The Best Destinations for an End-of-Year Adventure
We may not yet be decking the halls with boughs of holly or making a list and checking it twice, but now is the time to begin planning your Christmas vacation.
Traditionally, Christmas is a time of coming together as friends and family, cosying up around a fire and sharing special moments. But the notion of travelling to far-away destinations, whether they be winter wonderlands or tropical escapes, can be equally as celebratory of the festive season.
Indeed, taking a multi-generational vacation for the holidays can bring together your extended family in a far more rewarding way than all crowding around aunt Selma’s rickety dining table for dry turkey and awkward silences!
Christmas, of course, is a Christian phenomenon, but no matter what your denomination or belief, the time of year is iconic, with time off work, warm energy to contrast the bitter cold, and the opportunity for unity. And so let the term ‘Christmas vacation’ refer to the spirit of the season rather than its religious connotations.
Regardless of how you might recognise this time of year, why not consider taking your end-of-year celebrations overseas to experience a Christmas vacation in other lands, in nature, or even thawing gently in the blissful tranquility of a warm, white-sand beach.
Here is our top pick of destinations to celebrate the changing of years and the camaraderie, kinship and romance that abounds as the year draws to a close:
First on the list for very good reason is KenyaKenya. An incredible destination for family groups, young children, grandparents or – if you prefer to share your Christmas vacation with the one you love – a gloriously romantic getaway, Kenya is one of the finest choices for a late-year safari.
The wet season draws to a close in November, leaving lush grasslands, warm, dry climate and an abundance of wildlife. This is also the time of the Great Migration, a spectacular display of nature’s magnitude and impressiveness, with over two million wildebeest, zebra and antelope following the rains south.
Kenya’s diversity – from the Maasai Mara to Mombasa, Laikipia to Nairobi, offers more than a superb portfolio of experiences. Deemed one of the best countries for a true safari, accommodation options are also exceptional. While tented camps are luxuriously wonderful and superbly accommodating for groups of every size and description, your Christmas vacation is about unity. For this, Kenya’s private lodges provide the perfect setting.
Laikipia’s Lewa House embodies the family atmosphere. Hosts Sophie and Calum welcome each and every guest into their home as long-lost friends while allowing the space and privacy to both enjoy the region to its fullest and have a wonderfully intimate family vacation.
Finch Hattons places you in the heart of safari land, enveloped by Tsavo National Park and with a distinctly African atmosphere. But this rustically-clad property oozes luxury at every level, from impeccable service and expert guides to gourmet dining and every creature comfort you could possibly wish for. All this with the Kenyan grasslands only one step away.
Segera Retreat promises to be one of Kenya’s finest, especially when considering a family Christmas vacation. Wonderfully different, Segera caters especially well to children, with guides, staff and even the expert chefs welcoming young ones and sharing their knowledge. Kids will be shown the signs of nature – including paw prints and poop – and kitchen staff invite youngsters into the on-site organic gardens to gather the crop for the evening meal. For mum and dad, or couples looking for a little quiet seclusion, the Bird Nest treehouse offers precisely this, giving you an exquisitely intimate evening away from the main house.
For a youngster’s Christmas to remember, a night at Giraffe Manor is unforgettable, and your children will light up at the opportunity to feed giraffe right from their breakfast table. For a coastal escape that will keep the kids entertained and allow you the opportunity to overcome the frostbite of home, Alfajiri Villas provide a divine coastal escape, a relaxing retreat to conclude an extensive safari itinerary. The warm, tranquil waters of the Indian Ocean provide plenty of activities for curious little minds and energetic little bodies, with exceptional snorkelling and other watersports, while the immaculate backdrop of Diani Beach allows you the perfect setting in which to unwind and ready yourself for the return to winter’s frosty bite.
Uganda & Rwanda
Both Uganda and Rwanda have much to offer, including mountains and grasslands, luxury lodges and bustling cultural townships, but this time of year is about exceptional once-in-a-lifetime experiences and giving gifts that will be cherished for many years to come.
For this, gorilla trekking is second to none.
Both countries are amongst the very few remaining locations that you can witness mountain gorilla in their natural habitat. Though perhaps not a hike for little feet, young teens, able-bodied seniors and everyone in between can take part in this experience beyond words.
Bisate Lodge and Gorilla’s Nest are among the luxury accommodations available, each combining the benefits of a more extensive venue with the intimacy of a private villa. This affords you the opportunity to share in a remarkable journey and enjoy a family or couples Christmas vacation in a more personal setting.
Galápagos & Ecuador
As the mainland launch point for the Galápagos, Ecuador perhaps gets less attention than it should. Exploring the fringes of the Amazon, visiting wintry glaciers and venturing to cascading waterfalls comprise just a portion of all this country has to offer.
The young and young-at-heart will revel in the exhilaration of ziplining through the canopies of Mindo Cloud Forest, one eye trained on the thrilling descent, the other on the treetops in search of wildlife, including hummingbirds, toucans, squirrels and bats. Mashpi Lodge places you right in the treetops, with incredible views across the Equadorian cloud forest to the distant mountains, the sounds of the jungle your continual and ever-changing soundtrack. With conservation the foundation of this wonderfully luxurious eco-lodge, wildlife plays a pivotal role in daily activities, and you can view a wide variety of birds from your balcony or venture into the towering forest.
Though not a private lodge, family suites and interconnected villas provide impeccable accommodations for couples, families or extended groups, allowing you personal space and privacy despite sharing the retreat with a handful of fellow guests.
From Ecuador and the wonderful cities of Quito and Guayaquil, board a plane for the crowning glory of the country, the Galápagos.
Though the Galápagos does have land-based accommodations, enjoying the archipelago and its incredible inhabitants afloat is the only way to explore. This too affords you the greater sense of connection that is so much a part of Christmas vacations, with luxurious motor yachts accommodating relatively few fellow passengers and giving you the opportunity to share the adventure with family and few others. Though not utterly exclusive, the minimal number of guests aboard gives you the chance to share your vacation with a diminutive collective of likeminded travellers, family and friends, new and old.
In many ways, Australia is the quintessential winter escape for your Christmas Vacation. The land of the endless summer – or at least, greatly extended summer – enjoys its warmer months while the northern hemisphere is shivering through winter.
Endless opportunities are on offer in Australia for every type of traveller. Cities provide the excitement of a cosmopolitan exploration, myriad beaches offer oceanic escape and adventure, while the interior, national parks, rainforests and the incredible Red Centre allow for escapes into the wild.
Being a first-world nation, accommodation is boundless and exceptional, and the smorgasbord of entertainment and attractions is enough to keep any visitor thoroughly entertained and fulfilled from dawn to dusk and beyond.
Here too, you will find the season’s more festive side in abundance. Australians celebrate Christmas enthusiastically, but in distinct contrast to their northern peers. Carols around the fire and toasted marshmallows are replaced by beach picnics, warm weather and prawns on the barbie! It is not the devout Christian Christmas vacation found elsewhere, but instead celebrated for its communal non-religious celebration of friends, family and the great outdoors.
In the shadow of Uluru, on your own private island or motor yacht or in a beachfront villa, you can find private lodgings to accommodate an extended family group, with plenty of space, wonderful luxury and a wealth of activities to enjoy.
In some regards, India is the very antithesis of a Christmas vacation. Predominantly Hindu, the Christian festival is barely recognised. But in this lies its appeal. Climatically, this is one of the best times to visit, with the sorchingly-hot summer giving way to drier days and far more tolerable temperatures.
India has incredible diversity, and this choose-your-own-adventure destination can provide ample charm for a wide range of visitors. Those yearning for a safari will find it in Rajasthan, foodies will thrive in Kerala, history enthusiasts will marvel at ancient buildings, and culture abounds nationwide.
Trek tigers and sloth bears through Ranthambore National Park, marvel at the majesty of the Taj Mahal and other historical edifices, and join the melee of weekly festivals and ceremonies. This exuberant nation of celebration oozes festival spirit, even if those festivities have no connection to the more familiar Christmas pastimes.
If you wish to stay closer to home, perhaps wishing to join the family for the biggest days of the season before boarding a plane for a post-Christmas vacation, Costa Rica is the perfect answer.
The land where the jungle meets the sea is an exceptional choice for those wishing to unplug, recharge and escape the often chaotic obligations of the festive season. Costa Rica is particularly suited to couples searching for a little bit of quiet romance, but equally enjoyable for a more adventurous vacation with families and friends.
The rich and abundant rainforests envelop you in nature, far from beeping phones and clicking computers, and contain an inordinate array of wonderful wildlife. Surfing, trekking, yoga, quad-biking – there is no end to the superb selection of amazing adventures and experiences.
With a more than agreeable year-round climate ranging from 72 to 93ºF (22-34ºC), the festive season falls neatly into the country’s dry season, giving you warmth without the tropical monsoons that make Costa Rica so verdant.
Respite from the cold, a wealth of adventure, exquisite beaches, and the opportunity to reconnect with oneself – Costa Rica is, to many, the ideal Christmas vacation.
Set high in the Himalayas and aligning with the northern hemisphere’s seasons, Nepal is a wonderful winter wonderland filled with ancient tradition and mystical magic. From November to April, Nepal is in the grips of winter, and while suitable attire is very much required, this time of year is simply spectacular.
The towering Himalayas form an omnipresent majestic canvas to your explorations of Buddhist temples, rural towns and lake-filled valleys.
Bordering India, surprisingly to many it is also possible to enjoy a safari in Nepal. Tigers, rhinos, monkeys and deer fill Chitwan National Park, and to the north, Sagarmatha (named after the traditional name for Everest, Nepal’s and the world’s highest peak) one might be lucky enough to view the utterly endearing punde kundo or red panda.
Though predominantly Hindu, Buddhism is a large part of Nepali culture and, indeed, the nation is said to be the birthplace of the Buddha. This being the case, you’re highly unlikely to find tinsel-festooned trees or carollers traipsing the streets, but the crisp, white snow, breathtaking landscapes and the glimmer of a chance of spotting a yeti or two make Nepal both captivatingly stunning and excitingly seasonal for a Christmas vacation.
This outpost of humanity is also, understandably, a wonderful destination to escape. The spiritual festivals will transport you far from the tumult of western civilisation, and the excellent Dwarika’s Retreat bestows luxury, elegance and a blissful array of yoga, spa therapies and treatments to help you, unlike the winter snow, simply melt away.
The frigid waters of winter are far from appealing to any lover of the ocean, but summer embraces each and every day of the year in Maldives.
Its tropical waters are unfathomably clear, teeming with life and with an abundance of reefs to explore, whether drifting on the surface or diving below the placid waves. If you have asked Santa for a luxury tropical retreat, he will likely slide a return ticket to Maldives into your stocking. Maldives fills an entire chapter in the encyclopaedia of romance, and its white-sand beaches have hosted more than a share of proposals, weddings, and loved-up honeymooners.
But the 1,200 islands of Maldives aren’t for lovebirds alone, and families will find the resort islands replete with entertainment for all. Yet even these more conventional resorts take full advantage of their tropical setting, and you never feel overwhelmed by the western impact of tourism, nature continually beckoning you into the turquoise sea.
If the cold, dreary winter months fill you with dread, or even become a little oppressive at times, Maldives is your panacea for the winter blues.
The untouched frontier of Chile offers rejuvenation and unfettered freedom.
Ideal for outdoor enthusiasts, Torres del Paine and the Patagonia region give you the opportunity to take off into the wild, whether hiking, horseriding, flyfishing or mountain biking.
Peace is pervasive, and smaller lodges allow for quiet couples escapes or a more intimate family Christmas vacation. Beyond the plains and foothills, glacial lakes beckon, but the wilderness is only one aspect of the slender nation of Chile.
Lauca National Park entices wildlife enthusiasts with its alpaca, llama, vicuna, armadillo and elusive puma, while the cities of Arica and Santiago blend the classical and contemporary impeccably.
Step from the coast and you will find yourself transported back to a time of warring tribes, lost civilisations and the monolithic and ever-watching moai, the famed heads of Rapa Nui, or Easter Island. Despite being named for the wrong Christian festival – the Dutch first discovering it on Easter Day – Rapa Nui makes for a wonderful Christmas vacation exploration, its fascinating history omnipresent in the towering moai.
Christianity holds a significant place in the annals of Ethiopia.
Over 800 years ago, it is said that King Gebre Mesqel Lalibela commissioned five churches in reflection of the Christian birthplace of Jerusalem. Sometimes referred to as New Jerusalem, the churches of Lalibela are a profound site of pilgrimage for Ethiopian Orthodox Christians and services are still held within their walls to this day.
Regardless of your personal beliefs, these captivating structures are simply fascinating to behold and one can only wonder at the extent of workmanship that went into carving these five buildings from the bedrock.
Beyond the churches of Lalibela, and further beyond the grips of Christianity, the people of the Omo Valley maintain millennia-old cultures and traditions, from ornate scarification to the iconic lip plates of the Mursi people. From the arid region of Omo, one can also venture into the Simien mountains, home to foxes, wolves, ibex and the endemic gelada, or bleeding heart baboon. These truly formidable, forest-covered mountains are a UNESCO World Heritage site, protected for their global significance and endangered species.
On the one hand, Ethiopia could be viewed as a profoundly devout Christmas vacation, yet on the other, it is a fascinatingly rich cultural immersion utterly removed from the season’s religious beliefs, making this an exceptional option for the more inquisitive traveller to explore.
Christmas comes but once a year, or so the saying goes. It might not be a time for you to remember its 2,000-year history or pay homage to the birthday boy, but it is a time to be cherished and embraced, and to fill with wonderful memories that will inspire you for the coming year and far beyond.
The year gone gives us time to pause and reflect, the year to come to pursue new experiences, to step forward with enthusiasm and to reset. Whether you celebrate its message or simply enjoy the time from work and with family, isn’t it the perfect opportunity to take the most remarkable Christmas vacation?
Talk to your travel designer today about planning your dream end-of-year vacation, whether on tropical beaches, snow-capped mountains or grassy plains filled with wonderful creatures.