The top 8 destinations to travel to (and give back to) in December 2024

written by Intrepid Travel October 26, 2020

Editor’s note: Last updated in January 2024.

December would usually see us sipping mulled wine in winter markets across Europe or dipping our toes in the Pacific Ocean, and while you can definitely still do that, our yearly travel round up is going in a different direction. 

In this round up, we’re still going to be suggesting where you should be travelling to in December, but we’re also going to take a look at what the locals will be up to and share some details of The Intrepid Foundation’s projects in various corners of the globe.

Founded in 2002, The Intrepid Foundation was established to give travellers a way to support trustworthy organisations and give back to the communities they’ve visited. Since its creation, The Intrepid Foundation has raised over AU $10 million for over 130 non-government organisations around the world for projects that tackle major issues like climate change, conservation, wildlife protection, education and child protection.

1. Tanzania

Group of Tanzanian porters.
Image c/o The Intrepid Foundation.

December in Tanzania is a lively and colourful time of year. It’s tradition to gift children with new clothes around Christmas time, often hand-sewn from bright patterned fabric more eye catching than any Christmas tree. Tanzanians love their beer, or “bia” in Swahili, and many villages brew their own. The beer is cracked open on Christmas Eve and clicked together over tasty chapati and spicy meat with rice.

On Mount Kilimanjaro, porters work tirelessly throughout the year to ensure the safety and comfort of trekkers. It’s a competitive job, and many tour companies offer low pay and poor working conditions. The Kilimanjaro Porters Assistance Project’s important mission is to improve the working conditions on Mount Kilimanjaro by helping travel companies implement procedures that ensure the fair and ethical treatment of porters.

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2. Peru

In the Andean communities of the Cusco region, reading coca leaves can give a glimpse of the year ahead. This spiritual practice has taken place since before Incan times, and has helped people make important decisions regarding their families and futures. Throwing the leaves in the air and observing the way they land on the ground is said to display signs and omens of events that are yet to happen (we wish they’d warned us about the early 2020s).

In the city of Cusco, the Manos Unidas Café provides those with intellectual disabilities vocational training and practical work experience to help with future employment. The friendly staff serve up some of the best food and coffee in Cusco, while the café offers community workshops for locals on job rights, personal empowerment and other valuable life skills.

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Related: Five of the best Christmas foods from around the world

3. Antarctica

Whale breaching
Image by Thomas Kelley.

While its neighbouring continents are experiencing scorching summers, Antarctic temperatures peak at a cool zero, and fascinating and magical things begin to take place. As the days grow longer and temperatures gently rise, the sound of ice falling from giant glaciers reverberates through the vast landscapes, and humpback whales return from tropical waters. Seal pups are born, tiny penguins begin to hatch, and it’s courting season for seabirds.

In the twentieth century, over two million whales were hunted for commercial use, with some species nearing extinction. The WWF project “Protecting Antarctic Giants” focuses on protecting Antarctic habitats and the species that live in them. By collecting crucial data to inform policy plans, by 2030 the WWF hope to designate a third of the Southern Ocean as a marine protected area to safeguard the environment for future generations of whales.

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4. Brazil

A sultry samba beat is the soundtrack to Brazil’s endless summer days. The sun is hot, the sea is warm and the closest thing they’re getting to snow is dreamy white sand beaches. Plastic pine trees are covered in tinsel and lights, and Christmas dinner is a reflection of Brazil’s fusion of cultures. Across the country locals will be tucking into Portuguese cod, German stollen, and Italian panettone.

In Rio de Janeiro you’ll find Gastromotiva, a zero-waste cooking school and restaurant which allows students experiencing socioeconomic disadvantage the opportunity to learn how to prepare amazing food in a sustainable way. After six months of training, students are placed in local restaurants, providing them with employment and the chance to spread an important zero-waste message.

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Related: Unusual Christmas traditions from around the world

5. Vietnam

Despite being a predominantly Buddhist country, Christmas is widely celebrated across Vietnam, with families coming together to throw confetti, share food and exchange gifts. Throngs of motorbikes in Ho Chi Minh City zip under impressive light displays that would rival London’s Oxford Street. In Hanoi, locals’ shop for scarves and winter clothes in the Old Quarter before warming up with hearty bowls of Pho and rich egg coffee.

KOTO – Know One, Teach One is a social enterprise that trains and empowers at-risk and disadvantaged youth in Vietnam. The two-year training program not only teaches trainees skills in hospitality and the culinary arts, but also offers on-site psychological counselling, meditation exercises and workshops for personal development. Since KOTO’s inception in 1999, nearly a thousand graduates have completed the program with an internationally recognised qualification, all successfully finding employment post-training.

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6. Morocco

Two Moroccan girls laughing
Image c/o The Intrepid Foundation

It’s winter in Morocco, and the nights in the desert are growing long and cold, while inhabitants of its humming cities welcome a break from the dry heat that engulfs the country for much of the year. A bright side to the shorter days is the incredible sunrises which can be appreciated without an early wakeup call, and the snow-capped Atlas Mountains make a beautiful backdrop for December in Morocco.

As many as 80% of girls in rural areas of Morocco are estimated to be illiterate. The cost of transport and accommodation for secondary school is unaffordable for many families, meaning few girls are able to continue their education after primary school. Education for All build and run boarding houses that allow girls to attend secondary school, while providing three meals a day, access to computers and support with their studies.

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7. Sri Lanka

December’s full moon marks the beginning of the Adam’s Peak pilgrimage season, which sees visitors from across the country ascending Sri Lanka’s holiest mountain to view a sacred footprint. Buddhists, Hindus, Christians and Muslims have differing opinions on the origin of the footprint yet climb together in harmony to pay their respects. Locals will enjoy mild weather in the south of the country, and spend free time surfing, playing volleyball and backyard cricket.

Human and elephant conflict is an ongoing problem in Sri Lanka. Humans destroy elephants’ habitats to cultivate agricultural land, and the elephants in turn raid the crops and destroy farmers’ homes. The Sri Lanka Wildlife Conservation Society developed Project Orange Elephant, which encourages farmers to grow oranges, a crop that elephants aren’t attracted to, thus keeping the elephants safe while supporting the livelihood of local communities.

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Related: Our guide to central Europe’s Christmas markets

8. Turkey

Turkey is buzzing in the lead up to New Year’s Eve, one of the biggest holidays in the country. If you’re looking for luck, prosperity and health in the coming year, there are a few Turkish traditions you can try out as the clock ticks over. Smash a pomegranate on the street, throw salt on your doorstep, or wear red underwear for your best chance at a fruitful year ahead.

At Small Projects Istanbul, refugee women who have been displaced from their homes by conflict are given access to educational material and taught language, leadership and computer skills. They also learn how to craft sellable products like unique and beautiful clothing and jewellery. Children are offered childcare, language and psychosocial support to help them adapt to their new schools.

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Looking for a worthy cause to support this festive season? Lend a hand to Communities in Crisis around the world.

Not looking to travel in December? No worries. Check out our guides for the rest of the year:

Hero image via Shutterstock.

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