December travel opens the door for a plethora of perfectly timed adventures. Put your boots (and thighs) to the test on some of the planet’s wildest terrain; venture into a colourful underwater world; or embrace your inner speed freak on white water and even whiter mountains.
Wherever you sit on the thrill-seeker spectrum, these experiences offer everything from ‘wow’ moments to once-in-a-lifetime adrenaline hits.
Go to the wild ends of the Earth as spring turns to summer
Jagged peaks, gargantuan glaciers, pumas stalking guanacos across vast landscapes – everything is epic in South America’s uttermost reaches. Including the weather: you don’t want to mess with Patagonia in the austral winter. Come in December, as spring slips into summer but before peak tourist season bites. Top billing goes to Chile’s Torres del Paine National Park, which demands to be explored on foot, on the eight-day circuit or four-day ‘W’ trek for views of the granite towers and Los Cuernos (the ‘horns’). In Argentina, 197ft-high (60m) Perito Moreno Glacier calves massive icebergs, while south of the ‘Land of Fire’, Tierra del Fuego, the Americas finally peter out at Cape Horn.
- Trip plan: For a two- or three-week itinerary, fly from Santiago to Puerto Montt and board the Navimag ferry for a four-day cruise through fjords to Puerto Natales. Hike Torres del Paine and gape at the ice giants of Los Glaciares National Park in Argentina, then head south to Punta Arenas (via Magellanic penguin colonies) and Tierra del Fuego.
- Need to know: Patagonia gets busier as December progresses; book accommodation and ferry tickets early. Nationals of UK, USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand currently don't need visas for either Argentina or Chile; however, a reciprocity fee may be payable. Check with an embassy before travel.
- Other months: Dec-Mar – warmer, trekking season; Apr-Aug – cold, many hotels closed, trails snow-covered; Sep-Nov – spring.
Raft the river wild amid Tasmania’s dramatic mountains and rainforest
A couple of words in the name Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park provide a hint. This wonderful wilderness area in Tasmania’s remote central west is a rugged expanse of over 1700 sq miles (4400 sq km) encompassing mountain, rainforest and those two eponymous roaring waterways. The 80-mile (129km) run down the Franklin from Collingwood Bridge to Sir John Falls on the Gordon River is one of the world’s great rafting trips, punctuated by rocky gorges including the aptly named Great Ravine, mighty trees (including 3000-year-old Huon pines) and surging rapids, in the company of native wildlife including platypus, quolls and wallabies. December is prime time to take on the Franklin, in the long, warming days of early summer – though even then only a few hundred tackle the challenge each year. Don’t expect luxury or an easy ride; do expect full wilderness immersion and unrivalled thrills.
- Trip plan: Several experienced operators offer tours of between five and 14 days, longer trips often including the hike up 4744ft (1446m) Frenchman’s Cap for far-reaching views.
- Need to know: Weather can change rapidly. Bring clothing for all conditions, remembering you’ll be camping for several consecutive nights.
- Other months: Dec-Mar – summer, most settled conditions; May-Oct – cooler, often wet; Nov & Apr – commercial trips also run.
Ski some of the USA’s finest powder pistes before the peak season
When it snows in Alta, it really snows. On average, 46ft (14m) of the stuff – most of it the softest powder – dumps here each year, and with 2200 acres (890 hectares) of skiable terrain, there’s a lot of options for making the most of it. Alta opens mid to late November, but December is the ideal time to arrive, with deep snow pretty much guaranteed but peak season yet to kick in. There’s plenty for everyone at this old-time resort (opened in 1939), with 25% beginner, 40% intermediate and 35% advanced runs. Aprés is gentle and there’s a family friendly, inclusive atmosphere.
- Trip plan: Alta is 27 miles (43km) southeast of Salt Lake City in Utah. There are five lodges at the ski area, plus condos and vacation homes nearby and ample accommodation in Salt Lake City.
- Need to know: Snowboarders aren’t allowed on Alta’s slopes – but it’s linked at Sugarloaf Pass to Snowbird resort, which almost doubles the terrain area and has plenty for boarders; a joint lift pass is available.
- Other months: Mid-Nov– mid Apr – Alta ski area open; Late May – Snowbird closes; Jun-Sep – summer activities.
Experience some of the world’s best diving around Thailand’s Similan Islands
Fringed with dazzling white beaches and kaleidoscopic coral reefs, the 11 islands of Mu Ko Similan National Park are endlessly spectacular – and never more so than in December, early in the dry season. At this time of year the water off Thailand’s Andaman Coast is clear (visibility is 25m to 40m; 80ft to 130ft) and calm – perfect for snorkelling or diving among marine life large and small. As well as dizzyingly diverse reef fish, expect to swim alongside sharks, barracuda, rays, and green and hawksbill turtles, which nest in this area between November and February. True, this is hardly an unknown paradise – beaches and snorkelling spots can get overcrowded, and park authorities have banned tourists from Ko Tachai to protect the coral – but it’s a dream destination for divers.
- Trip plan: The national park authority runs basic bungalows on Ko Similan and Ko Miang (Island No 4). Many operators offer day trips to the Similan Islands from Khao Lak on the mainland, but for the best underwater action join a live-aboard dive boat from Khao Lak or Phuket, which has direct flights from Bangkok and several international cities.
- Need to know: Prices rise towards Christmas – try to book earlier in December for cheaper deals.
- Other months: Nov-Apr – dry, warm; mid-May–Oct – national park closed during rainy season.
Looking for more inspiration? Check out our book Where To Go When for 360 ultimate escapes from family-friendly adventures to animal encounters and relaxing retreats.