10 Tropical Traditions for Temperate Climates

tropical island
Escaping to your favorite tropical island is as easy as putting on some bossa nova music and cooking up a spicy supper! See more pictures of paradise.
Brand X Pictures/Thinkstock

When you hear the word "tropical," where does it take you? Does your mind wander to a Caribbean island, surfing in Hawaii or somewhere even farther away, like Bali? These areas are all considered tropical destinations, of course, but a tropical place isn't limited to sandy beaches to bake on or volcanoes to hike.

So what areas of the world are considered "tropical" and "temperate?" The Koppen Climate Classification System is a very accessible guide to the general climate of the regions of the planet. It classifies earth into five distinct climate zones -- lettered A, B, C, D and E -- with subdivisions to further break down climate distinctions.


"A" signifies tropical climates, known for high temperatures year-round, as well as a large amount of year-round rain. This can be anywhere in the Caribbean Sea, central Africa, all of India and the entire region of Indonesia and Fiji, as well as northern Australia. "C" signifies temperate climate areas, signified by warm summers with little rain and cooler winters with more precipitation (source: Blue Planet Biomes). Temperate climates include the southeastern United States, the southeastern part of South America, western and southern Australia, central and northern Asia, and western Europe such as France, England and Spain.

So, if you're not lucky enough to live near crystal clear waters, sandy beaches or just a hot climate year-round, you can still conjure up the tropics in your own home.

10. Respecting Nature

The Hawaiian term malama ka'aina, or, taking care of the land, can be applied in whatever climate you live. The Hawaiian people refer to malama ka 'aina in many ways, including using whatever resources are available to them, not removing items from nature, ecological fishing and farming techniques and sensible water use [source: Recycle Hawaii].

For us, taking care of the land can include what's inside, as well as outside, your home. Being environmentally conscious in each season can help save energy and preserve our homes and communities. Here are some ways to respect nature during winter by being environmentally conscious:


  • Wear a sweater instead of turning up the heat. You may be a little chilly, but you'll save money, as well as use less gas or electricity. Turning the heat down by 10 degrees for a daily eight-hour stretch (many of those hours when you're probably not even home), reduces your heating bill by as much as 15 percent [source: Whole Living].
  • Change your light bulbs to compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs). According to the U.S. Department of Energy, if one light bulb in each household in America was changed to a CFL, the country could save about $600 million in energy costs, as well as save enough energy to power 3 million homes for a year [source: Energy Star].
  • Kick rock salt to the curb and make a switch to sand. Urea-based deicers and rock salt (which contains the chemical sodium chloride) can pollute water supplies and seep into plants. Sand acts as a natural, traction-based material without the chemical runoff [source: Whole Living].
  • Use what nature gives you. The sun can still pack a warm punch in your home, even when the temperature is lower. Keep your blinds open during the day, and your home will warm up safely and naturally. The sunlight will also help feed your houseplants by kick-starting the process of photosynthesis. Photosynthesis also helps produce oxygen, which is released from plants into your home, helping to improve your environment [source: Groleau].

9. Tropical Cooking

Cooking is a direct testament to a country's history, culture and what the land provides. Tropical cultures often eat very nutritious and satisfying foods, rich in fruits, vegetables and grains. It's always a treat to try cooking new dishes from exotic places -- especially when your wallet can get to you to the supermarket for the ingredients but not halfway across the world to that special place!

Brazil is the largest country in South America, and the fourth largest country in the world [source: Lonely Planet]. When the Portuguese arrived in Brazil, they brought sugar, citrus fruits, and many sweets that are still used for desserts and holidays; eggs, fruits, spices (such as cinnamon and mint) and sugar are used to make sweet treats, such as ambrosia salad. They also use savory seasonings such as parsley and garlic. Other populations that settled in Brazil include the Japanese, Arabs, Germans and Italians, bringing further variations of foods and influences to cooking.


Some of Brazil's most popular foods include:

  • Spicy dishes, such as pepper-scented rice, and sweets during Carnival, the all-day/all-night celebrations for which Brazil is most famous
  • Street foods in Rio de Janeiro, such as barbecued prawns, queijo coalho (salted cheese) and fresh coconut water
  • Churrasco, Brazil's version of slow-roasted and rotisserie meats
  • Clay pot stews from the Bahia region, which include ingredients such as okra, coconut milk and prawns
  • Exotic fish and fruits such as passion fruit and acai from deep in the Amazon region
  • Feijoada (pronounced fay-ZWAH-da), a stew of pork and black beans that's traditionally served over rice with fresh orange slices. This dish is often served on special occasions and is considered Brazil's national dish [source: Culinary Institute of America]. The meats and spices used in the dish vary in every region of Brazil.

In central and western Africa, cooking varies from region to region. In central Africa, much of the meat available is very exotic to our tastes and usually has to be hunted first. This includes animals such as crocodile, and antelope, in addition to beef or chicken [source: World Food and Wine].

However, staple foods in central Africa are plant-based, including cassava root, peanuts and chili peppers, which make for great soups and stews. A typical dessert is bambara, a porridge made from rice, peanut butter and sugar. West Africans enjoy a much greater variety of spices, and they like it hot! Because of its coastal location, visitors from outside countries have helped west African cuisine evolve to include foods cooked with spices like cinnamon and cloves. Seafood is eaten regularly, and goat meat is the staple protein.

8. Living Off What Nature Provides

There are still cultures in tropical climates where indigenous people live solely off what nature provides. They build their own homes, hunt, forage and cook their own foods, though many of the groups are threatened by modern issues, such as tourism and development of their land.

As a country, Papua New Guinea has the largest groups of indigenous people living within the countryside, speaking more than 250 languages [source: Lonely Planet]. The Dani people of western New Guinea are probably the most well-known group, as tourists have reached their habitats and have been allowed to photograph and interview them. The Dani wear little clothing and use rudimentary tools for hunting and cooking, even to this day [source: Papua Trekking]. They use sweet potatoes and pigs not only as food but also as bartering items and for dowries in marriage. Other indigenous groups in this region include the Lani people, the Korowai and Kombai Tree People and the Asmat tribe, who were known cannibals (but have since changed their ways) [source: Papua Trekking].


How well can you live off your land? We know you're not expected to buy a plot of grass and build a home from scratch. However, many people are pledging to adhere to what's known as the "100-mile diet," to eat only fresh foods from within a 100-mile radius of your home. This would reduce the amount of energy and pollution created sending food from one area of the world to another, as well as support local farmers who need to sell their crops for survival [source: Time].

7: Listen Up

Musical styles in the tropics are as diverse as the countries they originate from. Music tells the story of a country, revealing the influences and history of its people and heritage. When you're living inside more than outside, let these musical styles transport you to a warm setting that will take your cares away. Here is a sampling of musical styles from all over the tropical globe. Take a listen and pick your favorites -- you won't be disappointed:

  • Ska: Born in the 1950s in Jamaica from a blend of New Orleans rhythm and blues and native Caribbean music, ska is fun and upbeat music with a large brass section, jazzy guitar and African-American vocal harmonies [source: Scaruffi].
  • Son: It may be a mysterious country to many of us, but Cuba has a long and well-documented history of producing musical styles that have worldwide influence. The foundation of many of these is "Son," developed around 1800 as a direct response to both African slaves entering Cuba and the Spanish who brought them there. Son is distinctive in its use of the "call and response" music and signing style, as well as heavy bass and a five-note clave (drumming pattern). Son eventually became the basis for salsa music in many countries [source: National Geographic].
  • Bossa Nova: This music was born in the late-1950s by the hot, white sand beaches of Rio de Janeiro. The ultimate chill-out music, bossa nova, which means "new way" in Portuguese, features soft rhythms with usually just a guitar, drums and vocals [source: Bossa 5-0].
  • Panamanian folklore music: Panama is a very patriotic country, and its folkloric music is featured in the many parades and celebrations its citizens take part in. Typical folkloric music is famous for having drums, an accordion, drums and a singer commonly known as cantalante (singing in front of the group) [source: Panama Culture].


6. Exotic Gardening

pink hibiscus flowers
Although hibiscus flowers are most commonly associated with places like Hawaii, several varieties can be grown in temperate climates.

Fresh flowers and abundant colorful plants populate tropical areas year-round. Even if you don't live somewhere warm all the time, you can grow exotic plants in your home. These plants need plenty of sunlight and water and can be grown indoors without intense tropical heat. They'll even help carry you through the drearier winter months with colorful blooms and abundant leaves. Of course, you should check about specific instructions for special soil or fertilizer for even more plant success.

Following is a list of plants to check out in your local nursery:


  • Bromeliads, found in Central and South American rain forests, need high humidity and sunlight to bloom successfully. If you take good care of this plant, it will reward you with a beautiful rosette all season.
  • Orchids can be found everywhere from Hawaii to Southeast Asia and needs constant care throughout the year. Orchids come in an amazing array of colors and sizes. An orchid's blooms can initially last for months, but don't be alarmed once they all fall off after their growing cycle. With proper fertilization and watering, orchid blossoms will return for years of beautiful growth.
  • The crab cactus is a striking plant from Brazil. Also known as a Thanksgiving cactus, this plant has a distinct look of a cactus with floral accents. It needs moderate humidity and can be brought outdoors during certain times of the year [source: Guide to Houseplants].

If you don't live in a humid area, don't worry; there are some simple tricks to boost your home's humidity to help your tropical plants thrive:

  • Place plants on a tray with wet pebbles to increase water evaporation. As the water around the pebbles evaporates, the plant will benefit from the moisture [source: Guide to Houseplants].
  • By placing a group of plants together, you'll naturally raise the humidity of the air around them
  • Use a humidifier to boost a room's humidity. This will work best with a smaller room where humidity can remain around the plants.
  • Keep a spray bottle handy and mist plants daily. The more water around them, the better.
  • Keep the blinds open during the day. Sunlight will naturally raise the temperature of the room.

5. Just Dance

man and woman salsa dancing
You don't have to be a "good" dancer to enjoy getting your salsa and merengue on!

Dancing has always been linked with a culture's history and the national pride of its citizens.

Jamaica has a rich history of national dancing styles that extend as far back as its recorded history. Traditional Jamaican dances from colonial times include the ballroom-style Quadrille; the Kumina, a more African-based dance usually performed at rituals such as funerals; and the Maypole, performed at May Day celebrations with ribbons and poles [source: Jamaica Mix].


If you like working up a sweat, Latin American and South American dances will keep your heart rate up and your blood flowing. They're typically performed as a couple, so try these with the one you love and stir up some heat in the winter. Dances include the bachata and merengue from the Dominican Republic; the rueda de casino from Cuba; the mambo, developed in Haiti but brought to Latin America in the 1940s; salsa dancing, first from the Caribbean then Latin America; and the famous cha-cha, a fusion of dance styles from Haiti and Latin America [source: Salsa Tropical].

For a completely different musical dance style, try tamborito, the national dance of Panama. Tamborito is generally performed by dancers (both men and women) dressed in elaborate costumes, including wide skirts and embellished hair clips and jewelry for women, and hats and sashes for the men. They typically dance in groups of six or more, or as couples, in a carefully choreographed routine, usually accompanied by live music and singing [source: Panama Culture]. Children are taught the tamborito as young as 3, as it's embraced by all Panamanians.

4. Get Crafty

If you have kids, wintertime can be particularly challenging. Art projects are always a creative and nurturing way to keep children's hands (and minds) productive. Introducing arts and crafts from other countries is a great way to learn about different cultures while still having fun. Folk art from the islands of Fiji is a perfect way to try your hand at these objects that have been created for centuries.

Fiji is a group of islands with a rich history that spans more than 35 centuries. Its inhabitants are made up of an influx of people from Polynesia, Melanesia, Micronesia and European explorers and traders [source: Lonely Planet]. The people of Fiji have distinct art forms that have been practiced for centuries -- pottery, woodcarving, basket making and mat weaving.


The practice of different art forms seems to be gender-based -- women have traditionally been potters and basket weavers, while men are the woodworkers [source: Fiji Guide]. In the thousands of years since these art forms have been created, they're still made with traditional tools and materials. The clay comes right from the earth, but you can obviously buy some from a craft store. Fijian pottery has never been adapted to a pottery wheel, so you can try making bowls or pots simply by building up the clay and shaping it. You can use rocks or cornhusks to smooth the clay, as well as make textures around the piece. Fijian pottery is never glazed, so once your piece is dry, you're finished.

3. Host a Movie Night

In the dead of winter, what better way to kick back and feel the warmth of the tropics than by watching a film set in paradise? Choose any movie set near clear, turquoise water and white sand beaches, blend up a fruity cocktail and you're all set. Here are a few suggestions for a tropical film festival, many of which have beaches you can actually visit:

  • "The Beach" with Leonardo DiCaprio, filmed on Phi Phi Leh island off the coast of Thailand
  • "50 First Dates" with Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore, set in Hawaii
  • "The Blue Lagoon" with Brooke Shields, filmed on Devil's Beach, Nanuya Levu Island (Turtle Island) in Fiji
  • The 1958 classic "South Pacific," filmed on Lumahai Beach in Kauai, Hawaii
  • The animated classic "Finding Nemo," which takes place off the coast of Sydney, Australia
  • The "Pirates of the Caribbean" trilogy, set on Bahamanian islands such as St. Vincent and the Grenadines
  • Casino Royale, partially filmed in the very exclusive One & Only Ocean Club in Paradise Island, Bahamas [source: O'Neill]

In a totally different tropical region of the world, Bollywood (India's version of Hollywood) films are a culture all their own. Bollywood has also been around just as long as Hollywood and is even more productive -- India produces around 900 films each year [source: Schwartz]. The first Bollywood film ever produced, Raja Harishchandra, was a silent film made in 1913. The first Indian "talkie" was Alam Ara, which started the Bollywood theme of heavy singing and dancing throughout the film. These days, Bollywood films are often blockbuster-like productions, clocking in at an average three to four hours each, a quarter of which is in musical form [source: IFC].


2. Drink Up

fruity cocktails with paper umbrellas
A fruity drink plus a paper umbrella equals instant beach vacation -- without the sunburn!

Think "tropical" and almost immediately, fruity drinks with rum and a cherry on a paper umbrella come to mind. Festive and fun, these drinks are meant to both relax you and remind you that, with little more than a blender, ice and a few shots of liquor, you can escape far from home.

For a completely different take on the tropical drink (think non-alcoholic and healthy), consider the lasshi (a drink similar to a smoothie). The origins of lasshi are unknown, only that it was created in the Punjab region of India where milk is abundant and drunk regularly [source: Hazarika]. Made with simple ingredients of yogurt, water, ice and sugar, a lasshi (also spelled as lassi) can be made either sweet or savory. To make a sweet lasshi, sugar is blended along with ginger, mango or banana. A savory lasshi will include spices like coriander or mint, and the sugar will be reduced. Either way, lasshis are a healthy way to beat the heat in summer, as well as conjure up the warmth and spices of India in the cooler months.


1. Host a Luau

Hawaiian luau
The modern luau originated in 1819 by King Kamehameha II, all the food was eaten by hand while seated on the ground [source: Hawaiian Luau.

What could be more quintessentially tropical than hosting a Hawaiian luau? Even if you've never been to Hawaii, you've probably seen one on TV. Picture yourself dancing and dining at sunset with tons of food and drinks and dancing to Hawaiian music. Break out the grass skirts, leis, ukuleles and Don Ho records because a luau is the ultimate tropical party.

For such a recognizable event, the history of the luau isn't very well known. In ancient Hawaii, men and women separated while dining, and women were forbidden to eat certain foods. In 1819, however, King Kamehameha II abolished the traditional practice. As a symbolic gesture, the king hosted a feast and ate with both sexes. This ended any notion of eating together as being taboo. The main meal, a dish of taro root and chicken cooked in coconut milk, was called "luau" -- hence the name luau was born [source: Hawaiian Luau].

These days, luaus don't vary much in food served and entertainment provided, and they've become as ubiquitous in Hawaii as backyard barbecues are in the rest of the U.S. Poi, the Hawaiian staple of mashed taro root, is served with sweet potatoes and platters of meat and fish. Flowers are abundantly spread throughout the event area, and dancers provide endless entertainment. For you're at-home luau, you can find decorations like hula skirts and leis at party supply stores. Download some surf music and ukulele songs, and you'll have a party vibe that's all Hawaiian.

If you're really adventurous, pit-roasting a pig can also be a part of your luau. Traditional luaus feature a kalua pig to be roasted in an imu, a traditional underground oven. An imu is prepared by digging a large pit about 2 to 4 feet deep. The imu cooks via a steaming process, so twigs, wood and vegetation such as banana or palm leaves are layered in the pit. Next, your food is placed in the pit, and more leaves are used to cover it. Mats are laid over the leaves, and then a loose layer of soil is placed over everything to ensure no heat escapes [source: Labiste]. Roasting a whole pig outdoors takes a lot of time and preparation, so if it's freezing outside and you're buried in snow, wait for warmer (or less bone-chilling) weather to attempt this more primitive form of cooking. No utensils are used for eating at traditional luaus, but we'll leave the hands-free choice up to you.

Lots More Information

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