Around the World in 12 Festivals: Awesome Cultural Festivals to Attend in 2017

Forget getting to the gym more often or staying off FaceBook. In 2017, our #1 resolution is to get out into the big wide world and experience another culture firsthand! You know how you can do that and have a whole bunch of fun while doing it? Visit a country during a popular cultural festival. Here are our picks – one for every month of the year.

venice carnivale

February
Carnivale, Venice, Italy
February 11-28, 2017
It’s mysterious, it’s romantic, it’s the world’s largest masked ball! With origins dating back close to 1,000 years, you simply won’t find a masquerade festival with more history, drama and political intrigue. Come to Venice and experience one of the most colorful pageants known to Europe.

holi festival, india
credit: Iakov Filimonov / Shutterstock, Inc.

March
Holi Festival, Nepal and India
March 13, 2017
For sheer exuberance and joyful positivity, you just can’t beat the Holi Festival (aka, the “Festival of Colours” or the “Festival of Sharing Love”). The Holi Festival asks us to mend fences, greet spring, and get to know others in a spirit of play and laughter. I mean, come on! We’re sold. The solemn night before has folks gather and bonfires and pray for the banishment of evil. If you choose to step outside on Holi Day itself, you’ll want to be wearing clothing that can get wet and withstand being pelted with bombs of brightly colored powder and water. The young, the old, kids and professionals – no one is safe. You can’t beat ’em – so you might as well join ’em!

jazz fest, new orleans

April
Jazz & Heritage Festival, New Orleans, Louisiana
Aoril 28 – May 7, 2017
If you’ve got a hankering to visit New Orleans (and who in their right mind wouldn’t?), you may be tempted to hit the town during Mardi Gras. No doubt, New Orlean’s Mardi Gras party game is on point – but to really get into the Big Easy, to understand the pulse that beats under these streets, to mingle with the history and soul of the city – we recommend attending Jazz Fest. ‘Nawlins really shines during Jazz Fest and rolls out the red carpet for visitors from all over the world. It’s 7 days of the world’s best jazz on 12 stages in arguably the most colorful town in the country.

Naghol Festival Pentecost Island, Vanuatu

May
Naghol Festival, Pentecost Island, Vanuatu
Every Saturday in May, 2017
You ever ask yourself where the idea for bungee jumping came from? Well, now you know. On this little island in the south Pacific, men and boys hurl themselves from tall towers of wood that villagers build beginning after the first yam harvest each year (it happens in early April). Tethered to the top by two vines, these daredevils, plummet to the ground where they hang with their hair just sweeping the ground (it’s supposed to spiritually bless the harvest). You can come ogle the festivities each Saturday during May.

Kailash, Tibet

June
Saga Dawa Festival, Mt. Kailash, Tibet
June 9, 2017
The holiday of Saga Dawa celebrates the Enlightenment of Buddha and is celebrated in one form or another by Buddhists all over the world. We think the celebration at Mt. Kailash in Tibet is of particular stark beauty and remarkable reverence. Pilgrims come to the mountain to celebrate the life of Buddha and take part in the ceremonial removal of the Tarpoche flagpole and is replaced with many prayer flags as offerings to the Buddha.

running of the bulls
credit: Migel / Shutterstock, Inc.

July
Running of the Bulls, Pamplona, Spain
July 6-14, 2017
The Fiesta de San Fermin is much better known outside of Spain as “the Running of the Bulls,” and it’s long been a rite of passage for young men (and more recently women) who want to see if they can outrun and outwit the beasts. It’s still a controversial part of the culture of Spain, but for the time being anyhow, you too can still run with the bulls if you’ve got the goods. Fun fact: it’s only six bulls terrorizing the crowd – but the narrow streets and unpredictability of the animals solidify the death-defying nature of this particular feat.

tomatino festival, bunol, spain
credit: Iakov Filimonov / Shutterstock, Inc.

August
Tomatina Festival, Buñol, Spain
August 30, 2017
Did you excel in your neighborhood water balloon fights as a child? You ever get the urge to hurl tomatoes in a massive fight that takes over an entire town? Well, if you can answer yes to either of these questions, the denizens of the Spanish town of Buñol have got a festival for you. Every year, on the last Wednesday of August everyone gets together on the town square to pelt one another for an hour with the little buggers. Afterwards, the fire department comes in and hoses down the cobblestones of all tomato paste carnage and life continues on. You’ll have to buy a ticket if you want to participate, but the festival draws visitors from all over the world, so you’ll be in good company.

Hermanus, Western Cape, South Africa

September
Hermanus Whale Festival, Hermanus, Western Cape, South Africa
September 29-October 1, 2017
Bring your binoculars to this eco-festival celebrating the migrating Southern Right Whales that circle the tip of the Cape every year at this time. To be clear, the real spectacle occurs offshore, but there are tons of arts, sporting, culinary and cultural events to keep you busy when not gaping at this amazing creatures.

oaxaca, mexico
credit: Angela Ostafichuk / Shutterstock, Inc.

October
Dia de los Muertos, Oaxaca, Mexico
October 31-November 2, 2017
The Day of the Dead is celebrated all over parts of Latin America, but most agree that its roots started in Mexico and some of the most colorful celebrations occur in the town of Oaxaca. Though the modern tradition dictates people paint their faces in colorful skulls and dress in costume, this is not a ghoulish affair. No, in fact, the Dia de los Muertos festivities celebrate the ancestors who have gone before us and these masquerades are a symbolic celebration of life. In Oaxaca you can experience the pageantry as well as the quiet tradition of staying up all night, communing with spirits and dining by candlelight on tombstones. Locals guides can hook you up with traditional experiences.

bonfire night, east essex, england

November
Bonfire Night, England
November 5, 2017
Who was Guy Fawkes and why are we burning him in effigy? Oh heck, it’s a purely british affair, celebrating all sorts of historical skulduggery and rabble-rousing. Can we just leave it at that?  School kids all over the country build their own “Guys,” and fill old clothes with paper to burn on Bonfire Night. Think of it as an excuse to wander the streets with mulled wine and chat with Brits about the past. It’s a lot of fun and you can take part in cities and towns all over England.

rhythm & vines, gisborne, new zealand

December
Rhythm & Vines, Gisborne, New Zealand
December 29-31, 2017
There’s an endless number of good reasons to make the trek halfway around the world to New Zealand. You may not be aware that one very good idea is to attend a 3-day music festival that welcomes in the first sunrise of the new year. How amazing is that? The city of Gisborne has a rich Maori culture (settlements for more than 700 years) with almost half the town identifying as Maori. As part of its raucous pedigree, for the last couple of years attendees at Rhythm & Vines attempted to break Guinness Book of World Records for skinny dipping.

sahara, mali

January
Festival in the Desert, Saharan Desert, Timbuktu, Mali
Dates TBD

Ok, so the Festival in the Desert has been on hiatus for a couple of years because of security concerns in the region. But when it comes back, we are going to be there will bells on! If you’re a music festival geek, you probably have this party on your bucket list. It’s literally just outside Timbuktu in the Mali desert and it’ll take you half a day by car or three days by camel just to get to the concert site. The nomadic Touareg people were the inspiration for the location and they’re the spiritual godparents of the festivities. Past lineups included traditional, trance and African headliners.

 

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