If you can’t face another year of frantic present buying, brussel sprouts (no matter what Jamie Oliver says) or awful cracker jokes then why not book the next flight to beautiful, relaxing South America? Spend Christmas Day on a secluded beach in Trancoso, riding out across the Argentine Pampas, be blown away by the wonders of Easter Island, or prehaps discovering new species on the Galapagos, or best of all hard core relaxing on your very own private island in Colombia.
Trancoso, a tiny hippy enclave in Bahia, where coloured houses face onto the ‘Quadrado’ and a beautiful colonial style chapel, where, on Christmas Eve they hold a midnight mass. This is definitely not your typical Christmas service, the choir and the priest all don Santa beards, singing a mix of Portuguese and African influenced songs. Children run through the crowd, after perhaps too many ‘brigadeiros’ whilst the older generation quietly snooze in the background.
Stay in a Pousada located on the ‘Quadrado’ and indulge yourself in some spa treatments. Come Christmas morning, enjoy a delicious fresh fruit cocktail whilst you open your presents – there really is no other way to spend the festive season.
After the excitement of stockings (Father Christmas wouldn’t forget you!) and presents, spoil yourself with a day at beach. The beaches here are spectacular, miles and miles of golden sand and clear blue sea, you really can’t get any better, and with a beach buggy at your disposal what is stopping you? You definitely won’t need your woolly jumper here, so slip into your bikini (the smaller the better on these beaches), sip on your freshly cut coconut water and relax.
The Pampas, known as the aristocratic heartland of Argentina, is the perfect place to escape the hustle and bustle of department stores filled with people manically buying last minute presents. Argentina loves Christmas, as you will soon find out as you a presented with various traditional dishes, all containing ‘dulce de leche’ in some form or another, you won’t be having Turkey with all the trimmings, instead a suckling pig parillada is on the menu. On Christmas Eve, fireworks are let off and colourful Chinese lanterns known as ‘globos’ are lit and float into the night sky.
A luxury estancia is just the cherry on the cake for a magical argentine Christmas. Try your hand at polo, or head out onto the pampas to work with the cattle like a proper gaucho, or for those really looking to unwind, spend the day topping up your tan by the pool or enjoy a massage. After such a stressful day, collapse into your ridiculously comfortable bed and wait for the sound of sleigh bells.
As with everywhere in the world, Christmas in Chile is mainly about the food, and who can blame them? With roast chicken, pan de Pascua which is a sweet fruit cake, and obviously plenty of booze. The Chilean version of mulled wine Cola de Mono, made with coffee, liquor, sugar and cinnamon, is sure to keep the grown ups awake to help El Viejito Pascuero deliver presents to over excited children.
Easter Island at Christmas? Trust us, you won’t regret a second. Rapa Nui, the remote island off the coast of Chile and home to a vast array of wildlife as well as the awe inspiring statues, is the world’s most unique way to celebrate the holidays.
What better place to stay on a UNESCO World Heritage Site, than an Eco village that pays homage to the Orongo village, discovered on the top of Rano Kau volcano? The interiors also take inspiration from the geographical elements of the island. Spend a day exploring the crystal clear waters that surround the island, or brave it and climb the volcano – there are some pretty spectacular views from the top. Or begin Christmas Day in the on-site spa and a swim for a truly calming experience.
You will know when Christmas Eve starts in any city or tiny village in Peru, as fireworks are let off all throughout the night and people take to the streets to celebrate with friends and family. Before the party can truly start, the entire family goes to Midnight Mass, and it is only afterwards that they can eat –corn dough tamales, roast turkey given a Peruvian touch with spicy aji, whilst adults drink champagne, children drink a cinnamon and clove spiced hot chocolate. Finally, if they’ve got any more room, a traditional Peruvian fruit cake, Paneton is served.
Children are allowed to stay up to open presents and watch the fireworks, but once they’ve exhausted themselves and are put to bed, adults salsa the night away until the early hours. So it’s little surprise that Christmas Day is more subdued affair.
Arequipa, Peru’s best preserved colonial city, under the shadow of Mount Misti volcano is certainly a dramatic setting for Christmas. If you’re in need of a white Christmas, just squint and pretend the white volcanic rock that is used in the building of the city is snow. A grand luxury hotel in the city centre, which once housed the city mint, is the most magical setting for the perfect holiday, so once you’ve eaten as many tamales as you can, take a wander through the city and discover the Santa Catalina convent, once home to nuns from only the wealthiest families. Or begin your New Year Detox early and have a steam in the dry sauna followed by a massage.
Christmas in Bolivia goes on until the 6th of January, but on Christmas Eve, after Midnight Mass where they bring a small baby Jesus as well as an offering of their profession, e.g. a small loaf of bread from a baker, the celebrations begin. A traditional Bolivian dinner of a spicy meat soup Picana, salads, fruits and roasted meat – although turkey is becoming more popular.
Bolivia has a strong indigenous population, and in December is it also Harvest time. So Christmas and a celebration for Mother Earth are combined, making it an even bigger party, with even more fireworks and dancing. On Christmas Day, to cure hangovers from the night before, hot chocolate and a pastry called buñelos, are eaten.
Bolivia is a spectacular country with so much to see, and there is no better way to spend Christmas than on the world’s largest salt flat, Salar de Uyuni. To visit in style, stay in a luxury Airstream camper van, decked out with all the mod-cons including an iPod dock and mini-bar, as well as a personal chef who will prepare your dinners to be enjoyed under a canopy of stars.
In the city of Cuenca, Christmas celebrations focus on the Pase del Nino Viajero. The parade, which lasts all day on 24th December, illustrates the journey of Mary and Joseph, led by a guiding star, three angels, the Three Kings and lots of children dressed up as shepherds and other characters in the Nativity story.
The Cena de Nochebuena on Christmas Eve includes the traditional stuffed turkey, along with local produce and Chicha, a maize beer. Midnight Mass is compulsory for the entire family, but once this is over and children are put to bed, parents leave presents at the foot of their beds and begin the party.
Ecuador’s most famous asset, the Galapagos are a truly spectacular attraction, so climb aboard a stunning 150 ft yacht and spend 7 days taking in the beauty of your surroundings. Each cabin is finished to highest standard and there is certainly no sacrifice of comfort as you have a sunset cocktail on deck, followed by an excellent dinner prepared on board. A knowledgeable English speaking guide, accompanies you around the archipelago, giving you a chance to see the unique wildlife of the region including marine iguanas, sea lions as well as the breathtaking quantity of birdlife. It’s not all binoculars and bird watching though; a Christmas Day snorkel in the crater of a collapsed volcano or in one of the many coves is definitely on the cards; followed by sunbathing and presents on deck.
In Colombia, Christmas starts on 7th December, when thousands of candles are lit outside homes; accompanied by music and dancing. On 16th December the entire family comes together, each bringing a traditional dish including; Natilla, a cinnamon and milk pudding, or buñuelos. Finally on Christmas Eve a huge asado of pork is eaten along with shots of ‘aguaardiente’ (literally fire water) whilst fireworks are set off and paper lanterns are lit and let off into the sky.
Cartagena is one of South America’s most beautiful cities, filled with pastel painted buildings, impressive cathedrals and colonial architecture, set on a warm, blue Caribbean sea and enjoying year round sunshine, it is already a little slice of paradise. Just off the coast, though, it gets better, on the Islas del Rosario archipelago of coral reefs, white sand beaches and crystal clear waters, you’ll think you’ve died and gone to heaven.
Wake up on Christmas Day in your elegantly designed luxury private villa, on the beach and see what delights Father Christmas brought in the night whilst looking out onto the dazzlingly beautiful view. The villa comes complete with the best cook on the island to prepare whatever you wish as well as a private speed boat to try your hand at waterskiing or snorkelling, or a day exploring the surrounding islands. The boat will also give you the freedom to sample the delights of Cartagena and its many wonderful restaurants.