These are bizarre, colourful, lively heritage events taking place in superb, exotic
foreign locations that may include a variety of possible activities but mostly focus
on local people in local dress doing traditionally loco things. We do not include Europe, North America, South Africa, Australia or New Zealand in these listings. For those check English Speaking or European Festivals.
Exotic World Festivals are often crowded, noisy and require considerable walking.
Festivals in Asian and Islamic countries are often based on either
moon cycles or a different calendar so dates can change dramatically year
Ramadan, the Muslim fasting month, starts 6/7 June 2016 depending on location and runs through July. There's often a lively feast day, Eid al-Fitr, at the end of Ramadan on 7 July, though the celebration/holiday begins at sunset of the previous day.
are sometimes unconfirmed and occasionally
unreliable, so check before booking. TBC/A = To Be Confirmed/Announced
Mask Festival in Tireli, Dogon Country, with local masked antelope dancers. Spooky and crude animist event in spectacular, surreal surroundings. Mali Travel Guide
2 - 7 January (same date each year)
COLOMBIA, Pasto, Black and Whites' Carnival (Carnaval de Negros y Blancos) - a manic and messy tradition marking slave culture; dating back to 1912 this is one of South America's oldest and most vivid celebrations. People go crazy painting themselves black one day and white the next, with a Grand Parade somewhere down the line.
5 January - mid February and beyond Chinese
Harbin Ice Festival & Chinese New Year - including magnificent, monstrous illuminated ice sculptures
and icy sports. Beware extreme cold, averaging -16C and possibly down to -38C! China MapHarbin Festival Pictures
8 - 17 January
(ends 3rd Sunday)
PHILIPPINES, Ati-Atihan Festival, Aklan, Kalibo, Panay Island - a 2 week-long vivid religious carnival/feast annually held since 13th century in honour of the Santo Niño (Baby Jesus). If you missed the event try Dinagyang in Iloilo City a week later.
9 - 11 January
Toka Ebisu nationwide, but especially shrines in Osaka, Kyoto and Fukuoka
- a grand shinto festival which has been running since the Edo Period (17th - 19th Century) to pray for business success with parades and lots of peculiar rituals. The most popular event takes place in Imamiya Ebisu Shrine in Osaka.
PHILIPPINES, Manila, Quiapo, Black Nazarene - a 400 year-old Catholic procession with a black life-sized wooden statue of Jesus Christ, held annually since the 17th century and dedicated to Padre Jesus Nazareno de Quiapo, Father Jesus Nazarene of Quiapo.
10 January (annually)
Voodoo Festival in seaside town of Ouidah, located 42 km west of Cotonou city - a spiritual gathering at a beach to honour slave ancestors, with colourful costumes, chanting, dancing, drinking gin and religious ceremonies.
2015 it was held in Morocco and
in Mali during
Jan and Feb.
MALI, Festival au Desert, usually held at Essakane,
in the dunes 40 miles outside Timbuktu (Tombouctou) in Mali.
A fantasy mix of traditional north African
desert music, international musicians, camels, dance and sword play
in stunning surroundings. The most remote music festival in the world. More info and for 2016 go to the official website, the above. Mali
International Kite Festival. A
zillion kites and fights in the lovely but busy cities of Jaipur or Ahmedabad, Rajasthan state.
INDIA, Pongal Festival (Tamil Festival), a 4 day harvest celebration in Tamil
Nadu, a southern state of India. This thanks-giving feast is one of the most important and popular Hindu Festival. It is also the month of weddings.
3rd Sunday of January
Camel Wrestling Championship - this medieval tradition takes place in Selcuk town near the ancient city of Ephesus, with 1,200 camels and thousands of spectators. The camels wrestle, not humans vs. camels! Turkey Travel Guide, Selcuk & Ephesus Pictures
(20 in leap year)
ETHIOPIA, Timkat Festival (Epiphany), an Orthodox Christian festival to celebrate the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River, with strange rituals and psychedelic processions. Takes place throughout the country, but the greatest is Fasilidas’ Bath in Gonder, the former capital.
22 - 24 January
INDIA, Bikaner Camel Festival at Bikaner, Rajasthan - much less touristy than February's Desert Festival, but
in an equally gorgeous fortified desert town location with colourful
camel activities - including a beauty competition - but human fun
stuff too, dancing, fireworks, music etc. India
4th Saturday in January
JAPAN, Yamayaki (Grass Burning on Mt. Wakakusayama), Nara. An annual New Year tradition with spectacular burning of an entire hill and attendant fireworks. Nara Pictures, Japan Map
On the full moon
in the month of
Thai (Jan/Feb). The procession starts the night before.
9 Feb 2017
MALAYSIA, Thaipusam (also known as Murugan Festival), photo at top, a celebration of the birth of god Murugan, to the Batu Caves from Kuala Lumpur over 8 hours - a massive and bizarre Hindu procession into the caves, with many penitents pierced by hooks and skewers through various body parts. Similarly in Singapore on the same day but no major piercings allowed there. Malaysia Travel Guide, Batu Caves photos and more information
26 - 29 January
(Same day every year)
INDIA, Republic Day (26th) celebration in Delhi - a pompous but splendid parade with marching soldiers and bands, traditional dancers, floats from different states.
the last Tuesday in January
SCOTLAND, Shetland Islands, Up Helly Aa - 'Europe's largest fire festival', a spectacular community tradition celebrating their rich Viking heritage, annually held in Lerwick, Shetland. Costume marches, torchlight parades, burning a viking boat and the parties go on and on long after the last flames fade away. Islands Pictures
(Full moon in late Jan)
Float Festival - originated in the 17th century held in Madurai, the oldest city in Tamil Nadu on the first night of the full moon. Incredible temples and spectacular floats, worshippers dressed in red and yellow dance around and spray coloured water on the crowds.
30 Jan - 7 Feb
(40 days before Easter)
BOLIVIA, Carnaval de Oruro - Bolivia's largest annual event with a blend of Andean tradition and Christianity, highlighted by a massive parade lasting 20 hours and the famous 'La Diablada' or Dance of the Devils. Now a UNESCO World Heritage of Humanity.
31 January and
2, 7, 8 February
PERU, Candelaria Festival (Virgen de la Candelaria) in Puno, not a pretty city but with amazing surroundings such as Lake Titicaca and the Altiplano. This colourful, local event
offers vigorous dancing, music, masks and insane fireworks. And Cusco's not far by splendid train ride.
This page publishes only January festivals and event dates. Click below for other months.