See Israel from the seat of a bicycle

Amidst the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, December is the perfect time to plan a getaway. Whether you want to escape the impending cold weather and hit a beach, embrace the jolly season in a new country or fill your days with action, there’s an escape for you.

For beach bums…

Short haul: Cape Verde

On Cape Verde’s Maio Island, time stands still. Houses painted a rainbow of colours provide a splendid backdrop to the laid-back residents, who pass their time sitting tranquilly outside. Kilometres of blonde sand beach stretch out around the island creating plenty of secluded spots to top up the tan. After baking in the sun, head south of the capital, Vila do Maio, to Praia da Ponta Preta for some of the best swimming on the island.

Cape Verde SunsetWatch the sunset from the beach in Sal
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While Maio is the most secluded of the Cape Verde islands, the beaches of Sal and Boa Vista also offer a quiet respite during the bustling holiday season. Boa Vista is where you’ll glimpse scenes of authentic Cape Verdean life. Check out the goods sold by traders, including batiks and wood carved figurines and stop by the old harbour quay for a tour. For the activity loving beach-goers, visiting in December means the trade winds will turn the beaches into a surfing mecca. Try your hand at wave sailing, a popular activity on the islands or just watch from the safety of the sand.

Long haul: Rocha, Uruguay

In Uruguay, summer comes to town in December. Go to the department of Rocha along the south western coast to find less-frequented seaside villages that offer quiet beaches and boisterous towns; it’s a haven for surfers and nature lovers and especially popular with young people. Despite growing popularity, the small towns keep a bohemian feel, catering to everyone from the most humble backpacker to the traveller looking for a luxury resort experience. Vast undeveloped beaches of fine ochre sand offer ideal spots to view the sunset or take a walk and glimpse colourful fish nipping at the water’s surface.

Rocha Beach HutVisit the beach in La Paloma
Creative Commons / blmurch

Visitors looking for a little more action should try out sandboarding. Sandboarding is popular all over Uruguay and Rocha has some of the best locations - try Balizas La Paloma for a fun challenge of 150m-high (492ft) dunes and natural ramps. Using a wooden board similar in shape to a skate board glide, slide and carve your way down a dune.

For city slickers…

Long haul: Guatemala City, Guatemala

Chichicastenango MarketSee colourful textiles at Chichicastenango's market
Creative Commons / Adalberto.H.Vega

In Guatemala City the evolution of the city is apparent. Visit the historic centre to see how it has changed over 200 years, then stop by Zona Viva for the modern-day experience: exclusive hotels, restaurants and discotheques. If you’re a fan of death defying stunts as a cultural practice, head to Chichicastenango, two hours outside of Guatemala City for the colourful Feast of St Thomas.

Palo volador dancers are the most exciting part. Scaling up a 30m (98ft) pole, dancers tie a rope around their waists or ankles, (or merely hold on!), before winding the rope around the spinning top of the pole, and spiralling headfirst back down to the ground. The festival starts on 13 December with fireworks, parades, dances and culminates on the 21st with the palo volador dancers. With the locals’ love of fireworks, you may want to bring ear plugs. While in Chichicastenango, make sure to stop by the famous bi-weekly market to see brightly coloured local goods ranging from textiles and wooden masks to buckets overflowing with flowers.

Short haul: Budapest, Hungary

Budapest Christmas TreeBudapest lights up at night
Thinkstock / iStockphoto

For those wanting an alternative to the popular tourist-filled Christmas markets of Prague and Germany, try Budapest. Hungarian Christmas Markets are full of handmade crafts, advent wreaths and other goodies prime for the season. While wandering through the markets and stocking up on unique gifts for loved ones, stop and refuel at any of the stands selling traditional Hungarian cuisine. Try a kürtőskalács (chimney cake) for a sweet treat. Visit the city ice skating rink and then warm up with a cup of hot wine. Alternatively, the thermal baths, many of which are open everyday, including the holidays, are a great way to relax. Make sure to take a walk around the city at night to see it illuminated by holiday lights, but bundle up, it gets very cold.

For adventure lovers…

Mid haul: Israel

Don’t see Israel through the window of a bus; try feeling it rush past you as you bike from Jerusalem to Eilat. On an eight-day tour with Freewheeling Adventures, culturally curious and strong-legged travellers can learn about the history of Israel, visit famous religious sites, and cover kilometres of desert under their own steam. Jump into the Dead Sea, (it stays warm nearly all year round), to float in the super buoyant water, or explore some of Israel’s ever-increasing natural and man-made caves dotting the rock face.

Don’t fancy spending eight days sitting on a bicycle? No problem. Hiking is a national pastime, just ask the school kids on their tiyul shnati (an annual hike). From the Israel Trail to the Sea to Sea Trail, there is no shortage of paths to choose from. Hire a guide to hear about the nature, history and archaeology you see along the way.

Short haul: Slovakia

High Tatras SunriseThe sunrise breaks over the High Tatras
Thinkstock / iStockphoto

December brings the start of winter sports to Slovakia and Slovaks love recreation. Each mountain range has a national park where the walking and hiking trails are well mapped, with thousands of options to choose from. Explore one of the six caves open year round like Demanovska Cave of Liberty consisting of 1,800m (5,900ft) of accessible cave with Bear’s Passage where cave bear bones were once found and the glistening Emerald Lake.

Ski season also starts in December, so eager skiers can be some of the first to break in the slopes for the year. If regular skiing isn’t enough, try out night skiing to get extra thrills on the slopes. Unwind after a long day of cold activity with a dip into Bešeňová’s thermal swimming pool.

While no match for the alpine resorts, the Tatras are a sure way to get in an early, cheap skiing fix. Jansa Low Tatras is the largest ski resort and offers trails of varying difficulty for every skier. Go up to the High Tatras to find more slopes, winter hikes and blue glacial lakes. For a dramatic view, take the cable car up to the summit of Lomnický Štít: you’ll get an adrenaline fix on the ascent and a rewarding view of the Tatras at the top.

Visa and passport information is updated regularly and is correct at the time of publishing. You should verify critical travel information independently with the relevant embassy before you travel.