These festivals offer an unique insight into local culture and are a lot of fun to boot. What are you waiting for?
Coinciding your trip with a festival is a great way of immersing yourself in the local culture. As well as being highly entertaining, it can offer a unique insight into a country and an unforgettable experience. Here are five festivals that you may not have heard of, but are well worth seeking out.
Obon, which is held to commemorate the spirits of one's ancestors, takes place in August each year and lasts around three days. It’s also known as the 'festival of lanterns', as one of the customs during this time is to send paper lanterns floating along the river to symbolise the souls of those departed returning to their graves in peace. The lanterns are often decorated with images and wishes relating to the owner.
During Obon you can also see the pretty Bon Odori dances performed at various temples across the country.
As Obon takes place throughout the entirety of August, Japanese people living abroad have a tendency to fly back to Japan just to spend time with family. It’s worth bearing this in mind and booking ahead if you plan to visit at this time. It’s also a popular time to visit Mount Fuji as it’s one of the only months where it is possible to reach the summit.
The Hokitika three-day 'feastival' is usually held in March over a long weekend. You can sample innovative creations – from wok-fried clams to wasp larvae ice cream. Celebrating excellent local produce is the focus, via market stalls, chef demos, live music and wine tasting with mimes and comedians entertaining. The best fancy dress competition is held every year; joining is isn’t mandatory, but the prize is a cool NZ$1,000.
New wild foods are introduced every year such as huhu grubs, fish eyes and venison tongue. This festival is a celebration of New Zealand's west coast food, lifestyle and hospitality, and aims to promote novel and tasty wild food. Hokitika itself is also worth exploring: the small coastal town is full of artists' workshops and galleries.
The Albuquerque balloon fiesta is one of the largest balloon festivals in the world, with around 750 hot air balloons rising into the New Mexico sky. You can get there early for the pre-sunrise dawn patrol, return at dusk to see the post-sunset night glow, and marvel at the odd shaped balloons in the Special Shape Rodeo.
The nine-day event is normally held in October and includes chainsaw carving, music, stalls and balloon rides to keep everyone entertained. As the balloon fiesta park is 19km from downtown Albuquerque we recommend avoiding the congestion by using the park-and-ride buses.
The Jazz and Heritage Festival (Jazz Fest) is a musical extravaganza that lasts two weekends at the end of April / early May at the Fairgrounds Race Track, Mid-City. Jazz is said to have been born in New Orleans and this enormous festival has stages hosting jazz, R&B, gospel, African, Caribbean, Cajun, blues, reggae, funk, Mardi Gras Indian, rock and brass band music.
The festival takes place during the day, but the entire city is alive with music and after parties every night. There are also craft stalls and delicious food stands. It tends to be hot at this time of year, but it makes an ideal getaway for mid-April.
With the Burning Man festival in Nevada becoming increasingly commercialised, savvy festival goers are turning to a similar festival in South Africa called Afrikaburn instead. Held in Tankwa in the Karoo Desert, the week-long festival is like a Mad Max movie writ large.
The festival nominates a single theme each year, with creativity and spontaneity actively encouraged. The otherwise barren and empty corner of the Karoo desert is transformed into a chaotic collection of art, music and mutant vehicles. It is held at the end of April / May and has very basic facilities.
This list was compiled with help from Audley Travel. Audley trips don’t come off the shelf, they’re tailor-made down to the finest detail.
Main image: Fire dancer on beach (Shutterstock.com)