well. Buenos Aires is fine as long as you don’t wander into the bad neighborhoods after dark, which is pretty much true almost anywhere you go, including Europe. But Rio is sadly famous for petty crime and it’s a real issue. As long as you know what NOT to do it’s quite safe, so I’ll still recommend it as long as you read up a bit on the topic. The most common problem is when people walk down to the water on the beach after dark. As long as you know NOT to do that you should be fine, but if you did go for an evening walk near the water and out of sight of the well-lit sidewalks, the chances of getting mugged are extremely high. Again, it’s worth learning about it and it’s easy to stay safe if you do. Let me know if you have any other questions. -Roger
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.