Our “Sustainable Travel“ series is sponsored by Global Basecamps. Global Basecamps is specialty travel company that helps independent travelers research and book locally owned boutique hotels, off-the-beaten path lodges and multi-day excursions all over the world. Whether hiking the Inca Trail, experiencing a traditional Japanese Ryokan, or relaxing on the beaches of Thailand, Global Basecamps specializes in designing completely customized itineraries to meet each travelers specific priorities and match their travel style.
Sure, New York, London and Rio de Janeiro might be host to the most hip and happening New Year’s Eve bashes, but for a truly unique way to see in the New Year, use your imagination and forego the show stopping fireworks and champagne cocktails in favor of something a little different.
Why not head to Christmas Island to celebrate the New Year ahead of the rest of the world, watch the stars fade over the Sahara desert as 2011 comes to a close or dive to the depths of the ocean for a truly other-worldly experience? Whichever you choose, these 10 suggestions are sure to trump partying it up in your hometown.
1. Ring in the New Year first
There’s a little dispute over where exactly rings in the New Year first – a mere blip in the Pacific Ocean, the island of American Samoa is actually as far East as you can get, but the way the time zones work out, this is actually the last place to enter the New Year.
Consequently, those wishing to be at the front of the queue should head to the Pacific Ocean island of Kiribati, otherwise known as Christmas Island. A sprawling wildlife sanctuary, populated by a mere 5000 or so inhabitants, there are certainly worst places to see in the New year – visitors can join festivities in one of the five villages including London, Paris and Banana (a must if only to employ the phrase ‘I spent New Year in Banana last year’). If the lure of big city celebrations proves too tempting, New Zealand’s Auckland is the first major city to usher in the New Year, leaving the rest of us lagging behind in 2011 for hours to come.
2. Dog-sledding in Lapland
If a white Christmas just isn’t enough, why not opt for a snow-coated New Year too? Much of North America and Europe will be enveloped in snow at this time of year, but there are few places more festive than Lapland. Occupying the territory just north of the Arctic circle and with a similar climate, Lapland stretches across the Northern outlands of Finland, Sweden and Norway and is best known for it’s mythological connection with Santa Claus, who is said to call the region home.
See in the New Year careening down ski slopes in a sledge pulled by a team of panting huskies, feeding herds of native reindeer and tucking into a traditional Scandinavian supper around a crackling open fire. Numerous tour operators operate dogsledding tours throughout Lapland and some even offer the chance to learn how to drive a sled.
>> Learn about places to see the Northern Lights
3. Fuji at sunrise
A place of mystique for locals and tourists alike, Mount Fuji is Japan’s highest peak, set in the sprawling Fuji-Hakone-Izu National park a few hours west of Tokyo. With a perfectly symmetrical volcanic cone that is visible from Tokyo on clear days, Mount Fuji has long been a postcard favorite, with photographers clamoring to capture the many faces of Mount Fuji from “Beni Fuji” when the cone is painted red by the sunset to “Diamond Fuji” as the sun rises eerily from its peak.
New Year may be the wrong time of year to scale the mountain itself (winter renders the icy peaks impassable), but there’s no reason why visitors can’t enjoy the view from the ground. The nearby Fuji-goko (Five lakes) and wind and ice caves are reachable on foot or by bicycle and offer great standpoints to view the spectacular sunrise. Take a picnic and a bottle of bubbly and make a night of it.
>> Check out other iconic mountains you can climb
4. Sleeping under the stars in the Sahara desert, Morocco
With an area covering some 3.3 million square miles and some of the most arid climates on earth, the world’s largest desert may not be the first place that springs to mind when planning a New Year’s party. But imagine waving goodbye to 2011 from the comfort of a Bedouin encampment, huddled around a campfire with an enormous pot of hearty tagine, then staying up till 4am to witness the first sunrise of the New Year from the peak of the sand dunes. A trip from Marrakech into the Moroccan Sahara will take you over the towering Atlas Mountains, through undulating sand dunes by camel, to a secluded desert oasis beneath the stars.
>> Read our Morocco travel guide
5. Partying by the Pyramids in Egypt
Stir up some jealously amongst friends back home by seeing in 2012 amongst some of the world’s most breathtaking architectural feats. With the largest pyramid utilizing an estimated 2.5 million quarried limestone blocks and weighing in at around 6 million tones, Egypt’s key attractions are as impressive as they are mysterious. Giza, just outside of Cairo, is the main site, where the most famous pyramid tombs are found – including the Pyramid of Khufu and the Sphinx, but there are plenty of other sites to explore.
Many tour operators offer tours of Egypt, taking in all the main sites – look out for those that offer special Christmas and New Year tours or hire a local guide to take you out for the New Year sunrise.
6. Night Diving at the Great Barrier Reef in Australia
Few places on earth offer such immense and diverse sea life as Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, one of the seven wonders of the natural world and the only life form on earth visible from space. As the world’s largest coral reef, the Great Barrier Reef contains over 3000 individual reefs stretching for over 2,600 km beneath a tourist haven of tropical islands and golden sand beaches, off the coast of Queensland.
Tourists flock year round to dive the reef, but as a special new year’s treat, why not up the ante and try a dive at nighttime where you can witness sea turtles sleeping amongst the corals and schools of clown fish, black-spotted puffer fish and walking crustaceans swimming towards your headlamps. And you gave the added bonus of waking up to gorgeous views from the boat on the first day of the new year.
Many companies offer multi-day packages that include the option of a night dive or night cruises. Night dives are typically available only for certified divers, so amateurs hoping to take to the seas at twilight should enroll on a PADI course prior to booking.
>> Learn about some unexpected places to dive around the world
7. Tiger spotting on safari in India
What better way to see in the New Year than in the company of one of nature’s most striking creatures – the tiger. The elusive striped beasts are endangered, but India, with it’s 25 special reserves still has the highest density in the world, offering visitors the best bet of spying the big cats in their natural environment. A tiger safari will see you trampling through dense forest and trundling down jerky mud tracks in a 4-wheel drive and even if you’re not lucky enough to come face to face with a tiger, the diverse wildlife including Asian elephants, leopards, langur and wild boar should keep your camera busy.
Bandhavgarh, Ranthambhore and Kanha National Park offer the best options for tiger spotting at sunrise with numerous tour companies offering day tours or camping safaris.
>> Discover other endangered species you can view in the wild
8. Breakfast with sea lions in the Galapagos
A veritable paradise for wildlife enthusiasts, the Galapagos islands, just off the coast of Ecuador, are a collection of protected parklands filled with everything from native giant turtles and waddling penguins to a vast spectrum of colorful birds. The friendliest, and certainly the cutest, are the Galapagos sea lions, easily found sprawled along the island’s many beaches, and visitors can snorkel or kayak with the playful pups, or simply enjoy their company for an early morning breakfast on the beach. Global Basecamps offer numerous eco-friendly cruises and excursions of the Islands.
>> Find out what other animals you can see in the Galapagos
9. Summitting Kilimanjaro
What better way to kick start your New Year’s Resolutions than spending New Year’s eve clambering to the top of Africa’s highest mountain (and the highest freestanding mountain in the world), Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, an accomplishment topping many adventurer-seeker’s bucket lists. Start your excursion after Christmas and time your summit to catch the New Year dawn from the top of Uhuru, Kili’s highest peak at a whopping 19,341 feet above sea level. It’s a trek to test even the hardiest of travelers, trampling through glacial peaks, snowfields, alpine moorland and rainforest, culminating in a breathtaking view. Many trekking companies including Global Basecamps offer treks.
>> Learn more about climbing Kili
10. Hot air ballooning in Cappadocia
Turkey’s Cappadocia region is famed for it’s ‘fairy chimneys’ – eerie rock formations sculpted naturally from layers of soft volcanic rock – and one of the most popular ways to view them is from up above. On any given day the Cappadocian sunrise is speckled with dozens of colorfully patterned hot air balloons bobbing along the skyline and a trip to the area just isn’t complete without a flight.
Many companies offer year round sunrise flights or the option for a private chartered balloons leaving as and when you choose, so there are plenty of options for those hoping to see in the New Year in style. Top off your stay by shacking up in one of the area’s many cave hotels carved from volcanic rock.
>> Find other things to do in Turkey
All of Global Basecamps itineraries are completely customized, allowing you to find the ideal eco tour for your New Year’s travel plans. Whether you are hoping to ring in the New Year under the bright lights of Tokyo on a Japan tour or in the pristine wilderness on a Tanzania safari, Global Basecamps specializes in creating custom tours designed to meet their client’s travel goals and budget. With their wide selection of hand picked eco lodges, boutique hotels, and off-the-beaten-path excursions Global Basecamps offers unique itinerary options sure to please any traveler and make for an unforgettable start to 2012.
Get more tips and inspiration to plan your New Year’s travel: