UPDATE: Top-notch accommodations and experienced private guides have become scarce in many of the places listed below. For the destinations that still have good availability, check out These Places Are Still Available for the Holidays.
This year’s holiday season is shaping up to be a tough—and expensive—one for the usual vacation spots in and near the U.S. Availability is slim, and hotel rates are often astronomical, including in the Caribbean and Mexico. So we’ve gathered excellent alternative options that you might not have thought of but that still have availability. You won’t find bargains but, if you use the trip-planning experts we recommend, you can get safe, easy, spectacular experiences—like these trips that your fellow travelers have been enjoying during the pandemic. Use the black buttons below to contact these local experts so that you’ll receive VIP treatment and maximum value.
Think Rome, Florence or Venice for an array of outdoor experiences, from learning how to ride a Vespa in Rome (where temps are in the 50s in December) to learning how to row a gondola in Venice. At Christmastime these cities’ holiday lights, outdoor Christmas markets, and gastronomic treats—tortellini in brodo, panettone, pandoro—will have you feeling like a local in a way you never can in summertime. Florence is more about indoor venues (museums, palazzi, legendary boutiques), but these feel safe because entry is limited to those who are vaccinated and capacity in many places has been reduced—so you can take in Italian masterpieces without a sea of heads in front of you.
Read reviews of WOW trips to Italy.
Learn about Italy’s entry requirements.
Celebrate Christmas with your family in a private Provencal villa with your own chef. The holidays bring local Christmas markets and ancient traditions to the region; in Les Baux, there is a living nativity scene featuring real shepherds. It’s also warm enough for hiking and cycling, and the right travel planner can arrange for private access to the most sought-after landmarks—imagine having Avignon’s Palace of the Popes all to yourself after closing time.
Read reviews of WOW trips to Provence.
Learn about France’s entry requirements.
Consider basing your family in a villa for Christmas, on rolling hills with Mediterranean views, and having a different cultural or culinary adventure each day. Outdoor activities include exploring Sicily’s Greek and Roman ruins, hiking Mt. Etna, and cycling though nature reserves and wine country. Indoor activities can easily be made private—cooking classes (in a restaurant kitchen or palazzo), visits to private art collections and artists’ studios, wine tastings on wine farms, and family-owned palazzi and other places not typically open or available in busier years.
Read reviews of WOW trips to Sicily.
Learn about Italy’s entry requirements.
Malta’s 85% vaccination rate is the fourth highest in the world, and it’s easy to spend virtually all your time outdoors: Even in December, temperatures are warm enough to enjoy a boating trip around the islands. Maltese experiences you cannot have anywhere else include a visit to a Ġgantija-era healing cave and excursions to connect with local farmers and artisans and enjoy rustic Maltese lunches in private olive groves or natural wineries. As for private indoor experiences, the right specialist can arrange for private entry into St. John’s Co-Cathedral—a baroque feast for the eyes— after hours when it is closed to the public, a private meeting with a Resident Knight of Malta in his ancient enclave belonging to the Knights of St. John, and much more.
Read reviews of WOW trips to Malta.
Learn about Malta’s entry requirements.
Cabo for Christmas
If your kids are off school the week before Christmas, consider Los Cabos, Mexico: There are nonstop flights from California, New York, and Texas, and private villas and hotels along the tip of the Baja Peninsula still have space in the period leading up to the holiday. (Starting on December 27 and running through New Year’s, most everything is sold out.)
Read reviews of WOW trips to Cabo.
Learn about Mexico’s entry requirements.
Belize’s Coral Reefs
Nonstop flights to Belize take off from several U.S. cities that are only about three hours away. Once you’re there you can explore world-class coral reefs, visit uncrowded Mayan ruins, learn to scuba dive (as Wendy’s son did), fish for 100-pound tarpon (which kept her husband busy), and laze beside sparkling Caribbean waters. Only accommodations that have earned the country’s Gold Standard Certificate of Recognition are allowed to operate; options range from beach resorts with separate bungalows to remote jungle tree houses. (While Belize currently has a Level 4 rating from the State Department and C.D.C., we’ve seen numerous travelers visit with no issues. That’s because you can so much of every day in the open air, and because our savvy trip-planning expert has protocols in place to keep everything as safe as possible.)
Read reviews of WOW trips to Belize.
Learn about Belize’s entry requirements.
Costa Rica’s Beaches and Rainforest
Costa Rica’s jungle lodges and beach resorts are open to all U.S. residents with no testing required. The weather is ideal at this time of year too, with the skies clear over a landscape refreshed by recent rains in much of the country. Costa Rica’s Level 4 advisories from the State Department and C.D.C. are many months old: Currently its Covid caseload is half that of the U.S. Moreover, Costa Rica is inherently safer than many other destinations because so much of what you do there is outdoors.
Read reviews of WOW trips to Costa Rica.
Learn about Costa Rica’s entry requirements.
Skiing in Canada
With the northern border once again open—and huge demand for outdoors-focused trips here in the U.S.—this may be an opportune year to hit the slopes in Canada. Resorts in Whistler, Banff, Lake Louise, and elsewhere will be following local and provincial protocols, including social distancing and masking in certain areas. Some resorts are allowing travelers to cancel or change their dates up to three days before arrival, so you can book with peace of mind that your financial investment is secure even if your plans change. If you’re thinking about a first-rate ski trip over the holidays, you’ll want to work with a specialist who will keep close tabs on all the guidelines and who can quickly make any necessary adjustments to your trip.
Read reviews of WOW trips in Canada.
Learn about Canada’s entry requirements.
The Galapagos Islands and Ecuador
Ecuador is open to U.S. travelers, who need only bring proof of one of the following: full vaccination, a recent negative test, or a past infection. The Galapagos have long been a favorite holiday destination for families. Some expedition-cruise ships are operating there, along with smaller vessels that you can charter just for your family. If you’d like to extend your trip into the Amazon rainforest, consider Sacha Lodge, which is adjacent to one of the most biodiverse spots on earth; each group gets its own private guide, and the dining room is open-air.
Read reviews of WOW trips to the Galapagos.
Learn about Ecuador’s entry requirements.
Tahiti, Bora Bora, and French Polynesia
Who doesn’t want to get away to the remote South Pacific, enjoying an endless horizon from the seclusion of your overwater bungalow and private plunge pool? The Tahitian islands were among the first tropical paradises to reopen to U.S. travelers, and our readers took advantage of it! Whether you’re looking for an adults-only haven or a place where the kids can frolic, the right trip planner can guide you to the resort most suitable to your specific needs, ensure that you meet the current entry requirements, and watch over your entire trip—leaving you to relax and enjoy the view.
Read reviews of WOW trips to Tahiti, Bora Bora and French Polynesia.
Learn about French Polynesia’s entry requirements.
An Overwater Bungalow in the Maldives
These idyllic islands in the Indian Ocean, many of which are home to just one resort, require visitors to present proof of full vaccination or a recent negative Covid test; I spent a blissful five days there last October. It’s a breeze to socially distance at a private-island resort, where secluded beach villas and overwater bungalows are the norm. Restaurants are already open-air, toes-in-the-sand kinds of places, and the closest interaction you might have is with a manta ray while snorkeling.
Read reviews of WOW trips to the Maldives.
Learn about the Maldives’ entry requirements.
A Turquoise Reef in the Seychelles
Think the Seychelles are just for honeymooners? Think again. There are resorts that cater to families, with multi-bedroom villas and kids’ clubs that will give parents a break. And since the majority of the population is Catholic, the locals get into the Christmas spirit too. There can be some rain in December, but that makes the vegetation even more lush—and a Seychelles expert can point you to the driest parts of the islands for your holiday escape.
Read reviews of WOW trips to the Seychelles.
Learn about the Seychelles’ entry requirements.
An African Safari
Here’s why I think 2021 is the year to go on safari. A savvy safari-planning specialist can lead you to the lodges that are limiting occupancy in game-drive vehicles, are testing staff, and have open-air dining areas and in-room air conditioning (the latter a necessity in some parts of southern Africa in December and January).
Read reviews of WOW African safaris.
Learn about safari destinations’ entry requirements.
Morocco: Exotic Yet Just Across the Atlantic
Morocco is just a seven-hour flight away from New York, making it a smart option if you want something out of the ordinary but your time is limited. The holidays are the busiest time of year for the country, so you’ll want a savvy specialist on your side to help find space in those atmospheric riads and plan your itinerary to stay far from the crowds. If the desert figures into your Morocco plans, consider visiting at another time of year: Temperatures there plunge after dark in winter, so it can be tough to get a good night’s sleep.
Read reviews of WOW trips to Morocco.
Learn about Morocco’s entry requirements.
Egypt: Pyramids Without the Crowds
While Cairo’s bustling souks and narrow streets don’t lend themselves easily to social distancing, vaccinated travelers may want to take this opportunity to see the country’s pyramids and other archaeological wonders without the crowds: Capacity at such sites is currently limited. (Or do as these travelers did and have an expert arrange for private, after-hours access.)
Read reviews of WOW trips to Egypt.
Learn about Egypt’s entry requirements.
We’re here to help
Right now is a remarkable opportunity for global travelers who are vaccinated. When your friends say that travel is problematic as a result of the pandemic—rental cars aren’t available, service even at 5-star hotels is shoddy—the problem is they’re not planning their trips right! Travel can be spectacular now if you choose the right destination, know the savviest local fixers, and approach them the optimal way. Check out these recent trip reviews to see the difference that Wendy’s WOW approach to trip planning makes.