By Desiree Salas
Every year, there's a new list for those with unquenchable wanderlust to conquer – what new destinations are out there waiting to receive your footprints? In a world dotted with many isles and tracts of land peppered with cities, villages, and far-flung communes with hidden cultural, natural, and geographical treasures, it's impossible to run out of places to visit. That is unless if your main job is to travel to every nook and cranny of the world just for the heck of it (or something along those lines).
This year, we have another set of destinations to explore, thanks to CNN's recommendations. Chances are at least one or two of these are those you haven't been to yet!
Lake Clark National Park and Reserve – Alaska
Go wild but not that wild 265 kilometers southwest of Anchorage, where you'll find sharp peaks and a mesmerizing expanse of “milky-green” water you never expect to find in a chilly place like Alaska. Caribou, salmon, and bears abound in the place, but not at the spots where visitors stay.
Lake Clark is not accessible by land – there are no roads that lead to this hideaway. You, and about a million visitors each summer, go there via small aircraft. You can rough it out in a tent or rent a lodge if you want to spend the night in more comfy accommodations.
Hayman Island – Australia
There are a number of isles dotting the majestic Great Barrier Reef in the Land Down Under. One of them is Hayman Island, which is considered a “luxury getaway” perfect for honeymoons and soul-searching or de-stressing jaunts. If you want an effective excuse for finally learning to scuba dive, this is the place to go. This is one of those destinations where diving can be done all year round.
Giraffe Manor – Kenya
If you're not against having a gentle animal forage on your breakfast every now and then (hey, you'd give anything to see non-carnivorous wildlife peeking through your window!), Nairobi, Kenya's Giraffe Manor is the place to be.
This hotel has only 10 suites and has withstood the test of time and seasons since the 1930s. It stands amidst “140 acres of forest” and plays host to endangered Rothschild giraffes. Oh, and the food is arguably one of the best in the place.
Ashikaga Flower Garden - Japan
You remember James Cameron's Avatar? A century-old wisteria tree in this Japanese haven bears a striking similarity to the Tree of Souls in the blockbuster movie. So if you're looking for a magical, fairy tale experience, come to the Ashikaga Flower Garden and get lost in the beauty of the dreamy place, which is covered by wisteria trellises.
Hotel Kakslauttanen – Finland
You're not coming for the hotel – you're coming to admire the Northern Lights at the perfect place, which is right above the Arctic Circle in Finland.
What makes this accommodation special is the glass igloos that are spaced far apart so you have enough privacy. If the weather cooperates and gives you a clear night sky, you can admire the fantastic lights while lying on your back with your arms behind your head or around your better half.
Sao Tome and Principe – Africa
If you hate crowds, this is your perfect island destination – each week brings only 20 tourists. But that's not because the place is any less tasteful or appealing – it's mostly because many don't know about the island.
There are not much attractions here, which makes this the perfect place for those who don't want to do much and just spend an idyllic holiday away from the maddening crowds but with a new vista and crowd.
By Desiree Salas
It’s not unusual to see a horde of travelers from western hemispheres making an exodus to the warmer regions of the globe during the colder months of the year. So, what to do and where to go when December rings in, aside from beaches and ski slopes?
If you want a unique holiday that’s free from clichéd seasonal symbols (like snowmen and Santa Claus impersonators, except if you actually feel your December is incomplete without the man in red), you should go to one of these 5 destinations:
Portugal is a budget-friendly choice as December is considered a lean month, which means accommodation prices are at appealingly low levels during this time. USA Today even reported that you can have a room of your own for as low as $50. You also can have your fill of sights and sounds by going around the city via public transport, which is so cheap you can’t believe your good fortune. You can commute to check out the place where the famed port wine originated or just enjoy a soccer match at the local stadium.
The Land of Smiles is typically dry during December and thus makes a perfect winter holiday destination. No, the beaches are not the country’s only attractions – there’s something in Thailand for everybody. Foodies will love the cuisine and the many dining options, ranging from the upscale do the downright laid back and low key, and adventure seekers will love the fact that there are off-the-beaten-track places that aren’t usually found in travel books. Nature lovers will go wild with the rich flora and fauna found in various parts of Thailand, particularly in nature parks (Ko Tarutao’s Marine National Park is a must-visit) and wildlife-rich areas.
Don’t care much for tango? Then head down to Patagonia, which is at the southernmost portion of the country (and also of the continent itself). The weather in this awe-inducing, highly photogenic place is milder during the later parts of the year until March. Check out the Dinosaur route, go penguin watching at Punta Tombo, marvel at the whales in Puerto Madryn, hang out at a ranch south of Perito Moreno, ooh and ahh at the rock paintings in Cueva de las Manos, be dazzled by the glaciers at Parque National los Glaciares, or have your fill of rock climbing and hiking in El Chalten.
If you want to tip a hat to Christmas without the cliché, take part in the Quema del Diablo (burning of the devil) festival in Antigua and Guatemala City on December 7. At this time of the year, the locals busy themselves with cleaning their home of rubbish so they keep the devil (who’s said to hang around under beds and garbage) out of their homes. They burn their trash, along with an effigy of the devil on top of the pile. You can help them rid their properties and lives of such demonic influences by throwing in your own garbage and helping stoke the fire.
But the Ice Hotel in Quebec is still being put together at this point! Yes, but there’s a multitude of other things and places you can do or see during this time, like Salt Spring Island. You’ll find this region’s temperature brisk and its landscape perfect for hiking and camping. It’s hard to find snow here, which is why this is the ideal haven for those who don’t want to see snow just yet.
If you’re not averse to snow in December, dare yourself to sail to Antartica, where you can see penguins hatching and feeding.
By Desiree Salas
The first signs of winter should not deter you from satisfying your wanderlust. So, where to go when the season keeps you from worshipping the sun or enjoying the outdoors?
Australia - The Great Barrier Reef
November is a great time for checking out the world’s biggest coral reef system as the Land Down Under is on the brink of summer during this month of the year. You should visit this UNESCO Heritage Site before its magnificence is tarnished by less prudent government officials as there have been plans to create a sea lane that will go through some part of the said reef system.
Although dredging plans have been scrapped for now, we don’t know what the future holds as far as the interests of enterprising and less environmentally sensitive men are concerned.
If you’re looking for land-based alternatives, the Mango Festival in Broome may be worth your while, especially if you’re a big fan of the fruit. Join in the tastings and take a look at a variety of jams and other culinary concoctions made with mango at the cook offs during the last weekend of November.
Cayman Islands – Pirate Festival
Head to George Town Harbour in Grand Cayman in the middle of November for the sole festival that is celebrated on all three Cayman Islands. Happening over a 10-day stretch, the Pirate Festival is a cacophony of games, music, costumes, dances, and even a mock surprise invasion on George Harbour. There’s also the Cardboard Boat Regatta, which awards those in the best costume and the vessel with the most spectacular sinking. Sounds like a great place for extending your Halloween costume fix, doesn’t it?
Italy – Olive Harvest
Italy and olives are as inseparable as, say, pizza and Italy. Does that make sense? Anyhow, olives have very significant roles in Italian way of living and culture in that it’s incorporated heavily in the cuisine and even in their lifestyle. So a perfect way to go into the heart of Italy is by going to Umbria to help farmers harvest olives. You’ll be rewarded by fantastic Italian cooking that comes after the picking.
India – Diwali Festival
The “Festival of Lights” or Deepavali begins on November 13th and lasts through the 17th, taking you through a medley of festivities that include fireworks, feasts, and even a camel fair in Pushkar at Rajasthan. The annual fair brings in around 50,000 to 200,000 camels within the space of a week, making the place a lively (and smelly) place to behold.
If you’re in the mood for turquoise waters, Goa is the place to go and November is an ideal month for Indian beaches as it’s at the tail end of the monsoon season. It’s also a great time for Goa’s fantastic shores as the sands are still not littered with too many tourist feet and towels. The height of beach-going season here is mid-December.
If you’re looking for an alternative European destination, go to Switzerland for the Räbechilbi Turnip Festival in Richterswil on the second Saturday of November. You’ll find the occasion a quirky twist to your holiday.
By Desiree Salas
“All Hallows’ Evening” is celebrated every October 31st, which is the eve prior to the Christian observance of All Hallows’ Day – which marks the remembrance of the saints (the hallowed ones), as well as the faithful departed.
Halloween’s roots are far from “hallowed” though – it’s said to be fundamentally influenced by pagan festivals, specifically the Celtic celebration of the end of the harvest season called Samhain. The Gaels of ancient times believed that on the evening of October 31st, the separation between the worlds of the dead and the living would be breached and will overlap.
As such, they believe that the dead would return during such a time and may inflict bad things on their communities and crops. To combat this, the people donned masks and wore costumes that made them appear similar to the said evil spirits, in order to appease them.
Today, Halloween has evolved into a much more benign and vacuously gaudy event. It has become a business opportunity for many enterprising individuals and corporations, pushing forward tricks and treats aplenty to entice the paying public to get into the spirit of the occasion with their pockets.
The commercialization of Halloween is, however, mostly confined to the Western Hemisphere and the big, metropolitan areas. Other parts of the world have their own way of celebrating this occasion, based on their traditions.
This is said to be the birthplace of the original Halloween and is where the Spirits of Meath Halloween Festival is held. This festival one of the major celebrations in the country as it’s the modern counterpart of that ancient feast 2,000 years ago which started the whole Halloween hoopla. There are bonfires, fortunetelling events, games, traditional Irish food, and tricks aplenty during the last day of October in Ireland.
El Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is one of the most recognized foreign festivals associated with Halloween and stretches over 3 days, beginning on October 31 until November 2. It’s not exactly Halloween – it’s mostly influenced by an ancient Aztec tradition and is mainly celebrated as a commemoration of dearly departed ancestors, family members, and friends.
If you think this sounds like a somber occasion, you’re in for a surprise. In reality, it’s an uber-lively celebration reminiscent of Latin American carnivals. There’s lots of music, food, dancing, tequila, and partying. There also are a lot of sweets and décor resembling skeletons, coffins, skulls, and other objects symbolizing the dead. Families also make cemetery visits during this time, decking graves with candles and flowers.
La Diablada is that annual Peruvian festival which finds the men donning demon costumes and the women in bowler hats and multilayered outfits. Some say that it’s celebrated to pay respects to the spirits of Lake Titicaca while others say it commemorates the ejection of the “devilish” colonizers in the later part of the 19th century.
New Orleans, U.S.A
The Mardi Gras-style celebrations in this part of the country is reminiscent of the traditions of the Caribbean ancestors of its inhabitants. New Orleans reeks of voodoo magic, street parties, and witch costumes even in the days leading to October 31st.
Singapore and Hong Kong, China
Both places celebrate the Festival of the Hungry Ghosts during the 7th month of the lunar calendar, which usually starts sometime during August and ends in September. It is believed that during this period, the gates of hell are opened, giving spirits the opportunity to visit their families. Those in the land of the living then prepare food to offer to the dead and burn incense and joss paper, as well as papier-mache versions of the possessions of the departed family members.