From cities of ice and kite-filled skies to colourful carnivals, we’ve got you covered when it comes to planning your 2018 travels… month by month
Make your year a big party, from carnivals to cities of ice
JANUARY International Kite Festival Gujarat, India
WHY? For such a graceful sport, Ahmedabad’s Kite Festival (7–14 Jan) is rather merciless, as hundreds of competitors compete to scythe each other’s strings. It’s a dazzling sight, with the local bazaars and street food worthy of exploration between bouts. ALSO PENCIL IN… Fire festivals! In the Shetland Islands of Scotland, Up Helly Aa (30 Jan) sees Lerwick’s locals go full Viking, crowning a torchlit parade with a burning longboat. But that’s nothing compared to Nara in Japan, where a whole mountain is set alight for Wakakusa Yamayaki (Jan 27).
Carnaval de Oruro Bolivia
WHY? Carnivals are everywhere in February, from Rio to Venice. But few can match the Bolivian city of Oruro (3–13 Feb) for sheer devilry. Here, Uru folklore and Christian ritual merge over ten-day festivities, culminating in a 15-hour parade of demons and cueca dancers on the last Saturday. ALSO PENCIL IN… Ice festivals! Japan’s Sapporo Snow Festival (5–12 Feb) is a frozen delight, as the city’s transformed by sculptures, while the huge ice palace of China’s Harbin Snow & Ice Festival (until 25 Feb) is equally retina popping.
MARCH Holi Festival India
WHY? The spring festival’s (1–2 Mar) roots are in the north. Mathura in Uttar Pradesh is a great base – no one escapes the gulal (powdered paint) here, with spray guns dousing all in a weeklong party. Nearby village Phalain also hosts a bonfire where priests prove their devotion by trotting over hot coals. ALSO PENCIL IN… Yap Day (1–2 Mar) sees the islands of Greater Yap, Micronesia, celebrate all things local. This takes the form of feasts and lots of dancing, with routines performed often just once then retired forever. It’s also manta ray mating season in Yap Lagoon – a thrilling sight in itself.
APRIL Songkran Chiang Mai, Thailand
WHY? Keeping dry during Songkran (13–15 Apr) is impossible, especially in Chiang Mai. The Thai New Year is all about water: throwing it, spraying it, squirting it. It’s essentially a religious cleansing festival (Buddha statues are paraded and washed), but it’s also immense fun for visitors. ALSO PENCIL IN… On the 15th day of the third lunar month (usually April), parades, floats, priests and dancers (known as Centipedes) take to the streets of Taiwan’s big cities (particularly Hseuhchia), to mark the day of the God of Medicine.
MAY Cinco de Mayo Puebla City, Mexico
WHY? Celebrating a failed 19thcentury French invasion, Cinco de Mayo (5 May) is mostly celebrated in the Puebla region – the site of the battle. Here, re-enactments as well as floats, mariachis and margaritafuelled locals keep the Puebla City rebellion going into the night. ALSO PENCIL IN… Bruges’ Procession of the Holy Blood (10 May) – a reliquary captured during the Crusades and kept in the Belgian city’s Basilica – is some 700 years old, and a sight to behold.
JUNE Inti Raymi Festival Cusco, Peru
WHY? If you’re in Cusco for June 24, the Inca Festival of the Sun will be re-enacted at the Sacsayhuaman ruins in a compelling nine-hour ceremony. The preceding days of street parties lighten the mood considerably. ALSO PENCIL IN… The highlight of the Spanish Batalla del Vino Festival (27–30 Jun), held in the vineyards of
Haro, is when a giant wine-throwing fight breaks out on 29 June.
JULY Gion Matsuri Kyoto, Japan
WHY? A remnant of an ancient purification ritual, Gion Matsuri lasts the month, but the main procession on 17 July is its highlight. In the run-up to it, expect food stalls after sunset and the chance to wander the huge floats before they invade the streets. ALSO PENCIL IN… Sporting festivals! Spy rodeos at Canada’s Calgary Stampede (6–15 Jul); wrestling, racing and archery at the Naadam games (11–15 Jul) in Ulan Bator, Mongolia; and taut muscles at Turkey’s Kirkpinar Oil Wrestling Festival in Edirne (2–8 Jul).
AUGUST Mount Hagen Show Papua New Guinea
WHY? This sing-sing (festival) began in the 1960s as a way for tribes of the Western Highlands to connect; now its plumes and painted faces form a noisy cultural blow-out, with tour operator pngtours.com offering front-row seats (18–19 Aug) to this difficult-to-reach event as part of a broader itinerary. ALSO PENCIL IN… Feria de las Flores festival (1–10 Aug) sees the Colombian city of Medellin blossom, with the Desfilo de Silleteros parade of huge floral arrangements at its centre.
SEPTEMBER Hermanus Whalewatching Festival South Africa
WHY? The Western Cape’s famed for its land-based cetacean-spotting. So, when southern rights arrive in Hermanus’ Walker Bay (late Sep), they’re greeted by the blowing kelp horn that signals the opening of street stalls and parties. ALSO PENCIL IN… Gondoliers light up Venice’s Grand Canal for the Regata Storica (2 Sep) in the build-up to the city’s main stroke-off: the regatta itself. Think the University Boat Race in drag!
OCTOBER Vegetarian Festival Phuket, Thailand
WHY? Not as benign as it sounds. This festival (mid Oct) of purification sees Phuket’s Chinese community engage in masochistic feats of piercing (often quite gruesome) in an event believed to date back 150 years, to a band of malaria-stricken Chinese minstrels, who then purged themselves healthy. ALSO PENCIL IN… Sky-high festivals! Mongolia’s Golden Eagle Festival (6–7 Oct), held in Bayan-ulgii, sees young eagle hunters flaunt their skills; or head to Albuquerque, USA, to behold the filling skies at its International Balloon Fiesta (7–15 Oct).
NOVEMBER Day of the Dead Mexico & Guatemala
WHY? Dia de los Muertos (2 Nov) is now a worldwide fixture, but Mexico is its heart: for a trad take, Janitzio Island sees the Purépecha people perform rituals late into the night, while the city of Oaxaca throws in a nighttime carnival. But the most eye-catching event is held in a cemetery near Lake Atitlán, as homemade kites (up to 30m wide) are launched into the sky. ALSO PENCIL IN… Bhutan’s Blacknecked Crane Festival (11 Nov) coincides with 300 of these elegant birds returning to winter in the Phobjikha area, accompanied by plenty of folk rituals and celebrations.
DECEMBER Junkanoo Nassau, Bahamas
WHY? Think Mardi Gras with a dash of Carnaval, all given a Bahamian twist. Junkanoo (26 Dec & 1 Jan) dates back to a slave holiday of the 1700s; today, it’s a wild party that continues over Boxing Day and New Year’s carnival parades in capital Nassau. ALSO PENCIL IN… India’s Hornbill Festival (1–10 Dec): dozens of Nagaland tribes descend on Kisama village for music, games… and lots of rice beer.