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Where to Go in December for the Holidays in 2021—And What to Know Before You Go

Every year it seems, you blink in September and open your eyes in December. This year, planning for the holidays still feels different, as we continue to navigate the challenges of Covid travel safety. Yet the new normal also offers several advantages if you’re still looking to take a trip between now and the new year or this winter. Here, we break down what you need to know for planning a holiday trip during Covid.

Contact Indagare or your Trip Designer for more information on the destinations that are open to travel, new Covid-19 policies, the safest routes and transportation options available, trip-planning advice, inspiration and ideas.

Indagare Members can also see our curated list of Indagare’s favorite destinations open to U.S. passport holders now: Coronavirus Travel Information: What’s Open To Americans

Skiing Is Mostly Back to Normal

Across the country, ski areas are taking their learnings from the 2020/2021 ski season, and adapting to the current situation. For now, the need for advanced reservations, along with last year’s capacity limits, have mostly been removed, including at resorts affiliated with the Ikon, Mountain Collective and Epic passes. And for most activities, there will be no requirement for proof of vaccination or a face mask. For indoor dining at quick-service cafeterias on the slopes Vail Resorts, with its 37 ski areas including Beaver Creek, Park City, Stowe, Vail and Whistler, will be requiring proof of vaccination. Note that this does not apply to full-service restaurants at the ski areas or to outdoor dining.

Vaccinated Travelers May Still Face Some Travel Restrictions

Thankfully, the days of quarantines and testing requirements for domestic U.S. travel are behind us, but Americans still face a complex, and ever-shifting map of various restrictions abroad. Many countries in Africa require travelers show proof of a negative Covid test result from within a given period of time before flying, regardless of vaccination status. In the Caribbean, meanwhile, unvaccinated travelers are largely prohibited, and vaccinated travelers must show proof of negative Covid test results. In Europe, destinations like France, Spain and Ireland allow vaccinated U.S. arrivals without additional testing requirements, though other countries require tests.

Related: Indagare Members Only: What’s Open to U.S. Travel 

Contact Indagare and your Trip Designer to help you figure out the best testing options near you.

Your Special Meals & New Year’s Eve Will Look (Slightly) Different

One of the hallmarks of the season is enjoying dinners out and festive celebrations in many of our favorite destinations around the world. This year, many of these parties are back on the calendar after a hiatus in 2020.

For cold-weather destinations, proof of vaccination may be required. In warmer climates, the emphasis will still be on the outdoors. Mexico’s Cuixmala, for example, is still planning its yearly candlelit New Year’s Eve bash, complete with a mariachi band at the poolside dinner followed by fireworks, beach bonfires and dancing. What will be different: to allow for social distancing, Cuixmala will be expanding the area for dining and dancing from previous years, and is looking into other steps which will ensure safety.

The Best December Destinations in 2021

Fewer destinations open to Americans means fewer options for holiday vacations. Here’s the lay of the land where we still see availability at our top hotels in destinations that let in U.S. passport holders.

Contact Indagare to secure exclusive perks and preferred rooms when booking your holiday travel.

CARIBBEAN: Extremely Limited Availability

The weeks leading up to New Year’s are peak season in the Caribbean, with hurricane season a thing of the past and gorgeous weather a near guarantee. Unfortunately for individuals still hoping to visit at this time, many of our favorite properties are already fully booked for these dates. Where to Stay: It will be challenging to find a room or villa in destinations like Turks & Caicos and St. Barth’s, although we are seeing limited availability in a few of our top hotels, including in Anguilla and the Bahamas. (North of the Caribbean, and out in the Atlantic, Bermuda has wider availability. Temperatures hover in the 70s this time of year, and you’ll likely have the beaches all to yourself, though the water may be too cold for swimming. Instead, golfing, tennis and shopping are all on offer.

UNITED STATES

New England
In search of cozy? New England delivers historic charm and quintessential winter weather. Think wood-burning fireplaces, hearty (though frequently innovative) cuisine, lots of perfect corners for reading. Where to Stay: This year, we’re still seeing open rooms, including at Vermont’s Woodstock Inn, Maine’s White Barn Inn and Chatham Bars Inn on Cape Cod.

New York City & Upstate

An urban getaway (or staycation) to New York City—paired with meals at top restaurants and tickets to reopened Broadway theaters—can be an ideal way to spend the holidays. Where to Stay: Thankfully, the City that Never Sleeps is back, with plenty of places to sleep for the final few weeks of December, and there should be rooms available at nearly all of our most-booked hotels. Upstate, we’re seeing some availability as well, although a few favorites, including Glenmere Mansion, are fully booked on some nights.

Related: Indagare’s 9 Most-Booked Hotels in New York City: 2019-2021

Smoky Mountains
America’s most-visited National Park is virtually empty come the winter months, and temperatures usually hover in the comfortable range for brisk walks through gorgeous forests and up the region’s gentle peaks. Where to Stay: Blackberry Farm has only a few rooms left (and is sold out on several days), its younger sister-property, Blackberry Mountain, has some availability. The smaller, more health-focused property of the two (both of which are Indagare Index hotels) has cozy, stylish rooms and villas, along with a great culinary program.

Aspen
Colorado’s most exclusive resort town, Aspen draws ski bunnies to its chic shopping and après ski scene as much as to its slopes—which, when combined with neighboring Snowmass, offer more than 200 miles of runs and trails.Where to Stay: We’re still seeing availability in town, including The Little Nell and St. Regis Aspen, both just steps from the gondolas that whisk you up the mountain.

Jackson Hole
This laid-back Wyoming town has some of America’s most dramatic landscapes, and mixes cowboy town with cosmopolitan hub. Grand Teton National Park’s peaks are just five miles north, and the town’s own mountain lets daredevils ski on black diamond runs with a vertical drop of more than 4,000 feet.Where to Stay: Our favorite properties in the area, including Four Seasons Jackson Hole, still have some availability for the holidays, although Amangani, an Indagare Index hotel, has dates that are sold out.

Tahoe
California’s Lake Tahoe is a gorgeous destination for the West Coast ski crowd, with excellent powder north of the lake at Truckee’s Northstar ski resort, and south of the lake at Heavenly. Where to Stay: Indagare’s recommended hotels near both ski areas both have availability throughout the holidays.

MEXICO

Los Cabos
Cabo is an easy flight for West Coasters looking for sun, surf, sand—and some seriously luxurious resorts. Each winter, it also hosts one of the world’s great natural spectacles, as upwards of 20,000 gray whales venture down the Pacific Coast to the warmer, protected waters off of Baja. Where to Stay: And this year, we are still seeing rooms and suites available at some of the area’s top properties, including Four Seasons Los Cabos, Las Ventanas al Paraíso and One&Only Palmilla, an Indagare Index resort.

Jalisco & Riviera Nayarit
Along Mexico’s Pacific Coast, jungle-topped hills cascade into the sea, and outdoors enthusiasts enjoy activities ranging from hiking and biking to horseback riding and surfing. Where to Stay: In the state of Jalisco, Cuixmala is bold, lavish and entirely unique, on a 25,000-acre private oceanfront reserve complete with imported zebras. And under an hour or north of Puerto Vallarta, the new One&Only Mandarina, which opened last November, has a collection of treehouses and villas scattered along a lush swathe of coastline. Both properties, as well as others we love in nearby Punta Mita, have availability for the holidays.

Riviera Maya 
On the Yucatán Peninsula’s eastern shore, Mexico’s Riviera Maya is a gorgeous swathe of coastline, with white sand beaches backing onto lush tropical forests dotted with eco-adventures (cenotes!) and Maya ruins. Where to Stay: We’re seeing availability at several of Indagare’s preferred beach resorts along the Riviera Maya, including Rosewood Mayakobá, built around a network of lagoons and mangrove-lined canals, and Chablé Maroma, an Indagare Index  resort.

CENTRAL & SOUTH AMERICA

Galápagos
December in the Galápagos means idyllic temperatures, perfect for seeing the archipelago’s unique wildlife, including sea turtles and iguanas—the latter of which are particularly colorful during the holidays because it’s mating season. Where to Stay: Indagare members have created life-long memories aboard Galápagos yachts, which navigate between the islands and offer the most options for animal spotting and activities. We have several favorite boats for private and semi-private sailings, some of which still have open cabins.

Costa Rica
Costa Rica is an adventure lover’s paradise, with verdant coastlines on both the Caribbean and Pacific, plus a mountainous, jungly interior. Where to Stay: Boutique properties may already be sold out, and there is extremely limited availability at Nayara, with its three resorts (Nayara Springs, Gardens and Tented Camp) set at the base of the Arenal Volcano.

Patagonia: Limited Availability

Chilea and Argentina are both scheduled to have fully reopened to international arrivals, in time for the South American summer. It’s the best time of year to visit Patagonia, the binational region that lures adventurists and wildlife lovers from around the world. Expect jagged peaks, fjord-like bays, glaciers and glacial lakes—and the chance to see elusive pumas. Where to Stay: The best lodges, including Explora Patagonia and Tierra Patagonia usually fill up fast—months or even a year in advance. Due to uncertainties surrounding whether Chile or Argentina would reopen, there are still pockets of availability at a few lodges, though these look to be going fast.

AFRICA

Rwanda
Up-close encounters with endangered mountain gorillas, coupled with the resilient spirit of the people and the beauty of the landscapes make Rwanda a truly singular destination. The country has new safety precautions limiting the number of visitors per gorilla trek to protect everyone involved—guests, guides and gorillas—making for an extremely private safari experience. Where to Stay: There are several safari and gorilla-trekking camps in Rwanda that we love, including Wilderness Safaris Bisate Lodge, with dreamy thatched suites on a hillside near Volcanoes National Park, Volcanoes Virunga Lodge with some of Rwanda’s best views overlooking the Virunga volcanoes, the sweeping Musanze Valley and lakes Ruhondo and Bulera, and Magashi Camp, with six tented suites perched right at the water’s edge of a lake on a private concession of Akagera National Park. Contact your Indagare Trip Designer or our Membership team for the latest availability.

Kenya
After rains in the beginning of the month, late December sees Kenya—home to the Maasai Mara Reserve and its abundant wildlife—at its greenest. Described as “the cradle of humanity,” the country’s magnitude is palpable in its savannah landscapes and vibrant tribal cultures. Where to Stay: We are still seeing limited availability at some of the country’s top safari camps, where game drives usually include spotting lions, leopards, elephants, buffalo and black rhinos.

South Africa

December is one of the best times to visit South Africa for a multifaceted trip that involves time at a safari lodge, in the Cape Winelands and in Cape Town itself (where Table Mountain rises over beautiful sand beaches). It will be green season in the bush, and visitors can expect to see newborn wildlife against lush, flowering backdrops. Where to Stay: The country has some of Africa’s most stunning private game reserves, including Royal Malewane and Singita Lebombo, two Indagare Index lodges with limited availability this holiday season. In the Winelands, availability is also limited, while there are more options in Cape TownContact your Indagare Trip Designer or our Membership team for the latest availability.

EUROPE

The Alps: Limited Availability

The holidays are prime ski season in the Alps, which stretch from France through Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Austria and Slovenia. Slopes will be covered in fresh snow, ski runs will be running again and fondue will be bubbling away in the mountainside chalets. Where to Stay: France’s Megève and Courchevel and Switzerland’s Gstaad, Zermatt and St. Moritz are among Indagare’s perennial top choices. Unfortunately, they are also much of Europe’s first picks as well, so availability can be tight over the holiday weeks, with hotels such as Badrutt’s Palace or Les Fermes de Marie sold out for much of the period. We are still seeing availability at select properties in Gstaad and Courchevel.

European Capitals: Paris, Prague, Vienna, Rome & More

Are many shops and restaurants closed? Yes. Are the traditional Christmas Markets still open? No, they close after the 25th. Still, for a quiet, cosmopolitan getaway for walking around neighborhoods and enjoying being back in Europe, visiting cities like ParisPrague and Vienna feels uniquely magical over the holidays. Where to Stay: You should not have too much difficulty securing a room or suite at many of Indagare’s favorite European city hotels. Iconic properties like the Ritz Paris or Rome’s Hotel Eden, for example, still have availability.

English Countryside
The charming English countryside and villages of the bucolic Cotswolds and Hampshire could make for a relaxed, Earl Grey-fueled holiday. Where to Stay: Indagare Index property Heckfield Place is one of the world’s most serene estate hotels. Indagare members have also had excellent experiences renting a country house of their own (à la The Holiday by Nancy Meyers). Contact your Indagare Trip Designer or our Membership team for access to our preferred homes available this year.

Croatia
You won’t be lounging on the beaches or diving into the Adriatic from a yacht in December, but winter has its own charms in Croatia. What you’ll see: historic towns and villages, a burgeoning wine region and the terraced, aquamarine waters of Plitvice Lakes Natural Park—all blissfully free from summer crowds. Where to Stay: Contact your Indagare Trip Designer or our Membership team to help secure a countryside villa, which makes a great home base for exploring Croatia’s interior, as many of our favorite hotels are already booked.

ASIA

Maldives
Late December sees balmy temperatures and pleasant sea breezes in the Maldives, a cluster of more than a thousand atolls off the southern tip of India. Where to Stay: The Maldives is known for its luxurious private-island hotels, each their own exclusive pocket of serenity (and Covid bubble). We’re still seeing availability at several of the Maldives resorts we love, including the carbon-neutral and barefoot chic Soneva Fushi.

French Polynesia
French Polynesia epitomizes the term “far-flung,” with crystal clear waters, lush and varied tropical landscapes and gorgeous beaches. And while December can be rainy, the downpours are usually sporadic and shouldn’t interfere too much with the day’s activities—namely swimming, scuba diving, snorkeling or simply lounging. Where to Stay: The Brando, one of the world’s most awarded hotels, is fully booked, but there are still suites available at other reliable (and jaw-droppingly beautiful) options, including Four Seasons Resort Bora Bora.

Thailand

In a usual year, we recommend travelers complete a circuit through some of Thailand’s most intriguing destinations, stopping to explore Bangkok, the temples and beaches. This year, thanks to the country’s unique “sandbox” method of reopening a select few destinations to international arrivals, only the beaches are a viable option for U.S. visitors—although Bangkok and Chiang Mai are at the moment scheduled to reopen by December. And what beaches! The scenery around Phuket—with tree-topped karst formations towering out of the Andaman Sea in Phang Nga Bay—is, simply put, sublime.

Contact Indagare or your Trip Designer for more information on the destinations that are open to travel, new Covid-19 policies, the safest routes and transportation options available, trip-planning advice, inspiration and ideas.

Indagare Members can also see our curated list of Indagare’s favorite destinations open to U.S. passport holders now: Coronavirus Travel Information: What’s Open To Americans

– Peter Schlesinger on September 29, 2021

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