Why not make some extravagant travel plans to ring in the New Year? If you’re to looking experience your new-found surroundings like never before, these festivals will give you a healthy dose of local culture that you’ll be talking about for years.
Bob Marley Week (Feb. 2-8)
We’re all looking for a reason to visit Jamaica in February, but diehard reggae fans will enjoy this tribute to Jamaica’s best known musician. The week-long celebration features plenty of music, symposiums, street parades, and many events that take place at the Bob Marley Museum.
Rio Carnival (Feb. 28-March 4)
Brazil is a pretty vibrant place year-round, but things really heat up during the week leading up to Lent. Carnivale is a non-stop bacchanal of samba dances, street parades, and elaborate feasts. Rio de Janeiro’s festival is the country’s largest, but the Carnival celebrations in smaller cities like Olinda and Salvador are just as extravagant (and less expensive to enjoy).
Festival de México (Late March)
Every year, Mexico City’s historical center (el Centro Histórico) hosts a bevy of street performers, artisans, and food vendors celebrating their country’s extensive artistic legacy. Concerts, gallery shows, and children’s performances are just a few of the highlights from this gathering that draws roughly 275,000 visitors each year.
Freedom Day 2014 (April 27)
With the recent passing of Nelson Mandela, this year’s Freedom Day (marking its 20th anniversary) will be more emotional than in years past. The annual celebration of South African freedom coincides with the country’s very first democratic election, during which the great Mr. Mandela was voted into office. Parades, concerts, and other festivities are held throughout the country on this national holiday.
Processione Dei Serpari (May 1)
Known to English speakers as ‘Festival of the Snakes’, this is definitely one of Italy’s weirdest annual traditions. Held on the first Thursday in May in the town of Cocullo, the procession coincides with the Feast of St. Domenic. So, fittingly enough, locals parade down the streets with a bevy of live snakes and adorn a large state of the saintly figure with the slippery, writhing critters. Be sure to charge your camera battery for this one.
Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival (June 2-20)
Commemorating the death of Chinese folk hero Qu Yuan, this colorful gathering features plenty of action on the water. The highlight of the festival is the Dragon Boat Water Parade held in the fishing village of Tai O, which is located on west Lantau Island.
La Traviata at Masada Opera Festival (June 12-17)
In recent years, the Masada, an ancient fortress located overlooking the Dead Sea, has become a popular site for operatic performances. This summer, Verdi’s La Traviata will be staged at the famous site in Southern Israel. Other musical attractions at the festival include a solo performance from Israeli singer Idan Raichel and a rendition of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, courtesy of the Israel Philharmonic.
Calgary Stampede (July 4-13)
If you enjoy rodeos (and who doesn’t?), then you can’t do much better than this yearly Canadian event that has been dubbed ‘The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth’. In addition to all the bull-riding and barrel racing that has come to define the sport, spectators can also check out stage shows, agricultural competitions, and exhibits from First Nations native peoples.
San Fermin Festival (July 6-14)
Will this be the year you finally run with the bulls? The notorious activity takes place every summer in the Spanish city of Pamplona. Some will be trampled, others gored, but odds are you’ll escape with minimal injuries. Start training now and you’ll boost your chances of survival at this year’s San Fermin festivities.
Thjodhatid (Aug. 2-4)
Known to English speakers as the Westman Islands Camping Festival, this Icelandic extravaganza takes place every year during the first weekend in August. Essentially a Scandinavian version of Burning Man, participants take icy swims, enjoy live music (Sigur Ros is a regular performer), and enjoy a midnight hike to the summit of a nearby volcano.
Oktoberfest (Sept. 20-Oct. 5)
If you’re an ale aficionado, then Oktoberfest, Bavaria’s annual salute to beer and brats, is pretty much a rite of passage. Don’t let the name fool you: the festivities kick off in mid-September with the opening of the Schottenhamel Tent–a massive enclosure featuring live music, authentic German cuisine, and an extremely jovial crowd. Also, there’s beer. Lots and lots of beer.
Meskel (Sept. 27)
Also known as ‘Finding the True Cross’, this annual Ethiopian festival has been celebrated for more than 1,600 years. Fittingly, the best place in the country to view Meskel festivities is the capital and largest city of Addis Ababa. A massive procession (complete with flaming torches) leads thousands of followers to the city’s main square, where a ceremony known as Tseday is performed to welcome the forthcoming spring season.
Durga Puja (Sept. 30-Oct. 4)
This fascinating tradition is honored every year in India, Nepal, and Bangladesh, as well as dozens of other communities around the globe with a high number of Hindi residents. Celebrating the Goddess Durga’s victory over the evil Mahishasura, participants will unveil huge likenesses of the goddess and submerge her in the River Ganges.
Cork Guinness Jazz Festival (Late October)
‘Ireland’ and ‘jazz’ don’t often appear in the same sentence, but the city of Cork is home to one of the world’s most popular jazz festivals. Ella Fitzgerald, Herbie Hancock, and Dizzie Gillespie have all made appearances in the past, and this year’s lineup celebrate’s the festival’s 37th anniversary.
By Brad Nehring