From local gatherings to countrywide festivals, there's always a party going on somewhere in the world. Here's your guide to joining in.
In a homogenised world, where many societies are losing their individual identities, festivals are often the last surviving examples of the preservation of culture. They are also crazy, unpredictable and a time and a place to feel truly alive. It is also the best time to get to know and engage with the locals, who may be far more reserved at other times of the year.
Isn't it time you let your hair down and joined in?
On any given day there is a festival going on somewhere in the world. Which one you attend depends on you.
If you're limited by the time of year you can travel, the Wanderlust Team has put together a handy month-by-month guide to festivals throughout the year.
If you're looking for festivals for a particular region, we can help you there too. Natasha Singh has plotted a celebratory path around India by five festivals. And the Wanderlust Team nominate their seven favourite festivals in Latin America.
If you're willing to try pot luck, then here's 12 funky festivals around the world. Or dip into Steve Davey's piece about the world's best 500 festivals, guaranteed to keep you partying until the end of this year – and well into the next.
42 Festivals throughout the year – Wanderlust Team
Around India in five festivals – Natasha Singh
7 festivals of Latin America – Wanderlust Team
12 funky festivals around the world – Wanderlust Team
The World’s Best 500 festivals – Steve Davey
Ceremonial mask dance, Benin (Shutterstock)
Festivals aren't always about the party. Many mark deeply significant events or offer the chance to preserve longheld customs and traditions. For many travellers these are the most satisfying festivals to attend.
Richard Trillo, for example, travelled to a remote corner of Kenya to attend the Lake Turkana Festival, where ten northern Kenyan tribes who gather in all their finery to flirt, brag, tease, dance, sing and sit in circles under trees. Mark Stratton ventured to Benin to take part in the annual Voodoo festival, carefully picking his way through a minefield of freshly-prepared hexes and curses. And Dan Linstead headed to the heart of Borneo where ancient traditions and songs are celebrated in a music festival deep in the rainforest.
Finally, Henry Hemming stumbles upon a secret festival in Sumba, proving that old adage that the best travel experiences are the unexpected ones.
Tribal gathering: Lake Turkana Festival, Kenya – Richard Trillo
Dark Secrets: Voodoo in Benin – Mark Stratton
Rainforest World Music Festival, Borneo – Dan Linstead
A secret festival in Sumba – Henry Hemming
Ice Music Festival (Photo: Emile Holba)
You'd think that longer nights and dropping temperatures would mark the end of the festival season, but in many countries it's just the beginning. Indeed, many festivals couldn't be held any other time in the year.
Like ice festivals, for example. From Harbin in China to Bruges in Belgium, ice is carved, illuminated and, in the case of Norway, made into instruments and played.
Nor are all the winter festivals linked with Christmas. Steve Davey has compiled a list of 11 non-festive festivals for December. And Christine Fleitz suggests 10 alternative winter festivals that have nothing to do with Santa at all.
7 super-chilled ice festivals – Peter Moore
10 alternative winter festivals – Christine Fleitz
Top 11 non-festive festivals for December – Steve Davey
Hillbilly Days, Pikeville, Kentucky (Shutterstock)
The best festivals are the ones you can take part in. That may be simply sampling a wondrous array of fresh produce at one of these 10 fantastic food festivals in Emilia Romagna in Italy. Or heckling a wannabe stand-up comedian at one of these 8 alternative fringe festivals. Or seeing how far you can throw a 'cow chip' at the Wisconsin State Cow Chip and Festival, just one of the many quirky festivals held each year in the USA.
The world is your oyster. Or a Rocky Mountains oyster, in the case of the Montana Testicle Festival.
10 fantastic food festivals in Emilia Romagna Italy – Wanderlust Team
8 alternative fringe festivals – Lauren Williams
10 quirky American festivals you must visit – Wanderlust Team
Travel light, carry the minimum of equipment so that you can move fast and throw yourself in at the deep end. That's the advice of our photography guru and self confessed festival-nut, Steve Davey. That way you'll be in the middle of the action, your pictures will be more atmospheric and the closer and more engaged you'll be with the action.
Make sure you check out Steve's advice on photographing water festivals too. It's not just about capturing great images but keeping your gear safe as well.
Photography tips: festivals – Steve Davey
Take better travel photos: water festivals – Steve Davey
Here’s a selection of fantastic tours offered by our partners. From fully 'immersive' tours to the Holi Festival of Colours in India and the Timkat Festival in Ethiopia to celebrations of music in some of the most remote corners of the world, there is something to suit every taste and budget.
Main image: Holi Festival, India (Shutterstock.com)
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