Top 10 New Year’s Adventures

Start off 2012 right, with a trip to one of the world’s wildest destinations

Fireworks over Jackson Hole

Fireworks over Jackson Hole    Photo: Courtesy of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort

The Top 10 New Year’s Eve Adventures

Ditch Times Square. The New Year is the perfect time to lose the crowds and try something different: dog sledding in Alaska, scuba diving off the coast of Belize, or sailing along the Antarctic Peninsula. Here are the ten best trips for ringing in the New Year outdoors.

National Geographic Expeditions’ Journey to Antarctica 
REI Adventures’ Belize Holiday
Wolfhound Adventure Tours’ New Year’s Eve
World Expeditions Everest Base Camp and Kala Pattar Trek
Denali Dog Sled Expeditions
Jackson Hole Mountain Resort
Samoa
Copacabana Beach
Havana, Cuba
Travel All Russia: Treasures of Two Capitals

10. Cruise
9. Dive
8. Trek
7. Party on the Sand
6. Ride a Train and Heli-ski
5. Hike and Horseback Ride
4. Mush
3. Swim
2. Bike. Drink. Repeat.
1. Ski

National Geographic Journey to Antarctica

Price tag be damned; it’s the bottom of the world

An up-close view of the Antarctic
An up-close view of the Antarctic   Photo: Michael S. Nolan

National Geographic Expeditions’ 14-day journey to Antarctica begins in Buenos Aires and heads due south to the world’s southernmost city, Ushuaia. There you’ll board the National Geographic Explorer, a luxury, ice-class expedition vessel, and head off to the Antarctic Peninsula. Watch for killer whales as you cross the unruly Drake Passage. At your first stop in Paradise Bay, kayak along cliff-side rookeries in search of two-foot-tall blue-eyed shag seabirds. The eerily calm journey through Lemaire Channel, a narrow strait sandwiched between rocky cliffs, offers views of icebergs. On New Year’s, raise your champagne as the oldest guest sounds the ship’s bell eight times to bid farewell to yesteryear and the youngest guest rings it eight times to usher in the next year. Don’t worry about being worn out from hiking, kayaking, and climbing—the nearly 24-hour light will make it easy to stay up. Last up is Port Lockroy, a once top-secret British base that now serves as the continent’s sole public post office and museum, where you can hike to Jougla Point and watch gentoo penguins’ waddle around. $10,580; Dec. 26 - Jan. 8, 2012; wait list only.

REI Adventures’ Belize Holiday

Go deep in Central America’s best spots for diving and spelunking

  Photo: Courtesy of REI

Belize is the epicenter for adventure travelers hell bent on spending their New Year’s Eve scuba diving one of the world’s underwater holy grails. But fewer travelers are aware of the country’s deep-rooted Mayan history. Geek out with REI Adventures; the tour operator has a true knack for mixing culture and history with heart-pounding adventure. The trip kicks off with a tour of the remnants of a 900 B.C. Mayan city, Cahal Pech. Next up is Actun Tunichil Muknal, sacred Mayan burial caves straight out of an Indiana Jones movie. Hike, wade, and swim your way to the sparkling bones of a young woman, known as the crystal maiden, who lies calcified to the cave floor amidst bat guano, freshwater crabs, and predatory spiders. Then it’s 50 miles offshore to the shipwreck-strewn waters of Lighthouse Reef Atoll and the Blue Hole, where you’ll spend the day exploring the reef and a 4,000-ton rusted wreck that sank in 1971. REI Adventures rings in New Year’s Eve in style, well away from the mystique (and hype) of the Mayan ruins, with a gourmet al fresco dinner, wine, and beer on Half Moon Caye, a coral-sand island teeming with red-footed boobies. $2,299; Dec. 26 - Jan. 2, 2012.

World Expeditions Everest Base Camp Trek

Trek to the world’s highest party

Spend New Year's Eve in the shadow of the world's tallest mountain.
Spend New Year's Eve in the shadow of the world's tallest mountain.   Photo: Courtesy of World Expeditions

World Expeditions’ Everest Base Camp and Kala Pattar trek skips the retirement-sucking summit cost and, instead, offers a 20-day hike that follows the historic route from Lukla to the growing spectacle of Everest Base Camp. World Expeditions kicks off its journey with a stop in Kathmandu and then flies hikers to Lukla’s Tenzing-Hillary Airport, where you’ll begin your trek. On day five, you’ll acclimatize by exploring the 11,286-foot-high village of Namche Bazaar and then it’s off to Dingboche, home to the storied Buddhist Thyangboche Monastery. The halfway mark is a slow ascent through yak pastures to Khumbu Glacier. At the top of 18,192-foot-high Kala Pattar you’ll get unsurpassed views of Mount Everest. Rest up, the next day is a tour of the infamous Everest Base Camp. The trip then winds back toward Kathmandu with visits to Himalayan Trust projects in Khunde and Khumjung. The Nepalese celebrate the New Year in April so your New Year’s is destined to be an intimate affair at one of World Expeditions’ brand-new permanent campsites. $2,490; Dec. 19-Jan. 7, 2012; wait list only.

Copacabana Beach

The world’s ultimate outdoor New Year’s Eve party

Get a fresh start to the New Year on Copacabana Beach
Get a fresh start to the New Year on Copacabana Beach   Photo: Courtesy of Rio Convention & Visitors Bureau

On New Year’s Eve, more than two million of Rio de Janeiro’s residents dress in pure white and flock to Copacabana Beach to pay homage to Yemanjá, the patron deity of fisherman and shipwreck survivors. The white clothing symbolizes a fresh start, so pack accordingly. Join the parade to the 2.5-mile-long beach to offer flowers and lit candles to the goddess. Welcome in 2012 with cachaça, rum made from fermented sugarcane, and watch fireworks explode as the beach swells. Want to make it a weeklong trip? At 3.2 million square miles, Brazil takes up about half of South America and literally has an iconic destination for every athlete: Head to Ponta Negra beach to hit the surf, the Amazon River to whitewater kayak, or Tres Picos to rock climb. And then there’s the music (samba), the food (fried bananas, chicken with okra), and the smorgasbord of natural wonders (the Pantanal floodplain). The luxury hotels that line Copacabana Beach may seem astronomical in price but they sit at the heart of Rio’s New Year’s celebrations and are worth the dip into savings. Budget strapped? Copa Sul Hotel is a little more than a mile away from the heart of the party. $135 per night.

Travel All Russia: Treasures of Two Capitals

A rail trip through the country’s history, with blinis and vodka as fuel

A cold New Year's Eve calls for free-flowing Russian vodka
A cold New Year's Eve calls for free-flowing Russian vodka

You may be tempted to try to see all of Russia via the near-mythic Trans-Siberian Railroad, exploring its endless expanse by popping in and out of snow-clad Siberian cities as the train rambles toward Beijing, but don’t. The Trans-Siberian and its iconic stops are made for warmer weather adventures. Travel All Russia’s Treasures of Two Capitals presents Russia’s two most populated, exciting cities, Moscow and St. Petersburg, with a culture-packed itinerary of Christmas and New Year’s Eve hot spots. Christmas Day commences with a hearty Russian breakfast of pancake-like blini with sour cream before a hike to Red Square and through the Kremlin. Head due north to St. Petersburg and explore the Peter-Paul Fortress, a former political prison for dissidents of the tsarist regime. Trek to Catherine Palace where you’ll ride troikas, traditional Russian carriages pulled by three horses. New Year’s Eve calls for free-flowing Russian vodka and traditional delicacies at The Hotel Astoria’s intimate Davidov restaurant in St. Isaac’s Square. Want a side adventure? Sign up for heli-skiing at Krasnaya Polyana Ski Resort, the site of the 2014 Winter Olympics, in Sochi, Russia. $2,860.

Havana, Cuba

Hike, horseback ride, and salsa

Long shrouded in the mystique of travel restrictions, trade embargoes, and black market cigars, Havana’s glamour is built around its crumbling Spanish colonial architecture, the prolific Che Guevara portraits, and the 1950s-era American cars that fill its narrow streets. Yet, Cuban life is slowly starting to change as tourist numbers continue to tick upward. Book now before all is lost. Cuban Adventures’ New Years Rumba 11-day tour combines two of the island’s most outrageous festivals, Las Parrandas in Remedios and Las Charangas in Bejucal, with a choose-your-own-adventure format. Hike, bike, horseback ride, or enjoy authentic Cuban mojitos while taking in panoramic views of sprawling tobacco fields outside the agriculturally rich town of Viñales. Spend Christmas in Trinidad, scuba dive off the coastline, and then head back to your casa particular, the Cuban version of a bed and breakfast, for a non-state-run Cuban Christmas dinner. Trek into the Sierra Maestra mountain range where Fidel Castro and his comrades hid out during the Batista dictatorship in the 1950s. On New Year’s Eve, dinner is served in front of Cathedral Plaza, Havana Club rum is poured with a heavy hand, and salsa music is a given. $1,325; Dec. 23 – Jan. 2, 2012.

Denali Dog Sled Expeditions

Mush your way into 2012

Ring in the new year with a
Ring in the new year with a "mush!"   Photo: Courtesy of Jon Nierenberg/Denali Dog Sled Expeditions

There may come a time, perhaps after your six brawny Alaskan sled dogs have left you face down in the snowy tundra, when a New Year’s Eve spent drinking champagne at an overpriced and overstuffed New York City club sounds appealing. But keep mushing; the northern lights are your fireworks. Denali Dog Sled Expeditions’ 60-mile round trip from Healy, Alaska to a backcountry cabin—just six miles from where Christopher McCandless starved to death—is worth the frigid cold. You’ll learn how to steer a 600-pound pack of overambitious “freight” dogs during this four-day, three-night trip. Three select friends will join you to mush across central Alaska’s open tundra, frozen riverbeds, and the lush Denali Wilderness—home to moose, caribou, and wolf packs. At night, bundle up in the provided -80 Fahrenheit-proof boots, oversized synthetic suits, and puffy overmitts. Make sure to pack in a headlamp, cards, and a flask of whiskey to bring in the New Year. $8,890 for four; Dec. 30 - Jan. 2, 2012.                                       

Samoa

Pack a bathing suit you feel comfortable wearing. You’ll be in it 24/7.

Have yourself a sunny little Christmas-cum-New Year's
Have yourself a sunny little Christmas-cum-New Year's   Photo: viajodastephen/flickr

Samoa’s checklist is wet and not for the faint hearted. Head to the Piula Cave Pool, a popular freshwater spot that pops up at the end of a claustrophobically narrow underwater tunnel. Swim at To Sua Ocean Trench where a slippery, 30-foot-tall, wooden ladder descends sharply into the gurgling seawater below. Then boat to Paia village on Savaii Islands and pick up a mandatory guide for a tour of Paia Dwarfs Cave, where legend has it that the underground labyrinth is home to an undiscovered race. Never has there been a better time to visit Samoa. On Jan. 1, the islanders will celebrate their 50th anniversary of independence from New Zealand. Bring in the New Year at Aggie Grey’s Hotel & Bungalows, a 78-year-old establishment, named after the charming belle of Apia, with Samoa’s local beer, Vailima. The hotel was a favorite among American servicemen during World War II and, later, with Hollywood heavyweights Marlon Brando and William Holden. Water buffs: snorkel the Palolo Deep Marine Reserve just a few minutes walk from the hotel. $187 per night.

Wolfhound Adventure Tours’ New Year’s Eve

Bike. Hike. Ride. Drink. Repeat.

  Photo: Courtesy of Wolfhound Adventure Tours

Wolfhound Adventure Tours’ eight-day trip to southern Ireland’s formidable castles features tours of iconic fishing villages, hikes on wind-strewn beaches, and recovery in the country’s coziest neighborhood pubs. But this isn’t just a fireside tour of Ireland's finest drinking establishments. Body-numbing adventures include cycling the Ring of Kerry, horseback riding the Derrynane Strand, hiking Killarney National Park, sea kayaking with seals, and surfing the frigid break off Castlegregory Beach. Count down the New Year in Gaelic in the seaside town of Dingle, a quaint fishing village that's home to nearly 2,000 people and 56-odd pubs, with what else: the finest stout known to Irishmen. Come mentally prepared. The people here know how to party. They like their beer dark, their whiskey strong, and they can cut a mean jig to whatever the hottest local fiddlers are playing. Each night, you’ll find respite at an adorable bed and breakfast. Then, it’s off to visit the fabled Cliffs of Moher. Follow that with a cruise to Inis Mór, the largest of the three limestone Aran Islands. Bike between tiny hamlets as you climb to the 3,000-year-old prehistoric stone fortress Dún Aonghasa, which sits on the brink of a 300-foot-tall cliff. $1,541; Dec. 29 - Jan. 5, 2012.

Jackson Hole Mountain Resort

Weather forecasters are predicting another epically cold and snowy winter. Perfect.

Fireworks over Jackson Hole
Fireworks over Jackson Hole   Photo: Courtsey of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort

Head to Jackson Hole Mountain Resort where its 4,139 vertical feet of intimidating in-bound runs, like Corbet’s Couloir, come with a high pucker factor. Last winter 558 inches fell. The Farmer’s Almanac is forecasting an unusually cold and stormy season, and Jackson's already received 87 inches of snow this season.. The mountain’s annual New Year’s Eve celebration will feature bluegrass, Pabst Blue Ribbon, and dancing ski bums. On New Year’s Eve at 6 p.m., watch more than a 100 torchlight-wielding employees ski in a single-file line down the face of Apres Vous Mountain. After the last firework explodes, head to the Couloir Restaurant and Bar to celebrate the New Year with bluegrass sensation, the Miller Sisters. Can’t scalp a ticket? Don’t worry; bluegrass quintet Whiskey Morning will play eight miles away at the Stagecoach Bar in Wilson, Wyoming. Their song “10 a.m.” is an anthem to the Jackson Hole ski bum lifestyle. Stay at the ski in-ski out Four Seasons Resort Jackson Hole and soak in one of the resort’s three slope-side hot tubs. Want to avoid the $795 price tag? Head into Jackson proper to stay at The Wort Hotel; on Tuesdays, its bar is the heart of Jackson’s nightlife. $238.50.

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