Hmmm…there may not be a Wow Factor in Puerto Rico, especially if you are that used to Caymen. I was thinking more about a really nice place that was easy and with great weather. Costa Rica could have the Wow Factor, however. The country is something like one-third national parks and it is packed with great scenery and adventure activities. It is the zip-lining and canopy tours capital of the Americas, so there are many great options along those lines. And there is the volcano and hot springs and really nice beaches. I’m not sure what you’d consider a Wow Factor, but Costa Rica is probably the most Wow destination other than Hawaii.
Costa Rica is kind of the Thailand of Latin America in that they have great tourist infrastructure and it’s the easiest place to get around. They also have a lot to offer with the beaches on both coasts and many natural sights and activities, plus of course the Arenal volcano, which is a really nice area. San Jose is best as a place to just pass through on your way somewhere else.
We’re a couple and are planning a 5/6 nights trip [around Christmas] from India to some place that is slightly reasonable and wonderful, of course! What we’ve been considering till now is Maldives or Cambodia or Thailand. Can you suggest anything around these or even completely different from these? The reason why we haven’t been able to finalize till now is that we’re trying to find a destination other than beaches, which isn’t as easy as it appeared!
While the Caribbean destination tends to overflow with families during the holidays in December, go a month earlier and you’ll be treated to sunny days sans screaming kids, plus less expensive airfare. “November is my one my favorite months. The hustle and bustle of high season hasn't kicked in, average temperatures are in the 80’s, and the water temperature is lovely,” says Michael King-Hew, the proprietor of Kamalame Cay, a private island resort in the Bahamas. King-Hew specifically suggests for the resort's annual wellness retreat. “It’s the perfect way to get rested and in shape before the start of the hectic holiday season.”
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).
If you are looking for beach weather in December then most of your list won’t work, and several of them are only on rivers. Starting from Kolkata you have many good choices that are much closer to you than anywhere in Europe or the Canary Islands, or the Caribbean for that matter. In fact, I’m a bit confused by your list because there are so many different types of places on it, many that aren’t warm or on beaches.
Cancun is at the north end of the Riviera Maya, which also includes the island of Cozumel, so this is a huge area with over a thousand hotels to choose from. All that competition keeps prices down until the high season begins, so November is still a buyer's market. There are even ruins nearby and other cultural opportunities, so it's not all about sitting on the beach here. If you prefer a high-rise hotel overlooking a beach then stay in Cancun itself, but if you prefer to stay in a friendly town with many restaurant and shopping choices then head to Playa del Carmen, just a bit to the south, instead.
Montego Bay is home to one of the Caribbean's busiest airports in addition to a few hundred hotels and resorts, so it's an ideal destination for even a shorter getaway in November. The rainy season is over but the busy holiday peak season doesn't begin until just before Christmas, so the weather is perfect and hotel prices are still very low. Flights should be cheap from most hub cities as well, so even a long weekend is within reach for budget travelers this month.
Reading through your wonderful comments- looking for Xmas for 6 people that have travelled extensively. Caribbean now is “out” and still fear zika since my kids are in their 30s- or do you think zika is a scare of the past? Uruguay has been on our radar and so i thought it interesting that you had a recent comment. Galapagos is filled. Maldives? Do you think Cuba is still an option after Irma and with current US relations? Thanks
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Reading through your wonderful comments- looking for Xmas for 6 people that have travelled extensively. Caribbean now is “out” and still fear zika since my kids are in their 30s- or do you think zika is a scare of the past? Uruguay has been on our radar and so i thought it interesting that you had a recent comment. Galapagos is filled. Maldives? Do you think Cuba is still an option after Irma and with current US relations? Thanks
Hi, I am from the African Continent and have travelled extensively in December in this region as it is our summer vacations. A few suggestions; Yes, Mauritius is cheap, safe and warm; Zanzibar is another beautiful destination with friendly people, beautiful weather and stunning beaches and resorts; I would recommend almost any province in South Africa, especially the Cape Regions, Kwa Zulu Natal, Mpumalanga Province- the seaside resort without the sea and The Sun City Resort in Rustenberg. I suppose a first time visitor could book a package to a few regions. And no, we don’t have lions running around, nor is it as dangerous as the media portrays it to be. Good luck May!
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.
On the hunt for a non-traditional ski vacation? Look no further than the Japanese Alps. According to American Express Travel, the region has seen an increase in bookings during the holidays in recent years. And while December has historically been less popular than Japan’s peak season—April-November—adventurous travelers are now intrigued by the wilderness of Japan in the winter. The Hida, Kiso, and Akaishi alps are home to indigenous snow monkeys, volcanoes, and lava plateaus, plus, visitors are drawn to the area for its pristine ski offerings, natural hot springs, and rural hiking.
Of the others, I’d say that Thailand would probably be your better choice. Goa is obviously famous for its beach parties, and drugs are easily available there just in case that is important, but there really isn’t much else to see or do there. Goa is a collection of beach towns, some of which are filled with raucous Westerners all winter. But once you go inland, it’s kind of falling apart, and it’s not even very “Indian” because it was run by the Portuguese until about 60 years ago.
“Winter in Eastern Canada” might sound more like a 19th-century prison sentence than it does a pleasant vacation, but Quebec City does the cold better than anywhere in North America. Blanketed in snow, QC looks like the world’s most elaborately constructed Christmas village. The cobblestone streets in Old Quebec densely packed with storefronts beckoning you to come in for hot food and baked goods, and boisterous bars overflow with a cacophony of Quebecoise. In December the streets are draped with Christmas wreaths and populated with carolers, plus there’s an authentic German Christmas market -- a true novelty in a city so overwhelmingly French.

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.
Sunny SoCal may be beautiful all year-round, but the more-than-mild temperatures of November make it an even more stellar choice for those hoping for not-too-harsh sun, sand, and sea to chase away any impending winter blues. Head on over to the world-famous Santa Monica Pier or shop till you drop at Third Street Promenade. Of course, there’s also the good old beach itself, where you’ll find surfers, beach babes, locals, and tourists alike mingling festively together at Pacific Park amusement park, the outdoor gym at Muscle Beach, or on the historic Looff Hippodrome Carousel-- there’s also Bergamot Station in the heart of the city, which houses several art galleries to check out.
Montreal’s oldest Catholic Church, dating to 1656, includes stained glass that chronicles the history of the city. The city’s Parisian-style historic district, with cultural landmarks, boutiques, cafes, and restaurants, can be toured in a horse-drawn carriage for the full vintage effect. La Grande Degustation de Montreal (Nov. 2-3) attracts wine producers, distillers, and brewers from around the world. Montreal also hosts the 24th-annual French Language Film Festival (Nov. 1-11) featuring contemporary films from around the world subtitled in English. When it’s cold, visitors can head to the underground city, a network of tunnels, corridors, and plazas with more than 1,000 retailers and restaurants. The Montreal Tower Observatory, the world’s tallest inclined tower, provides breathtaking views of the city, the Laurentian Mountains, and St. Lawrence River Valley.
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.

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.
While the Caribbean destination tends to overflow with families during the holidays in December, go a month earlier and you’ll be treated to sunny days sans screaming kids, plus less expensive airfare. “November is my one my favorite months. The hustle and bustle of high season hasn't kicked in, average temperatures are in the 80’s, and the water temperature is lovely,” says Michael King-Hew, the proprietor of Kamalame Cay, a private island resort in the Bahamas. King-Hew specifically suggests for the resort's annual wellness retreat. “It’s the perfect way to get rested and in shape before the start of the hectic holiday season.”
Not surprisingly, the weeks around Christmas and New Years are literally the busiest of the year in Goa, so either book a hotel way in advance or be flexible once you arrive. Some towns, like Calungute, are lined with package hotels that fill up completely, but other towns, like Anjuna and Vagator, are usually booked in person or by email, so you can often find a place just walking around. If you are in the mood to tour around, Mumbai has great weather during December, and Delhi has warm days but cool evenings this time of year. Goa has some of the best beaches in December in all of Asia, so give this one a serious look.
Back in 2008, we asked chef Stephanie Kimmel from Eugene's Marche restaurant to take a stab at updating Thanksgiving's well-worn green bean casserole -- you know the one we're talking about, with the canned beans and mushroom soup, topped with fried onions. Kimmel's from-scratch version features colorful fresh green beans that are baked in a homemade white sauce that tastes cleaner than the 1950s tinned three-can combo. If Thanksgiving dinner doesn't feel complete without a green bean casserole, this is the one to make!
A few months ago, my girlfriend and I went on a small vacation through Portland and Seattle. I wanted to document all of the food I was eating to share the experience and to provide some tips and tricks with all of the curious folks out there. Being ketogenic while being on vacation is one thing – but eating well while staying keto is another, and I’ll show you how to do it.

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.

Capital of the UAR, Abu Dhabi combines ultra-modern structures and attractions with its ancient Arabian culture. This year, the Louvre Abu Dhabi will celebrate the first anniversary of its long-awaited November 2017 opening. Built on a manmade peninsula, its collection ranges from prehistoric to contemporary works, exploring universal human themes. The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, a spectacular architectural achievement, consists of 82 domes clad in pure white marble. Its hand-knotted carpet, the largest in the world, features an intricate Islamic medallion design crafted by about 1,200 artisans. Open Saturday through Thursday, the mosque offers free admission, and visitors must observe proper dress and behavior.
If you are more interested in nature and adventure than culture, then the top choice would be Costa Rica. The country has many beautiful national parks and it’s filled with things like zip-lining and canopy tours, just to name a few things. There are also volcanoes and surfing beaches and much more, plus a very good backpacker infrastructure of cheaper hotels and hostels.
For the record, the official Hurricane Season runs from June 1 to November 30, but hurricanes in November are extremely rare, so we have likely seen the last of them for this season. The devastated islands will need help rebuilding, and the remaining islands are hoping that visitors know they need the business as well, and that there is no risk of big storms starting in December and usually earlier. -Roger

Either way, my favorite warm-weather destinations near North America are San Juan, Puerto Rico, Playa del Carmen, Mexico, and Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. All 3 of them have very interesting towns that are also on lovely beaches so you have nightlife and culture mixed with beaches and water sports and whatnot. You might get low 30s for daytime highs in October, but it cools off in the evenings and it’s pretty nice. Let me know how that sounds and if you have other ideas I can add more information if you like. -Roger
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.
It would help to know your starting location, but I’ll assume it’s the US or Canada because you didn’t say. My first thought for this is Argentina, which of course is in mid spring in late October. Buenos Aires is a wonderful city with great food and culture. You could also visit Mendoza, which is the lovely wine region, and Bariloche, which is a mountain resort area with year-round activities and such. Then there is always the amazing Iguazu Falls on the border with Brazil and Paraguay. It’s by far the most amazing waterfalls and area I’ve seen. Things are pretty cheap in Argentina these days for outsiders because of their weak currency. It’s also got very good outdoor activities in many different areas that should have nice weather in late October. It’s easier if you know Spanish, but still doable if you don’t. I don’t speak Spanish and I enjoyed it so much I stayed for a month. Let me know if you have something else in mind and I can try again. -Roger
The fastest high-speed trains between those cities only take 2.5 hours, although most departures are closer to 3 hours. Definitely take the train and also buy the ticket as far in advance as possible for the lowest fare. Not only is it FAR quicker than flying (and of course the coach), but it’s far more comfortable and more enjoyable. This is a link to the official Spanish rail site. The scenery isn’t all that special, but it’s still interesting. Have a fantastic trip. -Roger

Assuming you might be in the US or Canada, my first hunch is Costa Rica, or Panama, which is a bit cheaper though not as well organized. Costa Rica has good surfing on its Pacific beaches, and there are very few all-inclusive resorts, which means that the restaurant scenes in resort areas are vibrant and interesting. Costa Rica also has limitless adventure opportunities, like zip-line tours and such, although they aren’t exactly cheap. Going inland you’ve got loads of national parks, as well as the famous volcano and its little spa town.


Another reason to consider Dubai is that the busy airport has cheap non-stop flights coming in from almost every major airport in Europe and Asia. As a result it's popular to book long weekend trips of 3 or 4 days to Dubai, where you can enjoy some sunshine and shopping before flying back home where it gets colder by the day. You might also consider stopping for a few days in Dubai and then moving onto somewhere else with cheap direct flights such as the Maldives.
Montreal’s oldest Catholic Church, dating to 1656, includes stained glass that chronicles the history of the city. The city’s Parisian-style historic district, with cultural landmarks, boutiques, cafes, and restaurants, can be toured in a horse-drawn carriage for the full vintage effect. La Grande Degustation de Montreal (Nov. 2-3) attracts wine producers, distillers, and brewers from around the world. Montreal also hosts the 24th-annual French Language Film Festival (Nov. 1-11) featuring contemporary films from around the world subtitled in English. When it’s cold, visitors can head to the underground city, a network of tunnels, corridors, and plazas with more than 1,000 retailers and restaurants. The Montreal Tower Observatory, the world’s tallest inclined tower, provides breathtaking views of the city, the Laurentian Mountains, and St. Lawrence River Valley.

The 2nd option is a bit early in the year. The Greek Islands are cold and mostly deserted until mid April or so, and the good weather really starts in May or June. This is true in Mallorca as well. The Canary Islands are much farther south so they have acceptable beach weather almost all year, although you might get some cooler days in March as well. Even still I wouldn’t really recommend them for a younger person. In my opinion, the Canary Islands are pretty boring because the majority of visitors that time of year will be retired people from northern Europe who just want to sit in the sun. The nightlife tends to be cheesy and/or weak if you can find it at all. Let me know if you have any other questions. -Roger
You might also consider Malaysia and perhaps a stop in Singapore. Malaysia is actually more modern than Thailand so everything is easy and reliable. They have cheap VIP buses that are very comfortable. Penang in the north is really nice and also interesting. Kuala Lumpur is a modern and pleasant big city. A bit south of that is the colonial town of Malacca, which is also very nice and worth a look. Going south from there you can reach Singapore in a few hours, and that is an amazing city, although accommodation there is expensive.
Early in your message you say the last week of November, and then later you mention “late December,” so I’m not sure which it is. But if it’s late November, I think Italy could be a great option, as the weather there is still quite nice, at least in the south. You could go to Venice for a day or two and then Florence and Rome, and then maybe spend 5 or so days in Sorrento. I spent 5 days in Sorrento in mid November two years ago and the weather was very nice, even if it wasn’t warm enough to sit on the beach.

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.
So, I am from bombay. I wish to see much of Central and/ or South America this December. Would love to know your take on the most interesting places in terms of culture, language, people, good nightlife, nature, adventure, wildlife, on a shoe string budget possibly. I have never stayed at a 3/5 star so just backpacking hostels, couchsurfing and potential friends. I am also open to your suggestions about Africa and any other musts if any, but not in asia. Since you do know how versatile Goa is, are there places equivalent, close to or better than it? Also, if its not too much to ask and too hard to pin down, what places/destinations would make your top 10 or 15 in all? Irrespective of the time of the year or whether it is a city or an island or the Himalayas, what places would make the ‘touched the heart & soul’ list? That have become a feeling to you, rather 🙂 cheers

If the thought of another year crawling to a close has left you feeling a little low, November is the perfect time to give yourself a travel-fuelled lift, with an array of destinations primed for exploration during the penultimate month of the year. Trek in perfect conditions in Ethiopia and Nepal, visit Orlando’s theme parks at discount rates, sample an unusual Thanksgiving dinner in Puerto Rico or don your skeleton outfit for Día de Muertos in Mexico – trust us, the year is far from over!
Pay homage to the Native American heritage of the U S of A by taking in the sights and sounds of Arizona’s capital city for pure rest and relaxation before the holiday season. Phoenix anchors a sprawling, multicity metropolitan area known as the Valley of the Sun, which is highly regarded for its luxury resorts, vibrant nightclubs, designer golf courses, and long lasting sunshine and warmth—even through the winter months. Attractions include the Heard Museum and the Pueblo Grande Museum & Archaeological Park. Be sure to check them out!
If the thought of another year crawling to a close has left you feeling a little low, November is the perfect time to give yourself a travel-fuelled lift, with an array of destinations primed for exploration during the penultimate month of the year. Trek in perfect conditions in Ethiopia and Nepal, visit Orlando’s theme parks at discount rates, sample an unusual Thanksgiving dinner in Puerto Rico or don your skeleton outfit for Día de Muertos in Mexico – trust us, the year is far from over!
More good news comes with the fact that there are two other great resort areas that are each about 90 minutes by shuttle from Montego Bay Airport, so you can almost as easily reach Ocho Rios or Negril, both of which have a different vibe that you might prefer. Bargain hunters will also find pretty amazing prices at the all-inclusive resorts, particularly those in Montego Bay and Ocho Rios. If you prefer a quiet beach area lined with smaller hotels, restaurants, and bars, then head to Negril.
Heading east, India could be a possibility, although it’s not for the faint of heart. As a resident of Singapore, I assume you know a fair bit about India. Outside of Mumbai, it’s all quite cheap and the weather will at least be good. Personally, I love the southern state of Goa, and it has everything you are looking for, without the insanely crowded conditions of India’s big cities.
The fastest high-speed trains between those cities only take 2.5 hours, although most departures are closer to 3 hours. Definitely take the train and also buy the ticket as far in advance as possible for the lowest fare. Not only is it FAR quicker than flying (and of course the coach), but it’s far more comfortable and more enjoyable. This is a link to the official Spanish rail site. The scenery isn’t all that special, but it’s still interesting. Have a fantastic trip. -Roger

Interestingly, December though February do get a bit cool in Cairo, so it's not a great winter break, but in November it's still pleasantly warm and bone-dry so you can enjoy the outdoors for long periods of time. If you don't mind staying in a locally-owned hotel you can save a lot of money and see some old-world charm at the same time. Reservations in advance aren't necessary, but it's best to book your first couple of days just to avoid all the confusion once you arrive.
We spent a month in Costa Rica last year and although we thoroughly enjoyed the trip, we don’t tend to be “repeat customers”, so we’d like to venture somewhere new (we saw that you had mentioned this as kid-friendly a few times, so just wanted to let you know that we’ve already been there). Some available attractions and activities would be ideal, but, we’d also quite enjoy the beach towns of some sort. We love hostel type of accommodations, aren’t overly-indulgent and can get by on a fairly modest budget. We are of the mind-set that spending more time, is more valuable than spending more money.
Obviously you’d get a refund if an airline canceled your incoming flight, so I guess it’s more a matter of being able to book an alternative without much notice at that point, and that can be tricky. I’ll probably be coming from Hong Kong or Kuala Lumpur, and those flights are always pretty cheap. If I was coming from Europe or North America, I’d probably just wait and hope that the ash cloud starts to subside, and also get a back-up destination ready. If you mainly just want to hang out on a lovely beach and do some water activities and such, then I’d take a look at Boracay Island. However, it’s small and doesn’t come close for cultural activities or natural sights, although other parts of the Philippines are better in those regards.

Costa Rica, as you probably know, is all about nature and adventure sports, along with some decent beaches. It would be perfect if you are up for that sort of thing. If not, Santiago and Valparaiso (nearby cities in Chile) could be good for more of an urban adventure. Or Buenos Aires is even nicer and more interesting (and probably cheaper if you bring cash) if you can get a deal on a flight there.
Austria Salzburg, Vienna Belgium Bruges, Brussels Bosnia and Herzegovina Sarajevo Bulgaria Sofia Croatia Dubrovnik, Split, Zagreb Czechia Cesky Krumlov, Prague Denmark Copenhagen Estonia Tallinn Finland Helsinki France Lyon, Nice, Paris Germany Berlin, Hamburg, Munich Greece Athens, Mykonos, Rhodes, Santorini Hungary Budapest Iceland Reykjavik Ireland Dublin, Galway Italy Florence, Milan, Naples, Rome, Sorrento, Venice Latvia Riga Lithuania Vilnius

If you are looking for pleasant weather in December you might also consider the Canary Islands. They have good connections to many destinations. You would probably have to change planes in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, or Qatar on your way to Delhi, but the flight will at least be fairly cheap. Good luck with this and let me know if you have other questions. -Roger
And as far as I can see, Bali is totally up and running as of now. A friend of mine is a driver there and he has a steady stream of foreign guests who are going all over the island with no difficulties. November is a pretty good month in that it’s not too busy, so that’s another reason it might be a good choice. Let me know if you have any other questions. -Roger
There were fresh croissants, cereal, doughnuts, crackers, sandwiches, nutella, jams, fruit juices and the hot option was Spanish rice. I hadn’t eaten anything yet and was starting to feel a bit hungry. I had planned to bring bacon with me (emergency purse bacon) just in case but I didn’t want to have to cook and clean up after I had already showered. I took a couple of the cheese sandwiches and took the cheese off the bread and ate that. I also had a couple of cups of coffee which filled me a bit.
If you are referring to days trips and that sort of thing, it will be much cheaper if you book once you get there. In Vietnam in particular it’s amazing how cheap tours can be if you book them through your hotel. I once did a 6-hour bus tour to Mỹ Sơn, which is near Hoi An, and I think I paid about US$6. It even included a boat ride and a basic lunch. That same day tour online would probably cost US$30 because the booking company takes a share and there is very little competition.

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.
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