Destinations you shouldn't miss in December!
An exciting transitional month for South America and Antarctica travel, December builds up to tourist peak season yet the rewards, especially in the first two weeks, are jaw-dropping
December is the busiest and most expensive month of the year for South America and Antarctica travels because almost the entire southern region is on its best (weather) behaviour and (literally) the whole world is on holidays – this is what you’re bound to read on every guide book. HOWEVER (capitals needed) there is a huge caveat here: plan your trip for the first two weeks and you can soak up all that gorgeous weather AND skip all those dreaded crowds and price hikes.
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- December Snapshot
- Buenos Aires
- Punta del Este
- Rio de Janeiro
- Manuel Antonia National Park
Christmas tree, Rio de Jabeiro
Here’s a quick snapshot of South America and Antarctica travel in December:
- South and Central America welcome northern hemisphere travellers with gusto, everyone keen to escape the winter cold and head too much kinder climates.
- In Antarctica, guests sail forward toward that 2-week period where the southernmost region of our planet enjoys 24 hours of sunshine and bright blue, clear skies.
- Prime hiking month in Patagonia.
- Extensive hiking in the Central Andes of Peru and Ecuador can be hampered by rain but there is still a lot you can see and do during this blissfully quieter time of year.
- The Galapagos are a frenzy of wildlife activity and although you will have some overcast days, it is a superb month for visual feasting. You’ll also enjoy the warmest temps of the year.
- Ecuador is an amazing lesser-visited highlight this month, revered for its outstanding volcano hikes, raging waterfalls and hot thermal springs.
- The Peruvian Amazon is prime for cruising this month. Want to soak up the magic of the jungle in sublime comfort? Cruise it all the way!
- A Christmas trip to South America and Antarctica is the stuff of dreams, although you’ll have to book everything at least six months in advance.
Perito Moreno Glacier in Los Glaciares National Park, Patagonia
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Best City Escapes in December
The beauty of a city-escape is that there’s hardly a time of year when sightseeing, shopping, feasting and evenings out aren’t enjoyable. Whatever that time is, it definitely isn’t December in South America. This is especially true if, as mentioned above, you choose to travel in the first two weeks of the year. The warm temps mean you pack and wear way less and that can make travel so very enjoyable. Long days mean sightseeing galore, siestas, evenings out in historic centres, as well as bars and restaurants bursting onto the street with happy people. Summer trips are the bomb!
If you want very enjoyable weather and the kind of excitable atmosphere only December brings, here are the big cities you ought to consider:
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Puerto Madero is an absolute delight to stroll at this time of year, the stylish new hood making for the ideal base for December trips. Enjoy early morning strolling in all the trendiest hoods, long languid lunches and afternoon shopping trips.
Puerto Madero Neighborhood, Buenos Aires
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Punta del Este, Uruguay
Just across the Plata river from Buenos Aires is where you’ll find a long stretch of beautiful beaches and this is actually the closest idyllic beach to Buenos Aires. Hop on a ferry or high-speed catamaran, spend a couple of nights in Colonia or Montevideo (or both) and enjoy the selection of gorgeous beaches near either port. You can also take a short one-hour flight from BA and you’ll be at Punta del Este, a local’s fave seaside getaway which also happens to offer amazing duty-dree shopping. Uruguay is the continent’s unsung hero; the one gorgeous country South Americans head to on vacation when they want to get away from the crowds.
Why won’t you join them?
Deck at the beach in Punta del Este, Uruguay
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Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Traditionally, December is the wettest month of the year in Rio but, in all honesty, the short downpours are divine given the temperature is creeping up fast. Hit the beaches both in and south of the city centre, check out all the spectacular sites and enjoy the most vibrant city in South America at one of the most vibrant months of the year. To add to the delight, do know that prices won’t start peaking here until Carnival in February, so there are amazing deals to be had. Do note that schools close earlier in Brazil (about the 6th of December) so you’ll really want to be here right at the start of the month to at least enjoy some quieter days.
Christ Redeemer and Corcovado Mountain, Rio de Janeiro
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Colombia sees the start of its driest season right now, a great time to enjoy the Andean highlands, the Caribbean islands and all those sensational colonial treasures, like Cartagena. The lack of rain and worry about deluges means you can travel extensively through this lesser-visited country, one that offers an abundance of wilderness and wildlife-watching too.
Colonial street in Cartagena, Colombia
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Considering this is such a good month to travel to the Galapagos Islands, consider spending a few nights in the Ecuadorian capital either before or after your wildlife-watching cruise. With its UNESCO-listed colonial core, fantastic destinations in the Andes you can visit on day-trips and an overall much quieter feel (Quito and Ecuador, in general, are never overcrowded), this really is a fantastic month to visit.
El Panecillo in the center of Quito, Ecuador
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Best Wilderness & Wildlife Experiences in December
Patagonia, Argentina & Chile
Everything about Patagonia in December spells pure perfection, especially when you consider that the climate is a little crazy this far south, anyway, so you should be heading here expecting the unexpected. Yet this month, the norm is strong winds which means clear skies, pristine hiking trails, long days, open refuge huts and accessible lakes, glaciers, mountain peaks and viewpoints. Patagonia could never feel ‘busy’ so travelling this month is really just about booking accommodation ahead of time. The region is sparsely populated so lodges, hotels and huts can fill up swiftly.
Perito Moreno Glacier in the Argentinian Patagonia
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Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
Warmer temps, calmer seas and great underwater visibility make December an absolute treat for snorkelling and diving cruises. A transitional month of sorts, then the archipelago shifts to warmer temps both in and out of the water, December sees quite idyllic conditions for cruising and on-land explorations. Depending on the year, however, El Nino could always throw up some unexpected curveballs. As the islands start soaking up the first rains, you’ll see wildflowers blooming which is a stunning sight of its own accord. This month, you’ll also see fledgeling Waved Albatross on Espanola, Giant Tortoise hatchlings on Isabella and a host of animals like Green turtles, marine and land iguanas are also mating this month. Tourist crowds peak in January here so December is also a great month to score last-minute deals on Galapagos cruises.
Galapagos Land Iguana, Galápagos Islands
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South America is the best and most convenient springboard for expeditions to Antarctica, the Falklands and South Georgia and, this month, its popularity hits fever-pitch. Blue skies, nearly endless sunshine (and literally endless around Christmas time) an abundance of unique wildlife and favourable cruising conditions attract adventurers from all over the world. South Georgia in particular, the one island revered for hosting the largest King Penguin colony in the region, is high on everyone’s must-visit list. Remote, isolated and only accessible by expedition ship a few months of the year, opens up to tourist ships for the beginning of its season. This incredible island is an unparalleled Antarctic expedition highlight and although visiting extends the cruising itinerary (and increases the price) it is still considered one of the world’s most magnificent wonders.
Mountain view in Antarctica
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Manuel Antonio National Park, Costa Rica
December marks the start of the dry season in luscious Costa Rica which makes a visit to its most startling national park an absolute must. Sloths, monkeys, toucans and iguanas are kings in the exceptionally biodiverse Manuel Antonio, a reserve that tumbles into the Pacific and creates some of the country’s most astonishing beaches. Hike, wildlife-watch, whitewater raft, zipline, sunbathe and snorkel in this corner of Central American paradise at the beginning of the month and you will feel as if you’ve just won the tropical-travel lotto.
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It’s our combined decades-long experiences that give us, at Viva Expeditions, the advantage – we know all about insider secrets, the best things to see and do and the ideal way to plan your South America, Central America and Antarctica travels in December and at any other time of the year. Contact us to know more about our unique group tours and private, bespoke itineraries.