Photo: Mario Carvajal
A holiday isn’t really a holiday in Colombia without special food, and the Christmas/New Year’s season is no exception. Bakeries and restaurants seem to pull out all the stops when the end of the year rolls around, offering seasonal specialty plates, brightly-colored pastries and cookies and all manner of festive cocktails. The Christmas season revolves heavily around family life, offering endless opportunities for cooking and feeding large groups of people, and residents have risen to the challenge with some truly delicious creations. Much of the holiday food will be familiar to other celebrating Christmas and the December holidays around the world: turkey, pork, rice and potatoes are staples of many Christmas Eve meals across the country. However, there are also a handful of plates that are unique to Colombia and the Andean region. For most Colombians, a Christmas without these dishes wouldn’t taste like Christmas at all.
Rio de Janeiro needs no excuse to throw a party. In fact, the word for “party,” (festa) might just be one of the first words in Portuguese you master on a visit to the most beautiful city in the Southern Hemisphere, right after caipirinha, cerveja (beer) and ressaca (hangover)!
Seriously, though, New Year’s Eve in Rio de Janeiro – known as Reveillon – is second only to Carnival in all stops being thrown out by the cariocas, as residents of Rio are known. Here’s what to expect:
Photo: Eileen Smith
Chile has a long tradition of drinking tea. In fact, the evening meal, when it is a selection of cakes and sandwiches, is sometimes referred to simply as té (tea). But just like in other parts of the world, having a cup of tea with someone is not just about the beverage, it’s about taking some time out of your day to relax, catch up, have a conversation, and rejuvenate. On a daily basis, you may see regular bagged teas at restaurants and at people’s homes. But for true tea lovers, here are three places in Santiago that know about brewing tea, both traditional and innovative, and create a lovely atmosphere for you to drink it in.
In many countries, the northern hemisphere version of Christmas has virtually erased the more traditional ways of celebrating the original holiday. Santa Claus has certainly taken the world by storm.
Ecuador has also fallen prey to the icons of globalized ‘X-mas’ – reindeers, elves, Grinches and all (which, of course, hardly make sense in a tropical, sunny, Andean, season-less country), including the insanity that prevails at all neighborhood malls. On the flip side, however, one can still experience the Passing of the Child parade on December 24, a ritual that dates back to colonial times.
Photo: I.D. R.J.
Like any other event with the potential to involve sparkly objects, the holiday season (and Christmas in particular) is serious business in Colombia. People start putting up their decorations in mid-October, even before stores have sold out of Halloween costumes. In fact, some houses and even businesses across the country simply leave the lights up all year, dimming them during the off-season but leaving them ready at a moment’s notice to illuminate for the holidays. Though Santa Claus is less of a familiar face here than in some other countries, there are plenty of other holiday traditions that keep December warm, cozy and full of good cheer:
Most folks think of Brazil as a beach destination. Rightfully so, there’s no denying Brazil was sun-kissed by God almighty himself when perfect sands were being dished out to Earth. But Brazil is also home to a massive interior of pastoral hills flush with hidden waterfalls, deep canyons, rolling coffee plantations and dramatic rocky landscapes which come along with a culture entirely different from that of the beach – no bikini necessary.
One of Brazil’s most beautiful countryside destinations is the state of Minas Gerais, which is famous for colonial towns, hearty cuisine and cachaça, Brazil’s local firewater; but is perhaps best known for the friendliness of its people. I have a little joke in Brazil: Whenever I meet a Brazilian that I immediately love to death, they are almost always a Mineiro. To that end, Mineiros are especially good at hospitality. If you are visiting Belo Horizonte, Brazil’s third biggest city, on business or pleasure, consider hanging around a bit and making the 195-mile trek south to Reserva do Ibitipoca; better yet, if you’re in Rio de Janeiro (for pleasure – what else?), it’s even an even closer journey: 157 miles. But regardless of where you come from, this luxury plantation is a world away.
Photo: Emmanuel Iarussi
What’s that you say – it’s still a week before Christmas? Take it from someone who’s learned the hard way: if you’re planning to kick off 2014 in Buenos Aires, you don’t want to wait until the last second to put together a game plan. Here are my best bets for dining, drinking and dancing on the last night of the year.
Quito is one of the world’s most unique capital cities on account of Mount Pichincha alone. The spectacular massif made up of several volcanoes (one of which erupted only 13 years ago), summits, and gullies looms over the urban center along its western border for everyone to see. It defines the city.
Photo: Natalie Southwick
Located just a two-hour drive from Medellín, the tiny, picturesque town of Guatapé is a popular weekend getaway for city dwellers looking to escape the hustle and bustle of the metropolis and cool down a little. Guatapé, on the edge of a chain of man-made lakes in the rolling green hills of the coffee region, practically begs visitors to grab a cold drink, take a seat and slow down a little.
Though the town mostly comes to life on weekends, it also has a certain charm during the week, when just the locals stay around and there are only a few restaurants open – all serving the same half-dozen plates typical to the region. Whatever the day, Guatapé is a great stop for anyone passing through Medellín. Grab an early bus out of the city for a day trip, or plan to spend the night and make a weekend out of it. Whatever you do, don’t forget the sunscreen!