While the last ten days of December spell crowds and exorbitant prices throughout much of the world, the first two-thirds of the month—before holiday airfares and hotel rates go into effect—can be a serene, value-laden, and just plain lovely time to travel. Europe is all decked out for the holidays—with locals generally friendly and in high spirits; in the Southern Hemisphere, spring is in bloom; and in the Caribbean, Hawaii, and Mexico, hurricane season is over, the weather is gorgeous, and there are free upgrades galore.
(If you prefer to know which destinations are ideal for booking in any given month, see our Where to Book Now series, and don’t miss our comprehensive guide to the benefits of booking early.)
The Amazon and Bahia, Brazil
December is the only month of the year when the weather is ideal in the states of Bahia—home to the Afro-Brazilian capital of Salvador and Trancoso, a gorgeous beach town—and Amazonas. Bahia is sunny and pleasant, and the Amazon is at the end of its dry season, so there are beautiful beaches along some rivers. —Martin Frankenberg, Trusted Travel Expert for Brazil
Nobody’s traveling between Thanksgiving and Christmas (specifically, from the Tuesday after Thanksgiving to the Thursday or Friday before the peak Christmas rush), so you can enjoy substantial savings off peak-season rates (four nights for the price of three, seven nights for the price of five) and your chances of an upgrade are good—if you book through a Caribbean specialist with clout. —Lindsey Epperly, Trusted Travel Expert for the Caribbean
Siem Reap, Cambodia
If you must travel with the busloads of Chinese and Korean tourists in the cooler dry season (which runs from November to March), try to do so during the first two weeks of December for far fewer crowds and great hotel deals. —Andy Booth, Trusted Travel Expert for Southeast Asia: Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam
Read Andy’s Insider’s Guide to Angkor Wat and Siem Reap Without the Crowds and reach out to Andy to get the best possible trip.
Locals head to the beach during the Christmas /New Year’s period, which means you’ll encounter fewer crowds at Mexico City’s cultural sites and much less traffic in this famously congested city. It behooves leisure travelers to visit over a weekend: Most hotels are full of business travelers during the week and typically offer lower rates from Thursday through Sunday. —Zachary Rabinor, Trusted Travel Expert for Mexico
Though villas triple in price over Christmas and New Year’s, the first two-thirds of the month are still considered “value season”: Prices are far lower, the weather is much the same, and the island is quieter and less crowded. —Peg Walsh, Trusted Travel Expert for St. Barts Villas
If you can get away during the first two weeks of December, you’ll avoid the holiday crowds, enjoy the transition from rainy to dry season when everything is still lush and green, and enjoy low-season rates. —Irene Edwards, Trusted Travel Expert for Costa Rica
Read Irene’s Insider’s Guide to Luxury Eco-Travel in Costa Rica and reach out to Irene to get the best possible trip.
Christmas/New Year’s is one of the prettiest times in the city, which is already beautifully lit even before the seasonal lights go up. Just be aware of Christmas/New Year’s closing times, expensive set menus in restaurants on Dec 31, and the sheer difficulty of getting around the city that evening. —Jack Dancy, Trusted Travel Expert for France
Athens is an ideal spot for a short break in December. Winters in Greece are mild, with only a few rainy days. Even if you’re not brave enough for a swim in the brisk sea, places like Glyfada and Voyliagmeni, on the Athenian Riviera, stay lively year round and offer a wide choice of café and dining options. Peter Pan on Ice will be playing in the southern suburb of Palaio Faliro, while in Athens The Snow Queen will be presented by the Ballet of the Kiev National Opera. —Christos Stergiou, Trusted Travel Expert for Greece
December is an ideal time to visit Mendoza in any year: The grapevines are alive, and the backdrop of the majestic Andes after the winter snows makes for dramatic scenery. Wine season is in full swing, and there’s a beer festival in Godoy Cruz during the first week in December—a four-day street party with live music and heavy partying. (Christmas and New Year’s, though, are high season for hotels, and the wineries close on December 24, 25, 31st, and January 1.) Keep in mind, however, that for the first week of December 2016, the Mendoza airport is under renovation; it is scheduled to reopen December 7. —Maita Barrenechea, Trusted Travel Expert for Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay
People don’t think of Moscow for winter, but it’s such a wonderful time to be there. The weather is no worse than what you’d find in New York City, and the huge advantage is the people—or, really, the lack of people! No masses of tourist buses descending on the Kremlin, no huge lines for museums (of course, we ensure our travelers skip all museum lines anyway), and no crazy crowds in Red Square. Something magical happens in Moscow in the off-season: It actually becomes more approachable and less intimidating. (Plus, December falls in the heart of the theater season, so for culture vultures this is the best time to visit.) —Greg Tepper, Trusted Travel Expert for Russia
Late October (when the rains end) through February is an exceptional time to visit the northern part of the country, from Sukhothai through Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai. The King’s Birthday, on December 5, ushers in the festive season (Christmas and New Year’s certainly aren’t traditional holidays here, but many Thais celebrate them anyway) and cooler, less humid weather. In general, the beaches are blissful from the end of December through March. Mid-November through January see the lowest temperatures and least humidity in Bangkok. —Sandy Ferguson, Trusted Travel Expert for Southeast Asia
December is a fun time to be in Rajasthan (though a busy one—this is our peak season). The weather is cooler—something we relish, as it means long explorations into the bazaars, wonderful walks ’round the forts, and a chance to explore the villages on foot without overheating! Evenings are spent wrapped in beautifully decorated Rajasthani shawls and blankets as you dine outside by firelight. The winter light is beautiful, particularly in the villages, making this an ideal time for any travelers with a passion for photography. —Bertie & Victoria Dyer, Trusted Travel Experts for Rajasthan, India
In the first two weeks of December (before the madness of the holiday season begins and rates go up), you can see newborn lambs dotting the hillsides all over the country. New Zealanders love their gardens, so flowers are blooming everywhere too. The peace and beauty of the landscape and the people can be so restorative to the soul. —Donna Thomas, Trusted Travel Expert for New Zealand