December hot list: 5 essential experiences
This month, spot flamingos in Bolivia, see a meteor shower in Canada, and find yuletide greetings in Finland.
With Jack Frost nipping at the nose, travelers are looking for winter escapes. From stargazing in Québec to burning devilish art in Guatemala, here’s what to experience and where to do it in December.
Flock to Bolivia for flamingos
December | Sur Lípez, Bolivia—One of Bolivia’s most remote national parks, Eduardo Avaroa Andean Fauna National Reserve is tucked into the southwestern corner of Sur Lípez, just a few hours from the Chilean border. In December, the greatest population of endangered flamingos, such as the James’s, Chilean, and Andean species, feed on the reserve’s algae-rich waters. For a picture-perfect shot of a flamboyance of flamingos (the birds have a few collective nouns, including: stand, colony, flock, and flurry), head to the shallow salt lake of Laguna Colorada.
Marvel at Kabuki performers and fireworks
December 2–3 | Chichibu, Japan—An easy 90-minute train ride from Tokyo, Chichibu—an idyllic getaway from Japan’s buzzing capital city—comes alive with the Chichibu Night Festival. Sip on warm amazake (a sweet fermented rice drink) and watch Kabuki players perform on floats decorated with paper lanterns, gilded wood carvings, and intricate tapestries. A two-hour firework show lights up the sky after the parade.
Feel the holiday spirit in Finland
December 6–22 | Helsinki, Finland—The Helsinki Christmas Market—Finland’s oldest and largest holiday event—engages all the senses. Nibble on freshly baked korvapuustit (Finnish cinnamon rolls) and sip a cup of glögi (mulled wine), listen to music, see a riot of colorful decorations, and browse shops for handcrafted gifts. Weekends bring crowds, but it’s also the only time to take photos with Santa.
Did you know Santa’s ‘real’ village is in Lapland, Finland? Read on.
Chase away evil spirits
December 7 | Antigua, Guatemala—Each December 7 at 6 p.m., locals in this small town in southern Guatemala kick off the Christmas season by dousing an effigy of the devil in gasoline and setting it ablaze. Historically, La Quema del Diablo (or Burning of the Devil) was a way for Guatemalans to incinerate piles of trash from the previous year in a symbolic cleansing of the home before the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. These days, residents celebrate the devil’s fiery demise in the city streets with firecrackers and traditional foods.
Wish upon a shooting star
December 13–14 | Québec, Canada—Make a wish (or two!) as the Geminids Meteor Shower, one of the season’s most spectacular celestial events, brings hundreds of meteors streaking across the night sky. Spend the day exploring Parc National du Mont Mégantic—the world’s first dark-sky reserve—via hiking trails, climbing paths, and ski slopes before settling in at camp to watch the sky come alive at around 2 a.m.
The Milky Way glows over the Rocky Mountain range in Grand Teton National Park.
- Nat Geo Expeditions