The world’s wildest and strangest festivals

Often rooted in history and region festivals are a living doorway to culture and our human experience.

Whether it is about launching a balloon or tossing beads or a tomato, they can be a whole lot of fun. World traveler Sean Jackson, founder of Bonvoy Adventure Travel, has followed his passion for celebration and discovery, near and far to compile this list of the world’s best.

1. Pingxi International Sky Lantern Festival, Taiwan: February

(Sheng-Fa Lin)

Write your wish on a lantern and let it fly into the night sky! Marking the new Lunar Year, the Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival was voted by the Discovery Channel as the second biggest New Year’s Eve celebration in the world

2. Holi Festival, India: Late February/March

Holi at Begum Bazaar,Hyderabad , India
with GoPro.
© Rajesh Pamnani 2014

Holi at Begum Bazaar,Hyderabad , India with GoPro. © Rajesh Pamnani 2014 (Rajesh Pamnani)

Known as the Festival of Colors, Hindus and Sikh in Nepal celebrate this 16 day religious festival by throwing colored powder and water at each other. The festival has, in recent times, spread into parts of Europe and North America as a spring celebration of love, frolic and colors.

3. Carnival, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: February/March

(Xavier Donat)

This nonstop party is one of the most well known festivals in the world celebrated all week with extravagant parades and dancing. In 1840, the first Carnival was celebrated with a masked ball. As years passed, adorned floats and costumed revelers became a tradition among the celebrants. Carnival is known as an historic root of Brazilian music.

4. Mardi Gras, New Orleans, LA: February/March

(Duncan Rawlinson)

This popular festival of excess and debauchery takes place before Lent with beads, booze, music and parades culminating in a nonstop party throughout the city.

5. Carnival of Venice, Italy: February/March

(Frank Kovalchek)

A tradition since the 13th century, people don elaborate costumes and masks in order to hide differences between classes. Traditionally, Venetian masks were made of leather, porcelain or glass. Today most are made with the application of gesso and gold leaf and are hand-painted using natural feathers and gems to decorate.

6. Sandfest, Port Aransas, Texas: April

(Carol Bell)

Live music and incredible sculptures help celebrate spring. Eighteen Master Sculptors from around the world, as well as children and amateurs put their creative skills to work to create artistic, imaginative sand sculptures on the beach.

7. Running of the Bulls, Pamplona, Spain: July

(Kevin McMahon)

This Spanish tradition draws hundreds of adrenaline junkies looking to stare danger in the face (or run as fast as they can from it). Each morning for eight days, brave men and women run with the bulls. Among the rules are that participants must be at least 18 years old, run in the same direction as the bulls, not incite the bulls, and not be under the influence of alcohol.

8. La Tomatina, Bunol, Spain: August


Dating back to 1945, this huge food fight isn’t tied to any tradition other than having fun.  Grab a tomato and let ‘em fly. But follow the rules; tomatoes have to be squashed before throwing to avoid injuries.

9. Burning Man, Black Rock Desert, Nevada: August/September

Burning Man

Burning Man (Julia Wolf)

Radically designed art, hippies, and self expression highlight this weeklong annual festival that begins on the last Monday in August, and ends on the first Monday in September. It takes its name from the ritual burning of a large wooden effigy, which is set alight on Saturday evening.

10. Oktoberfest, Munich, Germany: September/October


SONY DSC (LenDog64)

The world's largest fair is held annually in Munich, Bavaria, Germany. This 16-day festival runs from late September to the first weekend in October with more than 6 million people from around the world in attendance each year. There are just two things you need to know about this festival; beer and chicken dancing.

11. Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, New Mexico: October


Over 750 uniquely designed balloons are launched skyward during this nine day festival. The event is the largest hot air balloon festival in the world.

12. Dia de los Muertos, Mexico: November

(Jared Zimmerman)

Food, art, and culture highlight this festival honoring loved ones who have passed on. The Day of the Dead celebrations in Mexico can be traced back to a pre-Columbian past. Rituals celebrating the deaths of ancestors had been observed for as long as 2,500–3,000 years.

13. International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival, Harbin, China: January to March


Located in Northeast China, recipient of cold winds from Siberia, Harbin’s tribute to winter began in 1963. Today it is the largest snow and ice festival in the world.