1. Barranquilla Carnival, Colombia. March 2-5th.
Flying into Cartagena, one of the world’s most beautiful beach cities, then choosing to drive two hours east in a rickety minibus to Barranquilla – rougher, grittier, but also Shakira’s hometown – to attend the world’s second biggest carnival: that’s pretty rogue, no?
Barranquilla was built on the foundation of African, Indigenous, European and Middle Eastern cultures, a history reflected in the colours, dances, music and costumes you’ll see shimmering on the streets. As a city, it’s famous for producing a disproportionately high amount of beauty queens, but most still don’t know about it’s carnival. This makes it safer, cheaper and easier to navigate than its more famous cousin Rio. It also means less tourists taking pictures and more locals partying. And let me tell you, the Colombians know how to party. When you’ve lived through half a century of civil war, you learn to enjoy the good times. Let them show you how they get down.
2. Jaipur Elephant Festival, India – March 21st
Jaipur, the jewel of Rajasthan’s crown and the gateway to India’s most flamboyant state, is worth visiting at any time of year. However, the intoxicating cocktail of majestic forts, buzzing bazaars and faded Rajput royalty truly comes alive when elephants replace rickshaws as the primary mode of transport. The scheduling is fortuitous, the folk dances, elephant processions and beauty contests – have you ever seen an elephant catwalk? – occur on the eve of Holi festival, allowing you to experience two rogue adventures in consecutive days.
However, remember Ganesh, the elephant god, is amongst the most revered in India, so treat his long-trunked descendants with respect. Make sure you source organic, soluble paint to throw and follow the festival with a trip to Elefantastic. It’s an ethical sanctuary in north Jaipur that rescues mistreated elephants. Visitors are welcome to join these most intelligent of creatures in their journey back to health, feeding, washing and interacting with them.
3. Dia de los Muertos –
The Day of the Dead is Mexico’s answer to Halloween, but more morbid, colourful and downright fun. Humans have struggled to deal with death since the beginning of time, but this festival born from an ancient Aztec tradition is surely one of the most creative ways of grieving.
If you’re celebrating this you’re celebrating, a large mariachi band will congregate in the central plaza and lead a procession of people dressed in Halloween costumes on steroids to the local graveyard. Here, people produce photos of their dearly departed, offer food, drinks and light candles in their memory before dancing and singing songs around the gravestones.
4. Mai Dulce, Chișinău, Moldova. May 28th
Moldova’s annual celebration of the humble dessert has emerged as Eastern Europe’s sweetest festival. The theme this year is circus, so dress accordingly as you eat excessively. They also claim to make the world’s best lemonade, and while it may be a wildly subjective notion, it’s one that merits further investigation. Entrance is 45 Leu, just £2, while kids and grandparents go free. Whilst you’re there, Europe’s poorest country offers the slightly haunting opportunity of time travelling back to the mid twentieth century. Horse-drawn wagons still rule the country roads as combine harvesters plough the fields.
If you do find yourself guzzling down Moldovan treats in the cirque de sweets, I would recommend adding on a unique daytrip. Just an hours drive from Chișinău, you’ll find the disputed country of Transnitria. An independent state recognised only by itself, they still have their own visas, currency, stamps, police force, beer and borders. It’s a curious Soviet time warp that will make your trip to Moldova even sweeter.
5.Gay Pride in Amsterdam, Holland. July 27th
If you’ve never been to a Gay Pride before, make sure you correct that this year. And if you have been before, you’ll know they’re places of love, tolerance, self-expression and hedonism. Amsterdam, as always, has its own irreverent take on proceedings. Their Pride isn’t just a parade, it’s a citywide festival that straddles streets, bridges and canals.
Barges full of dancers from every section of the sexual spectrum float past packed crowds, a traffic jam of floating rainbows of fun. Pride is a delight and everyone’s invited, no matter how weird you are. The weirder, the better actually. The rules are simple: be nice and people will be nice back. And trust me, you haven’t lived till you’ve seen a 6”6 butch man in leather singing Britney Spears from the hull of a boat as thousands of revellers line the streets, cheering every syllable.
6. Songkran, Thailand. April 13-15th
Thailand does new year a little differently. In ancient Siam culture, people would visit their local monastery and pour scented water over monks in a holy cleansing ceremony. Then, they’d collect the blessed water and bring it home to pour over family members for good luck.
Today, Thai new year, or Songkran, is unrecognisable from its holistic history. Imagine if Disney bought the rights then outsourced the choreography to Ibiza, Playboy and Coachella. It’s the world’s biggest water fight, featuring bikinis, beach parties and super soakers; it’s also the closest most of us will ever come to full combat warfare. The chaos occurs nationwide as the country shuts down for three days but the best spots to indulge your inner child are Chiang Mai and Koh Tao.
7. La Tomatina Els Elfaranit flour throwing festival, orange throwing in Italy or grape throwing in Australia.
This is the only entry on the list that everyone reading this will already know. And that’s why you shouldn’t go. That, and it’s one of those things that sounds much more fun than it actually is; like a staycation or another new nightclub opening in Shoreditch.
However, if you do want to attend a festival based on the throwing of food you should go to Els Enfarinats in Alicante, Spain. It’s over 200 years old and happens on December 28th. The participants dress in mock military clothes and stage a faux coup d’etat, throwing flour instead of bombs; significantly less painful than getting hit in the face with a tomato.