The New Year is celebrated with “gusto” across South America, but it’s hard to think of more lively and sensational celebrations than those in Cartagena, Colombia, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and Punta del Este, Uruguay. If you plan to visit these cities at the end of December, be prepared for crowds, road closures, and holiday premiums; but you can also expect world-class festivities with local panache.
Cartagena is as much of a New Year’s Eve destination for Colombian families as it is for energetic international travelers. People come from all over the country to occupy Cartagena’s streets, and many set up for the night with plastic tables and chairs, and perhaps a bottle of local rum or Aguardiente, as well as savory food from curbside vendors. The weather is ripe for parties in the streets, and fireworks help to ring in the New Year. Decadent parties are thrown at many of the hotels, such as the Charleston Santa Teresa and the Sofitel Santa Clara, and nightclubs like Bendito host musical gatherings for young and glamorous crowds from mid-December until mid-January. The ultimate place to be on New Year’s Eve could very well be Cafe del Mar on the ramparts of the city, sponsored by Moet & Chandon, beckons guests with not only champagne but also an extensive DJ line-up and Parisian decor.
Rio de Janeiro offers a New Year’s party that rivals Carnival in scale and splendor. The fireworks display at Copacabana is the main event, and millions of locals and tourists combined gather on the beach to watch the midnight show and revel until the early hours of the morning. Many Brazilians light candles for the Afro-American goddess of the sea, Yemanja, and place them in the sand, as they make wishes for the coming year. High-class parties happen throughout the city, and the most notable are those at the Copacabana Palace Hotel, the Fasano Hotel, the Museum of Modern Art on Flamengo Beach, and the Jockey Club. And for those not willing to shell out up to $1,500 on a ticket that includes dinner, drinks, and entertainment, one of the most popular free parties is Lual Arpoador, where many young cariocas watch the fireworks and dance till the sun rises.
Punta del Este is a place to see and be seen, popular with the rich and famous from Buenos Aires and Brazil, and frequently compared to the Hamptons. Celebrities migrate to Punta del Este for Christmas and New Year’s, and lavish private homes and trendy clubs are the places to be on December 31st. Unlike Cartagena and Rio, where there are ample festivities for the masses, Punta del Este is highly exclusive, and many of the soirees are invitation-only. Some merry-makers head to the Our Lady of Candelaria harbor for the fireworks display at midnight, but the crowd clears quickly, bound, perhaps, for tireless clubs in La Barra, 24-hour casinos, or luxurious hotels that sell out months in advance.