– By Chuin Ying
These destinations may be unexpected when you think about where you might want to spend your December vacation. But it’s the unexpected that always surprises and holds the most potential to wonderfully change our lives. So whether your usual winter holiday trip comprises of nippy air or a far-flung hideaway, take this first step, read on, and you just might end the year in the most surprising and transformative way… for a Christmas you’ll never forget.
December starts off with a bang in this gorgeous island country, with people letting off firecrackers at dawn on the first day of the month to commemorate the start of the festive season. Although most of the locals are Buddhist, Christmas is celebrated as a public holiday by everyone.
In the capital of Colombo, the Galle Face Green urban park hosts a festive fair, with plenty of family-friendly fun, Christmas jingles in the air, and a massive tree. There’s also a Christmas Street that opens a week before the 25thwith stalls that hum with bustle to the tune of carols.
If you have a weakness for Christmas cake, some say that the Sri Lankan version is the best variety. Eschewing dried fruits for pitted dates, preserved cherries and dried orange peel, this classic dessert is also infused with Ceylon cinnamon to round off the Sri Lankan twist.
Venturing out of the cityscapes, the months of November to April are perfect for whale-watching, particularly off the coast of Mirissa in the south. Look out for dolphins, turtles and whale sharks breaking the surface too. Suba Naththalak Wewa!
Photo credit: Jordan Hammond
Cooler weather and fewer crowds are two solid reasons to book a flight to this North African destination this Christmas. Though it’s a primarily Muslim country, the yuletide cheer is here if you make a little effort to find it. Travellers have the option of one of two experiences: a traditional one in the bigger cities like Marrakech, Fez or Rabat; or an escape to a smaller town where no trace of the holiday will be found.
For the former, Rabat may be your best bet as there’s a huge expat community living there. Christmas treats are aplenty in the local bakeries, all of which are festooned with colourful wrapping. Owing to Spanish and French influences, the majority of churches are Catholic so one can drop in for mass services. Charmingly, you’ll also find palm trees decorated with fairy lights, giving you unlikely Christmas palms. And with its labyrinth souqs and medinas, you’ll come away with gifts that will blow your usual go-tos out of the water, from beaded Babouche slippers to glass lanterns.
For the latter, smaller cities like Agadir and Dhakla offer warmer climates. Agadir is Morocco’s premier destination for sun, sand and sea, where the beachfront promenade in particular is abuzz with coastal life. Dhakla is where one can learn how to kitesurf, as the tourism scene here is driven by this pastime. The winds blow for more than 300 days a year — and what better way to wrap up the year by picking up a new skill?
For those seeking a white Christmas, mountain resorts like Oukaimeden and Ifrane — also known as the “Switzerland of Morocco” — are worthwhile. Perched at 2,650m in the High Atlas, Oukaimeden is 75km outside of Marrakech and prime for snow sport enthusiasts. One can also find favour in Ifrane for its clean air and leafy surroundings that make up this alpine-style resort. Trekking through pine and juniper groves and huddling around crackling fires with warm mugs of mint tea after spending your days skiing and snowboarding are incredibly appealing.
Photo credit: Louis Hansel
Soaking up the winter sun is the goal in this Arab country on the southeastern coast of the peninsula. Christmas Day isn’t a public holiday here but there is a banquet of activities and excursions for everyone to partake in that promise to make the most of your vacation.
Indigenous to Oman are wadis, or valleys, where one can swim and picnic. We’re partial to Wadi Bani Awf for canyoning, cliff jumping and waterfalls for an adrenaline rush, while the mountains of Jebel Akhdar and Jebel Shams offer a more relaxed buffet of hiking, biking and rock climbing experiences amidst local Omani life. The Al Hoota Cave, one of Oman’s most iconic tourist attractions, is also a must if you’re in the area. Over two million years old, it’s the only cave on the peninsula that’s open to visitors where you can get up close to stalagmites, stalactites and colourful rock columns.
Oman is also where some of the best dive sites in the world can be found. Book a dhow trip and go dolphin-watching or snorkelling at the nearby Daymaniyat Islands, or embark on a yacht cruise through the private islands in Muscat. The natural beauty and underwater life will make you stop and stare.
To stay, the capital of Muscat clutches some of the finest beachfront hotels in the Middle East, with Christmas-themed menus to devour.