Photograph by Prisma by Dukas, Universal Images Group/Getty Images
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Flamingos feast on brine shrimp in small pools of water in the salt flat—a diet that gives the birds their bright pink color—in Laguna Colorada.

 

Photograph by Prisma by Dukas, Universal Images Group/Getty Images

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.

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One of the 33 festivals in Japan collectively registered on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage list, the Chichibu Night Festival in Chichibu, Saitama, Japan brings thousands of spectators to watch decorated floats parade through the city and fireworks.

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.

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.

Starlight Williams is an editorial researcher and writer at National Geographic. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.