Guided tours of any sort, be they oriented toward adventure, lifestyle or sightseeing, are a great way to get to know a country. Besides hiring skilled tour guides, you can get to know the heart and soul of a country by attending local celebrations. Festivals encourage bonding and deconstruct barriers, creating a jovial atmosphere that makes you feel more connected to a locale’s culture. While guided tours around the world feed you priceless information regarding the likes of a nation’s heritage and history, it’s the festivals that can show a place’s true colours.
The question is, of all the festivals worldwide — there are literally thousands of them — which one is perfect for you? Music and art lovers may gravitate toward Coachella in California, one of the largest and most profitable music festivals in the United States that had an attendance of nearly 600,000 this year, while foodies may prefer the 60-year-old Galway Oyster Festival in Ireland. Other choices include La Tomatina festival in Spain, Carnival in Brazil or China’s Lantern Festival. Read on to determine your next festival destination!
Coachella: Indio, California
Guides in Southern California
will attest that there’s plenty to do in the area besides travel to Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, but, for music-enthusiasts, the truth is that there really isn’t any better place to listen to some of the world’s best musicians. Coachella dates back to 1993, features every musical genre you can imagine (as well as art installations), and attracts many celebrities. If you’re passionate about music and you would’t mind spotting a celebrity or two (or more!), do yourself a favor and book your ticket to next summer’s Coachella festival ASAP!
La Tomatina: Valencia, Spain
Always dreamed of partaking in a mass-scale food fight? Can you think of anything better to throw than something red and juicy? If your answers are “yes” and “no” respectively, La Tomatina festival is for you. At this event on the last Wednesday of August, participants throw tomatoes at one another. Why? Why, for fun, of course! La Tomatina has been going on since 1945, and the tomatoes are brought in from Extremadura where they are cheap and grown specifically for the festival, hence their inferior taste. Participants are encouraged to wear gloves and goggles — no fancy white clothing — but since the tomatoes are crushed before being thrown, there’s less chance of getting hurt. Fire trucks wash down the streets at the end of the event, by which point they resemble rivers of tomato juice.
Napa Truffle Festival: Napa, California
Not much gets better than a festival that celebrates truffles in an environment dedicated to wine-making. At this event, truffle experts and scientists partner up with some of the world’s best chefs who are known for their truffle dishes, and what results is a weekend full of learning how to forage for mushrooms, browsing the expansive marketplace featuring gourmet ingredients, and feasting on truffle-based dinners prepared by up-and-coming and Michelin-starred chefs. What’s more, once the festival comes to a close, you don’t have to race off: local tour guides in Napa
will take you to boutique vineyards to taste award-winning wines.
Galway Oyster Festival: Galway, Ireland
Having been running since 1954, the Galway Oyster Festival in Ireland is one of the oldest food festival’s out there. Nostalgia aside, the festival is the prime place for shellfish lovers, as well as those who simply get a buzz from being on the windy and wonderful West Coast of Ireland. If you’re in the mood to gleefully down nets and nets worth of the famous native Galway oysters alongside thousands of other shellfish-enthusiasts, this is the gig for you. As the organizers like to say, “Miss it at your ‘pearl.’”
Encierro (Running of the Bulls) Festival: Pamplona, Spain
The Running of the Bulls festival requires a certain person: someone who seeks thrills, enjoys taking risks, and…is a fast runner. At this festival, crowds of people run through the sectioned-off streets of Pamplona after around a dozen bulls are set free behind them. Tradition says the event originates from the early 14th century when men who were transporting their cattle to the market to sell them would try to hurry along the process by engaging tactics of fear and excitement, a practice that soon turned into a competition between vendors. Quickly, it became a game for young adults to race in front of the bulls and make it safely to their pens without being overtaken, and the game has stuck around to this day. At the encierro, The only rules are that participants must be 18 years of age or older, run in the same direction as the bulls, not incite the bulls, and not be under the influence of alcohol. Seeking a buzz? Head to the Running of the Bulls!
Cooper’s Hill Cheese-Rolling and Wake: Gloucester, England
Annually, on the Spring Bank Holiday (usually late May), people from all over the world gather in Gloucester to take part in the world-famous cheese-rolling festival. Finding it hard to fathom what this festival entails? Here’s the lowdown: From the top of the chosen hill near the village of Brockworth, participants each roll a 9 lb round of Double Gloucester cheese, racing down after it, and the first person to cross the finish line at the bottom of the hill wins the cheese. In truth, the rounds of cheese have recently been replaced with foam replicas to reduce the risk of injury; after all, once the cheese gets going down the hill, it can reach a speed of 70 mph, and that cheese is of the very
hard variety. Cheese-heads, you won’t be disappointed with this unique event!
El Colacho (Baby Jumping) Festival: Burgos, Spain
The concept of a man dressed as the Devil jumping over babies who innocently lie on the road on a mattress may strike you as, well, bizarre, but the intention is well-set: to cleanse all the babies born within the last year of original sin, ensure them a safe journey through life, and guard them against illness and evil spirits. It goes without saying that this is the festival for those who love all things babies, superstitions, and Spanish culture.
Monkey Buffet Festival: Lopburi, Thailand
It may be voted one of the most bizarre festivals in the world, but Thailand’s Monkey Buffet Festival is an event to attend. Created with the intention to promote tourism (a goal of which it certainly fulfills), the Monkey Buffet Festival consists of giving piles and piles of fruits and vegetables to the local monkey population of 2,000. During this festival, the monkeys, or, rather, Crab-Eating Macaques or Long Tailed Macaques (yes, they eat crabs and their tails are longer than their bodies!), gorge themselves on exotic foods while thousands of tourists observe, jaws-dropped. Tour guides in Thailand
will take you to see all the elephants you could ever dream of, but if you want to see the Macaques at their best, head to the Monkey Buffet Festival.
Carnival: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Love music, dancing, costumes, color, color, more color, and high energy? If so, Rio’s Carnival is the festival for you. While Brazil’s sightseeing guides
will show you a good time in their country no matter what the time of year, if you’re looking to experience the Brazilian culture in its most exotic form, head to Rio for the Carnival each Spring on the Saturday before Ash Wednesday. Word of advice: don’t miss the Samba School Parade! Here, approximately 3,000 performers wearing ornate, feather, sequin and bead-decorated costumes dance down the parade route next to colorful floats and into the Sambadrome dance stadium where prizes are awarded to the most dazzling dancers.
The Lantern Festival in China marks the last day of their New Year’s Celebration, and usually falls in February or March. What makes this festival so alluring are the elaborate red lanterns that sport complex designs. Some are even shaped as animals, which is a change from the very simple lanterns used in China’s first Lantern Festivals. During the festival, children and adults alike let go of their lanterns, which, in turn, symbolizes letting go of the past and welcoming a fresh start. Why are the lanterns red, you may be wondering? Because red symbolizes good fortune.
Oktoberfest: Munich, Germany
Beer-guzzlers, rejoice, the Oktoberfest is all your wildest beer-related dreams come true. At this 16-day festival, participants drink out of steins the size of a large head, traditional visitors wear Bavarian hats that sport a tuft of goat hair, and the beer is regulated not in quantity but quality: it must be approximately 6% alcohol by volume, and it must also be brewed within the city limits of Munich. At the Oktoberfest, the carb-frenzy is only amplified by the abundance of large, fresh pretzels for sale – a drawn-out mmmm
For lovers of love and lovers of color, Holi, an ancient Hindu religious festival that has gained popularity among non-Hindus, is the festival for you. The Holi celebration starts with a Holika bonfire (Holika being the devil) and ends with a free-for-all carnival of colors. And free-for-all is no exaggeration: people of all ages and walks of life play, chase and color one another with dry powder and colored water until they resemble walking canvases of tie-dye. But don’t panic if you can’t make it to India for the Holi festival in March: Between trying out the country’s best food spots to exploring the bustling markets, India’s tour guides
will ensure you have a lovely and colorful time no matter what.
Burning Man: Black Rock Desert, Nevada
Between the last Monday of August and the first Monday of September, “Burners” (the name given to those who attend the Burning Man festival) head into the Black Rock Desert (some with clothes, some without) to experience radical self-expression (and radical self-reliance; there are no supermarkets out there) and to bond with an art-centric community. Artists, nudists, lawyers, businessmen, mothers, sons… everyone’s welcome. The only stipulation: an open mind and the desire to let loose.