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New Year, New You

By Karen L. Smith-Janssen for Chase Sapphire Preferred®

Family New Years

More than the renowned fireworks display above Edinburgh Castle, the four-day Hogmanay celebration includes to-dos for a New Year's agenda that covers every age. The Scottish Sled Dog Society produces the Dogmanay, racing teams of huskies with petting time for wee spectators. Learn traditional Scottish dancing at The Keilidh (street party). Elsewhere, greet giant pandas at the Edinburgh Zoo. The royal family traveled on the Royal Yacht Britannia on state visits, and the yacht now calls Edinburgh's port home. Tour the Queen's posh setup where Princess Di and Prince Charles spent their honeymoon.

"Set your intention for 2014 with a retreat: yoga, fire, and meditation are just some of the offerings."

New Orleans is more than a party town with a voodoo overlay––there are dozens of ways to celebrate the holiday. Try wrangling alligators up at a hatchery and farm run by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. Take a guided moonlight canoe tour through the wetlands less than 40 miles from city limits. With the Audubon Backstage Penguin Pass, feed the birds and see them respond to their names.

Medellin, Colombia, the lush, green City of Everlasting Spring thumbs its nose at the idea of a drug-kingpin past and now goes by "Innovative City of the Year." See why at the world-class España Library with the Metrocable, a gondola lift system that's improved the two-hour commute for about 30,000 people. Tour a coffee plantation by bike or zip line. Take a sailing tour to Tayrona National Park or a hot air balloon ride in the Coffee Triangle.

Panama City is a fantastic New Year's bargain: it's the world's third-cheapest major city and home to one of the most-lauded engineering marvels in the world. Ogle the Panama Canal's action from the viewing area at the Miraflores Locks. Boat tours make trips through the Canal alongside massive container ships. Punta Culebra Nature Center caters to kids and is run by the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. During North America's winter, thousands of species of migrating birds congregate in the jungle bordering the city.

Renewal New Years

The Azores, the Portuguese archipelago's nine islands, boast whales and volcanoes with rock pools. It's safe to climb the Pico volcano to the highest point in Portugal. Stonewalls peppering Pico Island mark vineyards and wineries where you can recover after the five hour round trip climb. Horta is the nautical heart, a stopping point for transatlantic voyages with the fourth most visited marina in the world. Its sidewalks are one big mural––it's a tradition for sailors passing through to paint something on them for luck.

Sedona has been affectionately called "the woo-woo capital of the world," renowned for its red rock monoliths and Native American heritage. Think burning candles and the chanting of Om. The focus on mindful living here makes it the antithesis to a typical crowded, noisy New Year's. Set your intention for 2014 with a retreat: yoga, fire, and meditation are just some of the offerings. Drum healing ceremonies aim to tap into cosmic energy; shamans lead events.

The Isles of Scilly, a smattering of islands that are part of Prince Charles' Cornwall land trust, can be disorienting. Palm trees, warmth and Caribbean-like water in England? A quiet throwback to England in the 50's, the islands showcase gardens and cream tea. The best way to explore is by foot along the coast. Archeologists can guide you through the unspoiled beauty to Bronze Age and Roman relics. With 2,000 residents and little light pollution, grab a telescope for unfettered stargazing.

If gaining perspective is your goal for the holiday, spend the night in Morocco's Sahara. Mimic a nomad as Berbers guide you on camel rides in the silence of the world's largest desert. Camp under the starlit sky there or try a riad, a palace with an interior courtyard, in Marrakesh. Cleanse at a traditional Hammam—a bathhouse where you're scrubbed clean with rhassoul, black mineral clay from the Atlas. Bare all in a steam room, be gently doused with warm water and exfoliated, then massaged and washed once again. The result feels like rebirth—a worthy start to a new year.

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