As the year comes to a close now is the time to tick off any last minute travels on your bucket list before starting afresh in the New Year. There’s nothing quite like waking up on Christmas morning in the warm climates of Morocco and Egypt, unwinding on the beach in Sri Lanka or heading out on search of the Big 5 in Kenya and Tanzania. Alternatively, head to Lapland for a snowy pre-Christmas holiday or celebrate New Year's under an explosion of fireworks at Moscow’s Red Square. Those looking for a Christmas spent on the beach will find no shortage of options from the turquoise waters of Southeast Asia to the tropical Caribbean coast throughout Central America.
To help inspire you we've put together some of the top destinations and experiences worth seeking out in December 2018 as well as our guide to the best beach and wildlife destinations at this time of year.
With our range of Christmas tours you can either embrace Christmas and head to a snowy winter wonderland in Scandinavia and Russia or celebrate the festive season with sun, sea and sand in a sizzling part of the world while enjoying an exotic cultural experience.
Christmas isn't the only festival taking place in December. If you're keen to sample other cultures during the month, consider these events.
Where? Chichibu, Japan
When? 2nd-3rd December
The Chichibu Yomatsuri is considered one of Japan's top three festivals to feature floats. The nighttime festival takes place each year at the Chichibu shrine and features ornately decorated floats that are paraded through the streets of Chichibu city west of Tokyo. There's also a large fireworks display with a plethora of food stalls to keep people happy with festival treats and sweet rice wine.
Where? Konya, Turkey
When? 10th-17th December
The city of Konya in Turkey's Anatolia region was the adopted home of Sufic mystic Celaleddin Rumi and each year he is remembered with the 10-day Mevlana Festival. During the festival the famous Whirling Dervishes spin an elegant trance-like dance with religious fervour in whites robes and tall hats. It's a mesmerising spectacle that has been awarded UNESCO status and attracts thousands of visitors each year.
Where? Mexico City, Mexico
When? 12th December
One of Mexico's biggest Catholic events, the Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe honours Virgin Mary with feasts, fiestas and pilgrimage to the old and new basilicas in the capital. As Mexico's patron saint, the day is a national holiday with a week of celebrations leading up to her big day. There's a large street fair with food, crafts and dancing for all to enjoy.
Where? Harbin, China
When? mid-Dec 2018 (TBC)
In late December the attractive city of Harbin comes alive with hundreds of incredible sculptures made from ice and lit with bright neon colours. Established in 1985 the festival attracts professional ice sculptors from across the globe looking to outdo one another with towering structures and creative designs. It's a time for wintery fun with ice-skating and sledding opportunities.
It's the start of peak holiday season across Southeast Asia with perfect beach weather - the monsoons have cleared to welcome in clear skies, plenty of sunshine and low humidity. It's a similar story along the west coast of India and the Caribbean and Pacific coasts of Central America. Even the glittering coastline of South Africa's Cape Peninsula is ideal at this time of year so for that December beach holiday you're spoilt for choice.
With Christmas just around the corner and brilliant beach weather across the country, India's coastline is a popular beach destination in December. Whether it's the old hippy hangouts or peaceful yoga retreats of Goa or the lush beaches backed by mangroves in Kerala, there's plenty of options. It's peak season with visitors making the most of the sunny days and warm temperatures so book early.
In Sri Lanka the southwest monsoon has finally passed so the coast between Negombo and Weligama is where visitors head for lazy days spent on sandy beaches backed by swaying palms. There may be the odd afternoon shower as weather conditions become ever more unpredictable but with dozens of resorts from quiet fishing villages to sprawling, glitzy hangouts, a bit of rain is not enough to dampen the appeal of Sri Lanka in December.
From December onwards the Caribbean experiences near-perfect weather with blue skies, warm sunshine and calm waters. From Cancun in Mexico to Bocas del Toro in Panama, there's ample choice when it comes to beach destinations in Central America with miles and miles of Caribbean coast. Mexico and Costa Rica can be particularly busy at this time of year with vacationers from the Northern Hemisphere looking for some tropical winter sun.
The western coast of the peninsula and the coast around the Gulf of Thailand are fantastic beach destinations in December - temperatures are high, days are sunny and the rain is but a distant memory. This makes Phuket and Hua Hin the best options though by the end of the month the eastern coast of the peninsula is considerably drier which means you can pretty much choose your island freely.
The wet season is well and truly underway across southern Africa, which means verdant scenery but more challenging safari opportunities with wildlife hidden by the thick vegetation and more dispersed with the numerous water sources now available. However, East Africa is experiencing a second mini dry season so safari adventures are still possible here. Elsewhere, India's national parks are thriving with the regional dry season and Sri Lanka also benefits from lack of rains.
Mid-December marks the beginning of a second dry season across Kenya and Tanzania after the month of November, historically known as the time of the 'short rains'. This means safari opportunities are good with plenty of wildlife about and still relatively green scenery. The cooler temperatures may account for the fact that this is low season, which means better availability, better prices and fewer safari vehicles clogging the tracks in the popular national parks.
Like neighbouring Kenya and Tanzania, Uganda experiences a second mini dry season between mid-December to early February which means it's a good time to plan a trekking trip to see the famed mountain gorillas. The dry conditions make it easier to navigate the jungle trails with the sun's rays penetrating the dense foliage for better visibility of the gorillas between the trees. The dry season also means less mosquitoes which is always a plus.
The Yala National Park in southern Sri Lanka is home to the world's largest concentration of leopards. The exquisite creatures can be sighted year-round, especially at dusk as they are nocturnal animals. What makes December such a good time to visit is the fact that the mating season has been and gone and many female leopards are now mothering small cubs - if you're lucky you may get to see a pair in the wild while the landscape is still relatively lush.
Whichever coast you visit in Costa Rica you'll find at least one species of turtle nesting eggs. In December Hawksbill turtles can be found on the Caribbean coast while Leatherback and green sea turtles frequent the Pacific coast. Off the shores of the Corcovado National Park in the very south of the country you can also see humpback and sperm whales as they migrate from the Northern and Southern hemispheres between now and January.
Here's a selection of our tours perfectly suited for December travel from the wintery landscapes of Finland to the beaches of Central America.
Our Budget range is the perfect choice for independent spirits travelling on a shoestring. As well as guided sightseeing of the key highlights, there’s also ample free time to explore independently or partake in optional excursions that maximise your time in each destination. Few meals are included, allowing you the freedom to choose exactly where you eat and spend your evenings out, with the added bonus of enabling you to stay in control of your spending.
Many tours in this range include a local payment and this pricing system helps keep costs down so you can be sure we’re delivering the best possible value. You’ll be travelling by both private and public transport – think buses, trains, feluccas and even camels. Accommodation ranges from dome tents to a surprise 4-star hotel at a 3-star price. And with a maximum group size of 32, these tours are designed to create a social and fun travel experience.
On The Go's Signature group tours place local interaction and authenticity at the heart of your cultural travel experience. Upping the comfort stakes, this range is a clear cut above our Budget range.
Appealing to a wide age demographic from the 20s to 60+, we maximize your days with excitement and awe and then bring you home to a comfortable 4* hotel with western amenities, air-conditioning, WiFi and, where appropriate, a swimming pool. Hotels can sometimes be of 3 or 5 star standard too, ensuring you get the best value for your holiday.
Visiting all the main attractions you’ll be accompanied throughout by our highly qualified English-speaking local guides too. Group size is typically 18 with a maximum for 28, apart from festival tours, where group sizes can be larger due to the one-off nature of these events.
On our Handpicked range we bring you the most iconic experiences in destinations where you’ll join travellers from other travel brands on your tour, safari or sailing holiday. Collaborating with our carefully handpicked portfolio of local partners, these holidays represent exceptional value and there’ll be plenty of cultural experiences shared with other like-minded travellers.
Group sizes and accommodation standards vary by destination where typical group size is 18 travellers and hotels, boats and safari lodges are of a 3-4 star standard.