(Lonelyplanet) – As December dawns and you begin to cross off the final 31 days on your calendar you may be tempted to put away the passport and swap those itchy-footed escapades for quiet nights in. But don’t stop now! December is jam-packed with high-octane adventures on mountain peaks and coursing rivers; indulgent escapes with mulled wine, rum cocktails and spicy Malaysian street food galore; walks on the wild side with kaleidoscopic creatures and soaring giants; and countless seasonal celebrations whisking you from the sunny Caribbean to Santa’s hometown.
Several jagged mountains with the sunlight on them rise beyond a sparkling turquoise lake in Torres del Paine National Park
Where are the best places to visit in December for adventure?
Lace up your boots for an end-of-year adventure at the wild ends of the earth. December is the ideal time to explore Patagonia’s mind-blowingly beautiful Torres del Paine National Park. Embark on an epic trek along the eight-day circuit, or take the four-day “W” trek for Instagram-worthy views of Los Cuernos (the ‘horns’), the region’s iconic jagged granite peaks. Similarly breathtaking experiences can be had diving the coral reefs around Thailand’s Similan Islands. Beneath the sparkling surface of the ocean you’ll find sharks, barracuda, rays and green and hawksbill turtles – it’s Finding Nemo brought to life.
Adrenaline junkies should make for Tasmania’s Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park for roaring waterways and world-class river rafting. Punctuate your trip by exploring the surrounding scenery, from rocky gorges and mountains to tangled emerald rainforests. In Alta the snow has arrived but the crowds haven’t, so get there quick to make your mark on some of the USA’s finest ski terrain.
Just back from: Finnish Lapland
Lonely Planet’s Hayley Ward is just back from Finnish Lapland, where she encountered magical landscapes on a reindeer farm above the Arctic Circle.
Where are the best places to visit in December for culture?
As the year winds down the parties amp up, none more so than in Scotland’s capital, where Hogmanay celebrations see flaming torches, fireworks displays and night-long parties take over the usually quiet cobbled streets. Slightly more sedate, the Caribbean’s southernmost island Trinidad simmers with stirring Spanish-style musical performances as the locals usher in the start of the dry season.
If you’re dreaming of a white Christmas, head to Tallinn to see the medieval city decked out in a blanket of snow, complete with flickering candles lining the streets and markets flogging quintessential Christmas curiosities and festive treats. And if that’s not enough seasonal charm for you, make for Rovaniemi in Finnish Lapland, the “official home” of Santa Claus. Once you’ve dropped your gift list off with the big man himself, treat yourself to a husky sledding excursion or reindeer safari to explore the region in full effect.
A large manta ray shot from below, with its wings spread out and upwards. The sun shines through the turquoise ocean making it sparkle.
Where are the best places to visit in December for wildlife and nature?
Mother Nature is the gift that keeps on giving this December. In the snowy Swedish village of Jukkasjärvi day-long darkness provides the backdrop for the most magical light show on earth, the swirling aurora borealis, and opportunities to hang out with Rudolf, try husky sledding, snowmobiling and cross-country skiing abound. Swap the blanket of white for a kaleidoscope of colour in Peru’s Tambopata National Reserve. Now is the ideal time to spot dazzling birdlife, especially the rainbow-feathered macaws that come to munch on the mineral-rich clay.
To the life aquatic now and Micronesia’s little-known islands scattered in the Pacific Ocean, which serve as the mating grounds for giant manta rays. With wingspans that can reach up to 5m, the chance to dive alongside these dancing behemoths shouldn’t be missed. From colossal to downright cute, rare (and ridiculously adorable) pygmy hippos can be found in Sierra Leone, once you’ve had your fill of lounging on palm-fringed beaches.
Aerial view of a hawker stall in Malaysia. Rectangular boxes are lined up on a table, each packed with different food. A woman stands to the left holding a handful of currency
Where are the best places to visit in December for food and drink?
Looking to shake up the traditional holiday season table? We’ve got just the foodie forays for you this festive month. Tuck into a spicy blend of fabulous flavours at Malaysia’s hawker food stalls, where bright bowls of creamy laksa (noodle soup) and deliciously deep-fried lor bak (pork or prawn wrapped in tofu skin, deep fried and served with dips) will soon do away with any cravings for Christmas pudding. With tourist numbers low, now is the ideal time to visit Spain’s Basque Country, seeing out the year with a plate piled high with pintxos (tapas); or check out Cuba’s capital, exploring the crumbling, colonial architecture with a rum-based cocktail in hand.
We couldn’t leave you entirely bereft of any festive fare, especially when the UK’s pretty city of Bath is serving up such a magnificent selection of seasonal grub. With the aromas of sizzling sausage and spiced mulled wine wafting among the stalls, let your nose (and stomach) take the lead as you wander through the twinkling Christmas markets.