New Year Escapes

Five Ways to Celebrate

Seems like every year the holidays are the same—a mad dash through the chaos of office parties, mall shopping, and family commitments that end, all too often, at an anonymous New Year's party trying to find meaning with a bunch of strangers. But it doesn't need to wind up that way. After doling out all that good cheer, it's not too late to do something for yourself.

Why not start the year with an escape to the outdoors? Whether it's paddling among tropical Cayes or backcountry skiing the Cascades, there are plenty of active alternatives to choose from. So whether you pull it together by early January, or can't find the time until February or March, here are a few GORP suggestions for bringing in the new year:

Sea Kayaking - The Barrier Reef, Belize
We tend to shun exclusive parties, but here's a New Year's invite that's hard to resist: just you and a handful of friends lounging around the campfire on a deserted beach, drunk with the sway of palm trees and the specter of stars strung overhead. Multiply that experience by six nights and seven days of sea kayaking, snorkeling, and exceptional fishing along the world's second longest barrier reef, and it should add up to one of the most memorable new year opportunities you'll ever encounter.

We're referring to Belize, of course, but your destination is far from the now-popular islands to the north. "Eighty percent of the visitors to Belize go to Ambergris and Caye Caulker," says Chris Clarkson, of Island Expeditions, a 16-year veteran to the Belize guide scene. "The trick to really enjoying this country is to go where no one else goes."

If your preference runs towards sand and surf, then that leaves the vast southern coast. Island Expeditions stages week-long trips to this untouched region from Dangriga, the coastal town with a booming Garifuna (Afro-Caribbean) culture. From there you paddle to the reef by sea kayak and follow along its protected interior for over 50 miles as it diverges from the mainland and eventually fades into the Caribbean. Along the way you will snorkel virgin reef, explore uninhabited cayes, sail the kayaks (wind permitting), and fish for your dinner. Part of the voyage will take you through the rich marine life of mangrove swamps where you'll see salt water crocodile, osprey and pelican.

North American and Belizean guides will fix the meals and offer ongoing commentary on the natural and historic features of the region. They are intimately familiar with the reef, and know the best dive spots as well as the most comfortable cayes to set up camp. One trick they're bound to teach you is the snork-yak technique—where you drag the kayak behind you as you snorkel along the reef.

At the end of the trip, if you're hankering for a more anonymous celebration, you'll get a strong dose in Dangriga, where a big party is organized to wrap up the trip. One way or another, Belize will satiate your desire for New Year's excitement.

Published: 28 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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