Don’t have Christmas or New Year’s plans? Check out our first two recommendations for fantastic last-minute options that are still available. And if celebrating Carnival in Rio, seeing tigers in the wild, or cruising the Galapagos are on your wish list for the coming year, it’s time to snap into action: December is the optimal moment to book these trips, before the choicest accommodations and the most experienced guides are gone. Read on for our full list of the trips you’d be smart to book this month.
(Don’t miss the rest of our series on what trips to book in each month of the year. If you prefer to know which destinations are ideal for traveling to in any given month, see our Where to Go When series, and don’t miss our comprehensive guide to the benefits of booking early.
Cabo for the Holidays
For: December 2019 through January 2020
If sunny weather, great restaurants, and lively nightlife are the makings of your ideal holiday trip, look no further than Los Cabos, on Mexico’s Baja Peninsula. And it’s an easy, no-headache getaway too, with nonstop flights from almost 20 U.S. cities.
Why book in November? Our Trusted Travel Expert has a handful of private rental properties, from one-bedroom condos to 10-bedroom luxury estates, that are still available over Christmas and New Year’s.
Caribbean Sailing for the Holidays or Springtime
For: December 2019 through January 2020
Think a private yacht is out of your price range, especially over the holidays? Think again. Our Trusted Travel Experts in Belize—known for its world-class snorkeling and diving and crystal-clear Caribbean waters in 100 shades of blue—can set you up with your own catamaran, helmed by a first-rate captain and first mate/chef, for less than $400 per person per night, even over Christmas and New Year’s. That rate is nearly all-inclusive, covering all meals, an open bar, and equipment for snorkeling, fishing, kayaking, and more. Read reviews from other travelers who have done it. It also makes for a great spring-break adventure, when the Caribbean trade winds make it prime time for sailing.
Why book in November? A few of our TTEs’ vessels haven’t yet been booked for Christmas or New Year’s—but that could change quickly. You’ll have your pick of the crop if you start planning now for spring.
Brazil for Carnaval
For: February 2020
There’s no more memorable party atmosphere than Rio de Janeiro’s Carnaval (which always falls 40 days before Lent—in 2020, that will be early Feb 21–25). After you’ve had your fill of the many-days-long festivities in Rio, leave time to recuperate on the beach in Paraty or Trancoso before returning to the wintry weather back home.
Why book in December? Hotels won’t fill up until late January, but the order of the Carnaval Competition is released in late November—most people don’t realize that the world-famous parade is in fact a fierce contest among 12 top samba schools—and the theme for the glamorous Copacabana Palace Ball is announced in December. So now is the time to decide on which day you want parade tickets (or even get in costume and march with one of the samba schools, which our Trusted Travel Expert can arrange).
Oman’s Desert and Oases
For: February to late April 2020
Late winter/early spring is a great time to visit this jewel of the Middle East—particularly if you are fed up with winter skies at home. Even in February you’ll be greeted by warm days and nights, and a warm sea for swimming. And as the temperatures rise the desert becomes more appealing, making a couple of nights out in the vast Empty Quarter (the largest continuous sand desert in the world) an experience that will stay with you forever.
Why book in December? For now, you can still find the right combination of comfortable accommodations and experienced guides. But before long availability will become tight—and you don’t want to put off your trip until later in the spring, as everything winds down once Ramadan starts in late April.
Antarctica: A Whale Safari
For: February 2020
The comfortable, 114-passenger Hebridean Sky will be setting sail for Antarctica in late February, with a group of scientists from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution aboard. The lucky travelers who accompany this research team will not only explore Antarctica with experts, but they can also help collect data for a groundbreaking study on the feeding habits of humpback whales in the Southern Ocean.
Why book in December? Right now, our Trusted Travel Expert can get you 25% off the cabin rates for this special voyage.
India’s Prime Time for Tiger-Spotting
For: Late March to Mid-May 2020
India is home to most of the world’s population of the rare Bengal tiger, and the window with the best chance of seeing these animals in the wild is short—just a couple of weeks in spring, when the dry season minimizes foliage and brings the animals to watering holes (after mid-May, the blazing temperatures make heat stroke a real deterrent).
Why book in December? The bottleneck in India’s premiere national parks for tiger spotting—Kanha, Bandavgarh, and Pench—is accommodations. The Taj lodges have only 10 to 14 rooms each, the Pugdundee lodges just twice that, so capacity is low. While there are other lodges near the parks, none have the high caliber of naturalist guides that these properties offer.
A Grand Canyon Rim-and-River Trip
For: April to October 2020
More than five million people visit the Grand Canyon each year; make sure your experience of this natural wonder stands out from the crowd by booking with an expert. The specialists we know can get you access to roads not open to the public; a behind-the-scenes view of the Kolb Studio; and a day float on the Colorado River through nearby Glen Canyon, which mimics the vistas of the Grand Canyon without requiring a commitment of five days or more.
Why book in December? Our experts have access to hotel space that isn’t available to the general public—but if you want to be based in the park itself, you’ll still need to book early.
Ask Wendy to find the right Trusted Travel Expert to plan your best possible trip.
An Alaska Cruise at the Best Price
For: May to September 2020
Alaska is one of those places that converts even the most skeptical cruise-goer: Only by boat can you see some of its most knockout landscapes and abundant wildlife. The best itineraries encompass both the Inside Passage (an archipelago of 10,000 islands in the Alaska Panhandle near British Columbia) and the Gulf of Alaska (the coastline farther north that gives you access to Alaska’s interior, including Denali National Park).
Why book in December? In December and January, cruise lines such as Princess and Holland America offer their best promotions on these Gulf of Alaska sailings. The early-booking discounts for summer departures tend to expire in February, but in December you’ll reap the benefits while still having a wide range of ships and cabins to choose from.
The Galapagos Next Summer
For: June to August 2020
The Galapagos Islands offer a wildlife-rich experience throughout the year: You can swim with sea turtles, photograph giant tortoises, and have up-close encounters with blue-footed boobies no matter the season. But given how popular the destination is with families, it’s especially important to plan ahead for summer voyages—even more so if you prefer a small yacht or catamaran where space is limited.
Why book in December? People often chat with family and friends over the holidays about an upcoming trip, and then reserve their cabins in January; get a jump on them by making your arrangements now, while there is still good availability across a variety of ships (especially among the few connected or triple cabins that families covet).
Ireland’s Busy Summer Season
For: June to August 2020
Ireland is enticing more and more travelers and most Americans who go choose it for their big once-a-year summer vacation that combines history, scenery, and culture with a little R&R.
Why book in December? Given Ireland’s summertime popularity, the days of booking a summer vacation there in April—and getting your top-choice hotels and experiences—are over. In December, there will still be some availability, but by January many of the best hotels will be booked up. Also, as more rooms sell, rates climb, especially in Dublin, so your trip will cost less if you book it ASAP.
Bali’s Coveted Private Villas
For: July to September 2020
Summer is Bali’s dry season and brings the best all-around weather that the island sees. It’s also the most popular and heavily booked time of the year. Imagine having your own private villa with a pool and a full kitchen, plus a chef and staff who will keep the place stocked with fresh food from local markets. For families or several couples traveling together, a beautiful private villa can cost less than staying in a high-end hotel. But true beachfront villas, as well as those near the action in Ubud, are limited and therefore in high demand over the summer.
Why book in December? Starting in January, many people are making their summer travel plans; by booking in December, you get a jump on your competition for the most coveted beachfront and Ubud-area villas.
Africa: A Holiday Safari
For: December 2020
The Christmas/New Year’s period is a popular time for safaris. It falls during the southern hemisphere’s summer and at a time when getting away from work is relatively easy. But the most in-demand African safari camps have only a few rooms each, so availability is always low.
Why book in December? The top camps and lodges in southern and East Africa often sell out by January for the following December. Book now if you want to spend next year’s holiday season in style at a place like Royal Malewane or one of the Singita properties.