Spain, Korea, Japan, Thailand, Sri Lanka: World's Best Festivals
Luxurious hotels and beach getaways might mean a well-spent holiday, but if you want to immerse yourself in local culture, there’s nothing like joining in a city’s celebrations.
July: Go Mad for Mud in Korea
Get dirty this summer on the western shores of South Korea. The Boryeong Mud Festival is back, and it’s celebrating its 19th year with an extra splash. Boryeong’s mineral-rich mud is acclaimed for its cosmetic qualities, so hit up the Self Massage Zone and get mudded up for that signature flawless Korean face. Brace yourself to be splashed by strangers, or get dragged to the Mud Prison for a head-to-toe mud wash. Afterwards, you’re in for a dirty ride as you go barreling down the enormous Mud Pool Slide. Challenge friends to a mud wrestling tournament before leaving with bags full of Boryeong mud skincare products.
Jul 15-24. Daecheon Beach, 123, Meodeu-ro, Boryeong-si, Chungcheongnam-do, South Korea. $66 for 1-day pass from www.mudfestival.or.kr
August: Feel the Bite of Sri Lanka
Be transported back in time at the Esala Perahera, a 235-year-old festival that honors a sacred relic of Buddha’s tooth. The story goes that the left canine of Buddha was smuggled into Sri Lanka from India some 1,700 years ago. Today, you’ll see the streets of Kandy enlivened with spearmen and dancers dressed in lavish costumes, with the procession growing larger each day. On the last night, make way for the grand Maligawa Tusker elephant carrying a replica of the relic, followed by a parade of elephants in extravagant costumes tramping down the streets to the rhythm of the drums.
Aug 8-18. Sri Dalada Maligawa, Sri Dalada Veediya, Kandy, Sri Lanka. Free.
September: Get Fired Up in Spain
If you love to party, La Mercè in Barcelona should be on your bucket list. With origins tracing back to the 1600s when the Virgin of Grace is said to have delivered the city from a plague of locusts, this Catalonian fiesta is an energy-packed parade that lasts well into the night. Fuel up on sangria, then join the throngs as you cheer on eight-story-tall human towers and papier-mâché giants. Make sure to cover up before the Correfoc, or “fire run,” in which devil-costumed revelers set off streams of fireworks, showering the crowd with sparks.
Sep 24. Barcelona, Spain. Free; Insider tours available from $854 on www.viator.com
October: Find Your Passage to India
Head to India in autumn to take part in a fiesta of fireworks, flowers and food: Diwali, which translates to “rows of lighted oil lamps,” is arguably the most important festival in Hinduism, celebrating the victory of light over darkness. Legend has it that when the god Rama defeated the demon king, the people lit oil lamps to guide him home. You can book a tour to experience the festival with a local family and watch as thousands of Hindu houses glow with clay oil lamps. Feast on a spice-imbued Diwali dinner before ending the tour with a cacophony of firecrackers.
Oct 30-Nov 3. Delhi, India. Tours start from $723 on www.viator.com
November: Light Up the Night in Nagoya
Jazz up your #travelgrams at Nagoya’s Nabana no Sato Flower Park: Their Winter Light Festival sees over seven million mini LED bulbs lit up in a sea of tulips and daffodils. Visit Begonia Garden—a vast greenhouse packed with potted blossoms—in the afternoon, before staying to watch the lights go up as the sun goes down. Dance to music in the magical 200-meter Tunnel of Lights, where glistening lights weave in and out of the foliage above.
Starts mid-Nov. Mie Prefecture, Kuwana City, Nagashima Cho, Komae Urushibata, Nagoya, Japan. $152, includes $73 gift and food voucher.
December: Go Avant-Garde in Pattaya
Hippie travelers can satisfy their yearnings for an unconventional itinerary at the Wonderfruit Festival in the fields of Pattaya, Thailand. This Thai version of Coachella is a visual feast of jaw-dropping acrobatics, musical performances and futuristic art installations. Take in a midwinter night’s dream of avant-garde music, laser beams and booze in tents draped with colorful bunting flags. Seek spiritual serenity in the yoga workshops, and chow down on mouthwatering snacks from local vendors.
Dec 15-18. Siam Country Club, Pattaya, Chonburi Province, Thailand. $885 (early bird price until May 31), regular price $1,321 for a four-day pass from www.wonderfruitfestival.com