Feeling a little bah humbug about a traditional British Christmas with all the trimmings? If spending the yuletide holidays at home has lost its festive edge, try planning a December escape instead.
It may be midwinter over here in Blighty, but the Southern Hemisphere is gearing up for summer, making it the perfect moment to take a long-haul trip. Swap the sofa for a sun lounger, trade the novelty slippers for sandals and jet off into the sunset for a Christmas with a difference.
Alternatively, if you’re craving an iconic White Christmas, there are plenty of snow-tipped destinations that take winter festivities to a whole new level. So, whether you’re a snow bunny, an old romantic or a sun-worshipper, there’s somewhere in December that will fit the bill.
Here’s a rundown of some of the best places to visit in December, from beaches to jungles and cities that never sleep. Sit back, grab a cuppa and prepare to be inspired.
Forget Christmas Eve down the local pub – if you’re looking for a real party, head for Rio. Brazil’s capital throws a fiesta better than anywhere else on Earth, and Christmas is no exception. Trade your mulled wine and woolly mittens for some teensy swimwear and a caipirinha on Copacabana Beach, where the celebration of life never stops. Unlike Carnival, Christmas in Rio isn’t chaotically overwhelming, but it’s still a whole lot of fun.
If that’s not enough, Rio is home to the world’s largest floating Christmas tree. Yes really. Rising from Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon, the legendary tree twinkles with over 900,000 Christmas lights and Papa Noel pops down to visit on weekends. On top of that, it’s summer in Brazil, so when you need a break from the city, head for one of the idyllic offshore islands to get your breath back.
For the polar opposite to Christmas in front of the telly, head into the frozen world of Antarctica. You’re guaranteed a White Christmas and a once-in-a-lifetime experience to boot. Set sail into the land of the midnight sun, with 18 – 20 hours of daylight per day and a landscape that beats the icing on any Christmas cake. In short, Antarctica blows any other kind of Christmas clear out of the water.
December is a brilliant time to book an Antarctica cruise, but there's huge demand, so you’ll need to book ahead. It’s pricey, but it’s worth every penny. Take after-dinner Zodiac cruises, spot incredible wildlife and glide between glaciers. At this time of year, you’ll see penguins waddling back and forth to feed their chicks, dolphins playing alongside the boat and Humpbacks breaching in the channels.
Disappear into the misty forests of Rwanda for a December break to really remember. It’s the ideal month for gorilla trekking and chimpanzee trekking in this gentle, welcoming country, so grab your hiking boots and head for the Rwandan highlands.
The rain clouds clear in December, bringing bright sunshine and warm temperatures without high humidity. Wildlife aside, Rwanda is home to spectacular scenery, fascinating local culture and a joyful, unbreakable attitude to life. Intrigued? Read more in our recent blog about why Rwanda travel is on the rise.
If you’re setting off on a Christmas safari, why not add the beaches of Mauritius or the Seychelles and end the trip in serious barefoot-style? All of the islands in the Indian Ocean are sun-drenched in December, so lie back and sip a Christmas cocktail with your toes buried in the pearly white sand. Just bear in mind that December is a popular time to escape to paradise, so book well ahead to get the best deals.
While Thailand is a firm favourite amongst travellers looking for a tropical December getaway, Laos barely gets a look-in. However, this is precisely what makes Christmas in little Laos so special. Laid-back and far more low-key than the beaches of Thailand, it’s a beautiful option for a relaxed December retreat.
Set off on river journeys to hidden villages, explore the temples of Luang Prabang, kayak between karst islands in Vang Vieng and spot river dolphins on the Mekong. The weather is sunny and dry, the people are gentle, and the rural landscapes are dreamy. If you’re after a calm Christmas, you’ve found it.
With a whopping 18 public holidays per year, Colombia always seems to be celebrating something, so it’s no wonder that Christmas is real knees up. You'll find a jubilant atmosphere throughout Cartagena's cobbled streets, the weather is gorgeous all along the Caribbean Coast, and Medellin dazzles with over 26 million LED lights during its Alumbrado Light Festival.
Further south, in Santiago de Cali, the Feria de Cali kicks off in early December, with sequinned dancers parading through the Salsadrome and salsa parties all over the city. Wherever you travel in Colombia in December (and, in fact, at any time of year), you’ll find the festive spirit dialled up to full whack.
Turn traditional Christmas on its head (literally), by heading Down Under in December. Steeped in summer sunshine, all of Australia is fantastic in December, but Sydney will show you the ultimate way to do Christmas a little differently. Watch the surfers in Santa hats on Bondi Beach, munch delicious seafood platters next to Sydney Harbour Bridge and throw some snags on a traditional Boxing Day BBQ.
In many ways, Christmas in Australia is the best of both worlds. You can sing carols around Christmas trees and visit Christmas markets draped in lights before heading to the beach with an Esky full of cold beers. You’ll find plenty of the familiar festive rituals, but you most definitely won’t need your reindeer jumper. What more could you possibly want?
Exotic and atmospheric, Kerala makes for a dreamy December escape. With golden beaches, emerald backwaters, breezy hill stations and spice plantations, Kerala has all kinds of fascinating landscapes to explore. In December, the weather is dry and sunny, so laze under a coconut palm, set off on a wildlife safari, try a local cooking class and enjoy an Ayurvedic massage. It’s a pretty unbeatable place to unwind.
Drifting through the isolated backwaters aboard a traditional Keralan houseboat or strolling through tropical tea plantations, you’ll feel worlds away from the last-minute shopping crowds. However, Kerala isn’t short of celebrations in December. During the last week of the month, the snoozy coastal town of Fort Kochi hosts the annual Cochin Carnival, a riot of local colour, music and life. It’s Christmas, but not as you know it.
If the idea of Christmas shopping leaves you cold, escape into the Amazon jungle and forget about the rest of the world. If you’re squawking mad about wildlife, December is the perfect month to explore the Peruvian Amazon. It’s the beginning of the rainy season, so the jungle is sparser than at any other time of year, making it easier to spot all kinds of exotic animals.
December is peak breeding season for many creatures in the Amazon. You can spot tapirs, giant otters, jaguars and more reptiles than you can imagine. Equally, the vast clay licks of Tambopata National Reserve will be covered with colourful macaws - something incredible to see first hand. Yes, there will be rain – but that’s standard procedure in a rainforest. If you get caught in an afternoon downpour, retreat to your lodge for a nap and Peruvian Pisco sour.
Nowhere does Christmas quite like New York. Think snowy walks through Central Park, ice skating at the Rockefeller Rink, holiday window shopping along Fifth Avenue and chanting the iconic New Year’s Eve countdown in Times Square. New York is crammed with Christmas spirit, so if you’re looking for a classic trip tinged with vintage romance, it’s a clear winner.
After several rounds of celebrations in the Big Apple, try heading south to warm up before flying back to the British winter. Soak up the sunshine in Florida, where the temperature rarely drops below a balmy 20 degrees, or make a break for Mexico. It’s easy to combine New York with destinations all over the USA, Caribbean, South America and the South Pacific, so why not turn Christmas into a round the world holiday?
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