As the year winds down the parties amp up, none more so than in Scotland’s capital, where Hogmanay celebrations see flaming torches, fireworks displays and night-long parties take over the usually quiet cobbled streets. Slightly more sedate, the Caribbean’s southernmost island Trinidad simmers with stirring Spanish-style musical performances as the locals usher in the start of the dry season.
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.
My family and I are planning our first trip to Europe for the last week of December (2018) and the first week of January (2019), I know this is a long way off but I am a planner and to me that is half the fun! I know to most people that time of year in Europe is not ideal, but we LOVE cold weather, snow, rain, etc. and I am drawn to the lower prices and smaller crowds. So far I am considering Rome for 6 nights, Venice for 2 and Munich for 6 nights. I want to take day trips from Rome to see Pompeii & the Amalfi Coast and from Munich to see Rothenburg and Nuremburg. Does this seem like a good itinerary? Since I love the cold weather are there any other itineraries you think would be ideal for that time of year? Any advice you have would be very much appreciated.
Those wanting to hike to Machu Picchu will also find this to be an ideal month, since getting in a group will be easy even without much advance notice. The train to Machu Picchu is expensive year round, and reservations should be easier to get the day before this time of the year. Hotels are always cheap in Cusco so you can afford to get something nicer than you are used to this month.
As for Indonesia vs. Philippines, I’ve been to Bali quite a few times but I haven’t been to Bandung. And for the Philippines I’ve spent time in Manila and in Tagaytay just to its south, and I don’t think I’d recommend those for a longer trip. And I also spent two weeks on Boracay Island, which is quite nice, but it’s small and also a place I wouldn’t recommend for a longer trip like yours. For information on Indonesia you might go to my friend’s site – travelfish.org – which is an excellent resource. Unfortunately, they don’t cover the Philippines yet. Best of luck with what you end up doing. -Roger
The December weather is actually warm enough to sit on the beach, but most people who come to Dubai tend to just relax and do a lot of shopping at one of the enormous and modern malls here. The restaurant scene is very interesting as well, and you can eat cheaply if you follow the local workers, or go to one of the hotel restaurants and get world-class cuisine.
I think the best place for what you want is Thailand. You can choose from Phuket or Ko Samui or one of many other islands, and they all have nice beaches and good nightlife at a very reasonable price. There are other places in Asia that have warm December weather, but Thailand’s tourist infrastructure is better than the others so it’s just much easier to get around and do what you want. Let me know if you have any other questions. -Roger
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
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 I had more information about destinations in East Africa that would qualify I would love to include them. But unfortunately, it’s one of the few regions I haven’t been to myself, and according to every source I hear, very few foreigners are visiting as well. I know many (especially wealthy) people do the safaris in that region, or they walk up Kilimanjaro, but outside that it still sounds like there is almost no tourist infrastructure or even a backpacker scene. If you know things to be different, please let me know because I’m very open to it. -Roger
Later in the month, the day after Thanksgiving begins Christmas season with the Ford Holiday River Parade and Lighting Ceremony. Decorated floats wind through the illuminated trees and bridges along the river. Luminaria, San Antonio’s annual free contemporary arts festival (Nov. 10-11) will take place in Hemisfair and other downtown venues, unveiling a special program at the Mission San Jose, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. San Antonio has been recognized as a Creative City of Gastronomy by UNESCO’s Creative Cities Network. Influences of Mexican, Spanish, German, French, and Native American cuisine and ingredients combine to form the city’s culinary heritage, increasingly attracting foodies to its hundreds of unique restaurants.
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
Unsurprisingly, the end of December is the beginning of the peak season for resort prices, so those who are able to come earlier in the month will be getting better deals. Still, the all-inclusive resorts are locked in heavy competition all year so this area can be a great deal compared to the alternatives, even in high season. If you are looking for where to go in December for an all-inclusive beach holiday, this is your best option for most people.
As for Europe, it’s the low season there at the end of the year and you might be able to find a reasonable flight. Have a look at my list of best Europe destinations in December for weather and comments about each of the better places. If money is tight then Europe can be challenging because getting from place to place can add quite a bit to the daily total. I think two weeks in Spain and Portugal could be very nice, with reasonable weather and relatively low prices. Let me know what you think and I can try to help you more. -Roger
From Atlanta, the places that come to mind with the theme of “nature” would be Costa Rica and Belize. Costa Rica is probably the better choice, as it famously has around a third of its land as natural parks. Much of it is jungle, and they have all sorts of activities including zip lining, but also canopy tours and much more. There is also the Arenal volcano there, which is really nice and has some fun hot springs around it. They also have beaches, of course, but there is plenty in the interior of the island to keep you busy. If you know a bit of Spanish, it helps, but most other visitors know little or none.
I’m happy to try to help. It’s hard to say whether one 30-day trip would be better than several shorter trips. On one hand, it’s much more efficient to go for a month because it obviously saves you all the going back and forth. Also, one week is a short time to go 7 or 8 time zones away, as it takes pretty much an entire day each way, and at least a few days to adjust to the time change. Hmmm…
The “city that never sleeps” is a delight in December, even if the weather makes it necessary to bundle up a bit. For holiday spirit and things to do any time of year, New York City is a top destination. Broadway and off-Broadway shows are exceptional entertainment, and the Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular with the famous Rockettes is a perfect holiday event. The New York City Ballet at Lincoln Center presents the classic "Nutcracker," a seasonal tradition. At the New York Botanical Garden, the toy train will wind its way through a miniature Lower Manhattan for the amusement of kids as well as nostalgic adults who may have once had their own train sets. The dazzling Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree, New York City’s centerpiece each year with nearly 50,000 lights, will once again overlook the famed ice skating rink and golden Prometheus statue. Window shopping takes on new meaning during December when department stores along Fifth Avenue entertain passers-by with intricate decorations and displays. Holiday markets at Bryant Park, Columbus Circle, and Union Square also invite browsing and shopping along with warm drinks and food. For a convenient stay, the Renaissance New York Midtown Hotel offers spectacular views and Versa, a year-round rooftop restaurant and bar. Or enjoy the Innside by Melia New York in the trendy Chelsea area with its newly opened seafood-focused dining spot, The Wilson.
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.
As chilly temperatures arrive in the northern hemisphere, it’s spring in Buenos Aires, an ideal time to visit. The city’s jacaranda trees are decorating the streets in purple petals, hotel prices are attractive, and the weather is comfortable and dry. A cruise along the Rio de la Plata would be a good place to start, for a relaxing overview of neighborhoods, homes, markets, and the waterfront. On Sundays, get some authentic local flavor at Feria De Mataderos, about an hour from downtown, with gauchos on horses, craft vendors, musicians, tango dancers, and regional foods.
Steamed pumpkin sautéed and seasoned with fresh orange juice makes a tasty fall or winter side dish. Pumpkin steamed in the pressure cooker is easy to peel and dice and the steaming liquid can be used as a flavorful liquid in another recipe. You can pressure cook spaghetti squash this way too: use the same timing, but tease out the “spaghetti” flesh with a fork instead of dicing it.
There are always those travelers who celebrate the end of summer and the opportunity to don a sweater and take out the wool scarves and quilted jackets. For them, Iceland would be a perfect destination, with a chance to see the Northern Lights and adorable sled dogs. Montreal is another place with a winter chill, and at the end of the month, you might even find an early Christmas market. San Antonio gets into the holiday spirit at the end of November as well. Sedona offers chilly nights and gorgeous scenery, while Hilton Head Island still enjoys autumn weather and activities.
The island has made a miraculous comeback following Hurricane Irma, and by November, nearly all of the restaurants, villas, and hotels will be back up and running. Most regulars missed out on holiday season in 2017, however, December is bound to be crazy—but if you plan a trip just before the chaos, you're golden. Many of the luxury properties that were damaged have completed renovations, so expect everything to be shiny and new. While you really can't go wrong with any of the hotels, we're partial to Le Toiny, thanks to its uber-private accommodations, spacious villas, and over-the-top attention to detail.
If you are very sensitive to humidity (I normally am, to be honest) then you’ll find more pleasant weather pretty much anywhere else in Southeast Asia in December. It can actually be cool at night in places like Chiang Mai that month. On the other hand, I LOVE Bali and I’ll probably spend all of next February there, which is still in the wet season. I’d still seriously think about Bali if I were you.
Amazing post! I am taking vacation the last two weeks of November. I am planning to visit Germany for the first week. I also want to soak in some sun and enjoy the beach life during the second week of my vacation . Initially I wanted to go to Spain, but after reading your post I’m a bit discouraged because is not going to be warm enough . I love to sunbathe and outdoors activities . Just as running, hiking, tennis etc . Also I love to learn new cultures and fit in with the locals. Keep it economical .I been to must of the Caribbean and wouldn’t mind revisiting . But open to new warm destinations that would make sense. I would love to hear some of your suggestions .Thank you in Advance and safe travels..