7 wonderful Christmas rituals around the world
29 November 2023
If you’re a history fan, you might have ticked off several important places in 2017: India, marking 70 years of independence; Canada, celebrating 150 years of its jaw-dropping National Parks system; Morocco, with its newly-opened Yves Saint Laurent Museum, paying tribute to the fashion designer in the city he loved.
But where should you visit in 2018? Here are some suggestions with history in mind…
2018 marks 130 years since the famous T.E. Lawrence (a.k.a Lawrence of Arabia) was born. He was the maverick soldier who loved Arabic culture and helped lead troops to victory in the Arab Revolt. Today, many sites in Jordan, such as Aqaba, the castle at Azraq and Wadi Rum, are forever associated with Lawrence.
Save some time to find Roman archaeology in Jerash, and marvel at the incredible city of Petra, built in the third century BC. Petra’s buildings are cut into the cliffs and have stood the test of time, despite being abandoned for roughly 1,000 years until they were rediscovered in the 1800s.
You might think of Jordan as being all desert, but it’s got some brilliant green space, too. The Dana Biosphere Reserve is full of rare species of plants and animals, plus natural springs, and it’s been inhabited for thousands of years. Meanwhile, the Aljoun Forest Reserve, in northern Jordan, has roe deer, hyenas and, unsurprisingly, a lot of trees. Adding some greenery to your Jordan trip means you’ll see a different side to this amazing country.
Chile’s Act of Independence was signed in 1818. As Independence Day remains a fixture in all Chileans’ calendars, why not party with the locals in the year they turn 200? If you’re a ski bum looking for somewhere different to hit the slopes, Chile’s ski season is perfect, as it runs from June to October. But if your idea of partying doesn’t involve après-ski, you could grab a lesson in cueca, the national dance.
Nobel Prize-winning writer Pablo Neruda’s house, La Sebastiana, in Valparaíso, is worth a visit, and not just for the enviable sea views. Having been looted under the devastating Pinochet dictatorship, La Sebastiana is now a museum dedicated to Neruda’s life, and showing off his collection of furniture, books and paintings. To find out more about life under Pinochet (1973-1990), head to the Museo de la Memoria y Los Derechos Humanos (Museum of Memory and Human Rights).
Patagonia is a must for its historically impressive views: it stretches across Chile and neighbouring Argentina. The Chilean side’s highlights include Los Glaciares National Park, Tierra del Fuego, and Ushuaia, the world’s most southerly city. Alternatively, go offshore to the famous Easter Island, a UNESCO World Heritage Site owned by Chile but in Polynesia.
Namibia was officially named 50 years ago. It comes from the word ‘namib’, which means ‘vast place’: pretty fitting, when you think of the spectacular Namib Desert and the surreal Fish River Canyon. The capital city, Windhoek, is also becoming vast, and it has an emerging fashion and design scene that’s worth checking out.
Namibia is a dry country, featuring both the Namib Desert and the Kalahari Desert, but it also has a gorgeous coastline. You’ll probably recognise Namibia’s Skeleton Coast from a few Instagram feeds: this landscape is photogenic and fascinating to explore. It has a reputation as the resting place for many ill-fated sailors over the years.
Another option is to track down 6,000-year-old rock carvings at sites like Twyfelfontein and the Brandberg Massif. Made by Bushmen, the carvings show elephants, giraffes, antelope and other animals being hunted, often in plenty of detail. To see Namibia’s wildlife alive and kicking, head to one of the National Parks, like Etosha, or visit the Cheetah Conservation Fund.
It’s still under the radar for many tourists, but Kyrgyzstan is full of history. The country got its own constitution and currency in 1993, having been part of the Soviet Union up until 1991 (you can still spot Lada cars dotted around: a relic from the Soviet days).
Looking back further in time, Kyrgyzstan was on the Silk Road: one of the routes that traders took between Europe and China to transport goods, like silk, paper, spices and leather. That means many of the country’s biggest towns and cities, such as Osh, are on or near this route.
Its landlocked position means Kyrgyzstan isn’t the place for beach bums, but don’t panic – there’s loads of the great outdoors to discover, because this is one of the least populated places in the world. One of the best ways to explore is on horseback, like the locals do: there’s a saying that ‘all Kyrgyz are born on a horse’. And, if you’re really keen to hit the water when the temperatures rise, you can swim in the vast Issyk-Kul lake.
The Republic of Panama was formed in 1903, but its story begins much earlier. Panama is basically a strip of land (an ‘isthmus’) linking Central America to South America, and it’s had a colourful history. Prime example: in 1671, Panama City was taken over by pirates. Today, the oldest parts of the city, known as Panama Viejo, are in ruins, which you can wander around.
Step back further in time to when Panama’s land was formed three million years ago, at the Biomuseo: a museum designed by architect Frank Gehry. The Biomuseo explains why the country has so many weird and wonderful types of plants, plus animals like jaguars and sea turtles. You can learn about animal conservation during your trip, and maybe visit a turtle sanctuary.
The country’s national sport, baseball, is said to date back to 1883, making it 135 years old. Panamanians are very proud of their top baseball export, Mariano Rivera, who played for the New York Yankees until 2013. If you catch a baseball match in Panama, you might get to see the next Rivera…
So, you’ve earmarked your next few history-themed destinations for the year ahead. The question is: which will you visit first?
Make it happen
If you feel inspired to travel to any of these destinations, then your next step is to get in touch with our wonderful local experts in Panama, Jordan, Kyrgyzstan, Namibia or Chile. They can plan your perfect tailor-made holiday, using their on-the-ground expertise to make it truly special. To speak to someone in the TravelLocal office, simply call +44 (0)117 325 7898.
About the author
Polly Allen is a British travel blogger who loves all things cultural and unusual, from museums to markets. Check out her blog, The Travelling Calavera.