From the most famous to the more obscure, we have compared our globetrotting notes here at Adventure HQ and put together a calendar of our favourite festivals around globe.
Sure to whet the appetite for a new cultural experience, be it watching horse racing in Mongolia or shaking your tail feather in Rio! Joining in with a local festival lets you transcend cultural boundaries and discover the true spirit of a country. So what are you waiting for – let’s party!
Harbin – China
The Harbin Ice Festival in northeast China’s Heilongjiang province is, by some distance, one of the most amazing spectacles in Asia. Entire cities of snow and ice, beautifully illuminated, animate this city in the deep freeze of mid-winter. And each each year, it just gets even better!
Matho – Ladakh, India
The first month of the Tibetan new year sees the mystical Matho festival – whereby specially chosen monks are imbued with powers of foresight and predict the future of this remote mountain village (and yours too, should you inquire). The monks put on an incredible display of acrobatic prowess – including running blindfolded along the steep ramparts of the monastery. Nail biting stuff!
Holi – India
A multi-coloured grin of a festival, Holi is probably the most well-known and best-loved festival in India. And everyone can dive in, throwing coloure dpigments, water and flowers at each other in this celebration of spring.
Semana Santa – Peru
In the run up to the Easter weekend, colourful parades and street parties sweep across Latin American nations in celebration of Santa Semana. Join in the vibrant revelry of this holy week in Cusco as Peruvians gather together to rejoice the end of lent.
Paro Tsechu Festival – Bhutan
Surround yourself in a blaze of colour as masked performers adorned in bright robes pay homage to their Buddhist spirituality with ritual dances and mantra chanting. The celebrations culminate with the unveiling of the Thangka (silk painting).
Songkran – Thailand, Laos & Cambodia
We’ve all heard of Chinese New Year, but what about the Thai New Year? The festivities of Songkran, in April, delight in the beauties of one of the most important substances on Earth: water. This celebration of the end of the hot dry season gives everyone a chance to cool off with a nationwide water fight. Partially, it is a ritual of cleansing the dirt of the previous year – but mostly, it’s just some good clean fun!
Feria del Caballo (Horse Fair) – Spain
Jerez is a city where flamenco, horses and sherry normally compete for top spot, but in May there is no question which is number one as the Andalucian’s celebrate their love of their equine friends with its annual horse fair.
Sun Festival (Inti Raymi) – Peru
A vibrant re-enactment of a once-bloody Inca sacrificial observance of the winter solstice. Sacsayhuaman’s atmospheric ruins are the backdrop for golden chariots, torch-lit processions, music, dancing, and old women with brooms sweeping away wvil spirits. There is a mock sacrifice, but no animals were harmed in the making of this terrific production.
Hemis Festival – India
Each year in a remote corner of the Indian Himalayas, Ladakhi’s come together on the courtyard of Hemis Gompa to commemorate the birth of Guru Padmasambhava, the credited founder of Tantric Buddhism. Masked dancers perform expressive ritual dances to music punctuated by clashing cymbals, pounding drums and the drone of long horns.
Naadam – Mongolia
Once a year, the people of Mongolia head to the capital Ulaan Baatar for the Naadam Festival. Watch in awe for three days as competitors battle it out in the “Eriyn Gurvan Naadam” – the ‘three manly sports”. Grab a front row seat as galloping horses thunder past, arrows twang on hitting the target and wrestlers grapple on the dusty steppe.
Perahera Festival – Sri Lanka
Tucked away in Sri Lanka’s lush hill country, Kandy is the keeper of Buddha’s tooth and as such plays host to this annual 10-day “festival of the tooth”. Illuminated by torchlight and lead by whip-crackers and elephants, colourful parades made up of drummers, fire eaters, flag bearers and vibrant dancers, wind their way through Kandy’s streets and around its temples.
Madeira Wine Festival
Each September before the onset of autumn, Madeira celebrates the fruits of its labours with its wine harvest festival. Take a step back in time as the island celebrates age-old tradition of winemaking; the ‘pickers parade’ – the ceremonious crushing of grapes, live music and light shows bring this usually tranquil isle to life.
The Two Oceans Whale Festival – South Africa
A must for wildlife fans! Claimed to be the world’s best land-based whale watching destination, Hermanus plays host to a celebration of these magnificent marine mammals each year.
Day of the Dead – Mexico
Not as macabre as it sounds, this holiday remembers, and respects, those who’ve passed over. It’s a way to give thanks, come together with loved ones, and help support those recently deceased on their spiritual journey to the afterlife. It’s a celebration of life, too. Temporary altars, strung with colourful bunting, delciious sweet breads and ‘halloween’ style costumes and parties animate the bars and streets.
Thimpu – Bhutan
One of the biggest festivals in Bhutan is the Thimpu Tshechu. A grand, wonderful proclamation of the country’s dizzying culture, it features dancing monks, fabulously embroidered costumes and masks, sacred rituals, blessings and are huge social events.
Jambay Lhakhang – Bhutan
The spectacular fire dance of the Jambay Lhakhang festival is the dictionary definition of “off the beaten track”. Not only is Bhutan the smallest and least visited of the Himalayan countries, but the Bumthang Valley is a step deeper into a unique corner of the world. The festival draws together the disparate villagers to celebrate an age old myth, the quelling of a violent ogress, with ritual masked dances and traditional dress.
Puskar Camel Fair – India
Rajasthan is a parade of pigments at any time of the year, a region where bright colourful saris weave between the buildings and shops flaunt vibrant dyes on every corner. But each year this vortex of colour congregates around the vivid Puskar Camel Fair. A true insight into Rajasthan life, you’ll learn all the fun of the fair as you see livestock and livelihoods change hands.