March: St. Patrick’s Day, Georgia, USA
You thought St. Patrick’s Day was an Irish thing? Silly you: the free-wheeling southern city of Savannah (almost completely lacking in an Irish population) has adopted the fest so fully that it’s the largest party here. Green fountains: check; green beer: of course. Plus it’s drawn out over a full two weeks.
April: Vappu, Finland
Put on your ylioppilaslakki! That’s a white hat all Finnish students get when they graduate high school and it’s traditional wear for the start of summer. Starting near sundown on the last day of April and carrying through the whole next day, Vappu is celebrated all over Scandinavia, but for Finns, it’s one of the biggest national holidays. If you’re lacking a Finnish hat, any funny one will do, along with goofy sunglasses and overalls.
May: Bun Bang Fai, Yasothorn, Thailand
This three-day Buddhist festival in Thailand starts with an all-night party of trancey mor lam music (a traditional Lao form of song). The second day has a cross-dressing, phallus-themed parade. So by the third day, you’ll be all softened up for the giant rockets, hand-built and hoisted onto bamboo towers by teams of inebriated men. They’re not kidding about the “bang”.
June: Fez Festival of World Sacred Music, Morocco
This annual gathering draws nerdy ethnomusicologists and spinning hippies for concerts held in the courtyards of many-centuries-old houses in the storied medina. Master sitar players, passionate flamenco guitarists and Morocco’s own Gnawa troupes put attendees in a trance.
July: International Folk Art Market, Santa Fe, New Mexico
Global shoppers, get your credit cards ready. This four-day outdoor market brings artisans and their handicrafts from some 60 countries, and the scene at the tents, with Kyrgyz felt workers next to Haitian painters, is like the ultimate global bazaar. On the last day, entrance is cheaper, and vendors are ready to make amazing deals.
August: Mount Hagen Cultural Show, Papua New Guinea
This weeklong singsing – a powwow South Pacific-style – gathers over 100 tribes from PNG to display their traditional dress and dance. Expect to be dazzled by feathers, face paint, rattles and drums. The tribe that gets the most applause from the audience wins the festival, with bragging rights as well as cash.
September: Guérewol, In-Gall, Niger
Beauty pageants needn’t be just for the ladies. In Niger, the Wodaabe people convene this annual matchmaking fest, where men sport elaborate makeup, beads, feathers and embroidered clothing. Line dances last for days, as women assess potential mates for stamina and grace.
October: Fantasy Fest, Florida
At the end of October, Key West, the last in the string of islands that stretches south from Florida, plays host to one of the wildest fancy dress free-for-alls on Earth. Fantasy Fest is a music- and rum-fuelled party marathon that reaches its zenith with a massive themed costume parade. The Captain Morgan Fantasy Fest procession consists of brilliant bands, outlandish dancing groups, and dazzling floats – some blaring music or breathing “fire”, some sporting elaborately realized pink elephants and other creatures of fantasy.
November: Day of the Dead, Guatemala
Mexico’s celebration of this feast day is the best known, but in fact, it’s celebrated throughout Latin America. In Guatemala, families fly giant round kites, painted with faces of loved ones, and eat a fiambre, an elaborate cold salad of up to fifty ingredients, from vegetables to cheese to meat.
December: Christmas, Philippines
So it’s not exactly as offbeat as the rest, but pair a majority-Catholic population with the end of the rice harvest, and you get Christmas food and festivities like nowhere else. Look for puto bumbong, sweet purple sticky rice in bamboo tubes, and star-shaped paper lanterns calles paroles. The best are in San Fernando City, the so-called Christmas Capital of the Philippines. The season starts December 16 (though anticipation starts in September) and carries well into January.
Get inspiration for your next trip with our features and galleries. Book hostels for your trip, and don't forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.