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Fantastic New Year's Eve destinations

By Jason Hanna, CNN
Midnight fireworks over Edinburgh Castle are a highlight of the five-day Hogmanay festival in Edinburgh, Scotland.
Midnight fireworks over Edinburgh Castle are a highlight of the five-day Hogmanay festival in Edinburgh, Scotland.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Two travel experts suggest New Year's Eve destinations around the world
  • Belize's Caye Caulker is relaxing, inexpensive warm-weather option
  • Hanoi, Vietnam, is celebrating 1,000th birthday as well as new year
  • Hogmanay festival in Edinburgh, Scotland, lasts five days
RELATED TOPICS
  • Holidays
  • Belize
  • Scotland
  • Suriname

(CNN) -- A couple million people will hit Brazil's Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro as the final minutes of 2009 are counted down, ready for a mix of spiritual observances, fireworks and full-tilt partying.

Thousands of miles away, a much more low-key style of New Year's revelry will be happening on a tiny island off the coast of Belize, where visitors might dine on shrimp and sip on beer as they gaze out into the Caribbean Sea from their rented bungalow.

The world traveler has plenty of options when it comes to celebrating New Year's Eve, and while some are big-city, headline-grabbing bashes, others are less publicized. For those wanting to make a last-minute escape or are already planning for 2011, we asked two travel experts to pick what they thought were great New Year's Eve destinations, big or small.

Caye Caulker, Belize

Caye Caulker, an island about a 45-minute water-taxi ride from Belize City, offers "the antithesis to the beer-soaked blowout," said AnneLise Sorensen, who has written and contributed to travel guides for DK Eyewitness Travel and Fodor's, among other companies.

It's a perfect spot for people who want to relax their way into the new year in warm weather without spending a fortune, Sorensen said. The caye -- off the Central American nation's coast -- is known as a "backpacker isle" because of well-priced accommodations. While visitors can find hotels there, they also can rent their own thatched cabana starting at $50 U.S. a night, she said.

Its neighbor Ambergris Caye is more renowned, but Caye Caulker "is smaller and a little more authentic, and you get more interaction with the locals there," said Sorensen, who also contributes travel segments on the New York City TV channel New York Nonstop.

The caye sits on the second-longest barrier reef in the world, making it a great spot for snorkeling and diving. After hitting the water, visitors can spend New Year's Eve taking in reggae music on an island where "chilling out is a way of life," she said.

"Dinner might be shrimp kabobs from the grill, and as night falls, you can walk over to ... the north end, where there's an outdoor bar where you can sit with your feet in the Caribbean Sea," Sorensen said.

Paramaribo, Suriname

The capital of Suriname, a former Dutch colony in South America, is a normally sleepy town that wakes up in a big way on New Year's Eve, according to Robert Reid, U.S. travel editor for Lonely Planet.

People gather in the city's center to see who can create the longest ribbon of fireworks. Individual firecrackers are strung together; a chain of 100 might last 10 seconds after they're lit, and some chains can last for minutes.

"Everybody crowds in the city's center to hear the roar of the fireworks. Afterward, it's a sea of red paper," Reid said.

One thing going for Paramaribo is it's culturally and religiously diverse, and inhabitants "famously get along," Reid said. Many languages besides the official Dutch are spoken, as people from all over the world have come to live there.

"A big selling point is that it's a place without tension" despite cultural differences, Reid said.

Barcelona, Spain

Certain traditions are what makes the New Year's Eve gathering of thousands of people at Barcelona's Plaza Cataluña special, Sorensen said. When midnight hits, revelers eat 12 grapes -- one for each chime of the clock -- for good luck. They sing and toast the new year with cava, the region's answer to champagne.

Afterward, people will walk along Las Ramblas, a walking street that goes from the plaza and past some of the city's most famous landmarks to the Mediterranean Sea.

"You can walk down the length, and on both sides will be bars where people will continue the night [partying]," Sorensen said.

Hanoi, Vietnam

If New Year's Eve seems too close for new plans, you still have time for Vietnam's new year, or Tet, which falls on February 14, 2010. This one will be extra special for Hanoi, which in 2010 is turning 1,000 years old, Reid said.

Legend has it that Hanoi was founded when a giant turtle gave a sword to a king to fend off an invading army, according to Reid. A massive turtle currently resides in a lake in central Hanoi, and some locals believe it is the legendary reptile. Reid suspects that lake is going to be a place to be for Hanoi's official birthday celebrations.

Officials have been restoring a citadel where kings once lived, so visitors can tour it for the celebrations. Add Tet -- a 14-day celebration in which Vietnamese visit relatives and exchange food, flowers and cards -- to the equation, and you have a very festive city, Reid said.

Edinburgh, Scotland

Edinburgh's Hogmanay festival, which runs from December 29 through January 2, is "one of Europe's most distinctive celebrations" of the new year, Sorensen said.

A December 29 torchlight procession kicks off the festival, which climaxes with a December 31 street party at Edinburgh's City Centre. For about $16, revelers get access to three stages of music and entertainment. As January 1 begins, fireworks explode over Edinburgh Castle.

One Scottish tradition to watch, Sorensen said, is "first-footing," or being the first to cross a home's threshold in the new year. People bring gifts of shortbread and other things to others' homes, and the visitors can be given whiskey in turn. Though it's a tradition more focused on locals, people visiting Scotland may be able to come along if they've met residents ahead of time, Sorensen said.

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

The city's Reveillon celebration on Copacabana beach New Year's Eve is part secular, part spiritual. Observers of the Candomble religion, which has its roots in Africa, and even those with no ties to the religion dress in white and prepare offerings to a goddess of the sea, Reid said.

Flowers, perfumes and candles, some put on little boats, are prepared. People make a New Year's wish, and the offerings are sent into the water. "If the tide takes it [out to sea], the wish is supposed to come true," Reid said.

About 3 million people go the the beach each New Year's Eve, which is summertime for the Southern Hemisphere. Fireworks light up the sky at midnight.

"Lots of parties are going up and down the beach. ... Some hotels will have special parties you'd pay admission to. The whole scene of Copacabana is fully charged up," Reid said.