Festival holidays

For us, festivals are the smell of incense, the fizz of fireworks and the squelch of a fresh tomato. They arrive with the thunder of bespeckled dancers and wind down like a Munich beer hall hangover. They’re the lantern-lit, confetti-filled, mud-slinging reminder that life is there to be enjoyed to the max, and that there’s no such thing as too much fun in the name of pomp and ceremony.

From the holy waters of the Ganges and the graveyards of Mexico to the tulip fields and orange groves of Europe, festival season never truly dies – and we’ve got your private pass all ready to go. It’s time strap on your sandals, loosen your lederhosen and dive right in.


Holi Festival, India

Holi Festival, India

You know those pictures of the world’s biggest paint fight? With colours so vibrant they threaten to break the saturation on your screen and set fire to your eyes? Yeah, that’s Holi – the ancient Hindu Festival of Colour. Traditionally held each March during the full moon and lasting up to a week, it’s India’s most iconic festival and a complete blast for all travellers fortunate enough to be caught up in it. We’ve got a number of trips running through the Holi hotspots –Delhi, Goa and Rajasthan – all you have to do is pick your favourite. Just remember: India gets even more chaotic during Holi, so some itineraries may be altered slightly. If in doubt, check the details with your friendly Intrepid travel agent. 

When to travel: The precise date of Holi changes each year with the Hindu calendar, but it traditionally falls just before the vernal equinox at the time of the full moon – usually March or late February. 


Festival survival guide

  • Buy a cheap pair of sunglasses from a local vendor. They’ll help keep the colour out of your eyes.
  • Dress appropriately, unless you want that brand new tuxedo covered in bright pink paint.
  • Protect your camera with a recyclable and resealable plastic bag.
  • If you want all that colour to wash out quickly, grease up your skin and hair with coconut oil before going into battle.
  • Get involved! Don’t be shy. The more you resist, the more colour will be thrown your way. Just relax and get in the Holi spirit. 

Our top trips

Trip name Days Total
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CAD
CHF
EUR
GBP
NZD
USD
ZAR
price from
Classic Rajasthan 15
USD $1,290
CAD $1,335
AUD $1,310
EUR €920
GBP £775
NZD $1,455
ZAR R13,500
CHF FR1,110
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Bite-size Break Delhi 3
USD $292
CAD $300
AUD $295
EUR €202
GBP £170
NZD $327
ZAR R2,952
CHF FR245
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View all trips to India



Day of the Dead, Mexico

Day of the Dead, Mexico

It’s possibly the only festival in the world where the dead are actively encouraged to take part. The Day of the Dead (or Dia de los Muertos) is Mexico’s answer to Halloween. It’s actually quite a lovely idea: the faith holds that on the night of October 31, the gates of heaven open and the spirits of all our friends and family who have passed on descend to earth to celebrate with the living. It’s a time for honouring your ancestors, but it wouldn’t be Mexican if it weren’t also one giant spooky party. Whether you explore Mexico City on our special festival-themed adventure or head out into the countryside for some old-fashioned rural festivities, this is a day to die for.

When to travel: The Day of the Dead runs throughout Mexico on 31 October, 1 November and 2 November.


Festival survival guide

  • Take a midnight stroll to the cemetery at San Gregorio Atlapulco on the edge of Mexico City: at midnight it comes alive with mariachi bands.
  • Try traditional Day of the Dead street food such as chicken tamale wrapped in banana leaves.
  • Feel free to leave your own ofrenda (offering) to your ancestors at the great Zocala in Mexico City.
  • Evening graveyard shifts can get chilly in October, so remember to rug up at night.
  • Photos in the streets are totally fine, but ask before taking a family’s photo in any of the big cemeteries.

Our top trips

Trip name Days Total
AUD
CAD
CHF
EUR
GBP
NZD
USD
ZAR
price from
Real Food Adventure - Mexico 9
USD $1,495
CAD $1,540
AUD $1,525
EUR €1,030
GBP £875
NZD $1,680
ZAR R15,115
CHF FR1,245
Book trip
Mexico Unplugged 15
USD $1,126
CAD $1,160
AUD $1,173
EUR €773
GBP £654
NZD $1,266
ZAR R11,390
CHF FR935
Book trip
Explore Mexico & Guatemala 13
USD $1,143
CAD $1,177
AUD $1,156
EUR €794
GBP £667
NZD $1,287
ZAR R11,572
CHF FR960
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Mexico City: Day of the Dead 5
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Oktoberfest, Germany

Oktoberfest, Germany

Some world festivals are intensely spiritual, ancient ceremonies full of meaning that anchor us to a far distant past. Oktoberfest… isn’t quite like that. The world’s largest funfair and Bavarian beer bonanza runs for 16 days from the end of September to the beginning of October. For those two-and-a-bit weeks, Munich is transformed. Giant beer tents take shape, lederhosen are dusted off and six million people flock to drink over seven million litres of Oktoberfest’s distinctive lager. Only six breweries are allowed to serve Oktoberfest beer and all can be found in Munich – so there’s really nowhere else to enjoy this world-famous German brew-up.

When to travel: Oktoberfest festivities begin 16 days before the first weekend in October each year.


Festival survival guide

  • Don’t be a bierleichen (beer corpse) – drink lots of water throughout the day to avoid dehydration.
  • If you’re after loud music, come back after dark. There’s a ban on music above 85 decibels until after 6 pm.
  • If you haven’t booked tickets, make sure to get down to the popular tents by 8 am to secure a spot.
  • There are 14 distinctive beer tents at Oktoberfest. Check out local guides to find the one that’s right for you.
  • Pace yourself. Oktoberfest beer is actually stronger than regular lager, so drink responsibly.

Our top trips

Trip name Days Total
AUD
CAD
CHF
EUR
GBP
NZD
USD
ZAR
price from
Best of Central Europe 15
USD $2,286
CAD $2,380
AUD $2,326
EUR €1,570
GBP £1,332
NZD $2,596
ZAR R23,310
CHF FR1,903
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Sapporo winter festival, Japan

Winter Festival, Japan

When people think of Japan, they often see the soft sunlight and blushing cherry blossoms of spring; however, we’re here to tell you, winter is when things truly heat up. At the beginning of February each year the snow-dusted islands come alive with a super-cool collection of snow and ice festivals. These aren’t your typical snowball fights. We’re talking three-storey ice palaces, night-time LED light shows, ancient wonders carved from snow and a glowing constellation of lanterns trapped in ice, not to mention some of the best skiing on the planet. Japan isn’t a country to do things by halves and neither are we. Warm sake anyone?

When to travel: Most of the winter festivals in Japan begin in the first week of February and run for about a week.


Festival survival guide

  • It does get chilly during a snow festival (go figure), with temperatures getting down to -10 degrees Celsius. Dress accordingly.
  • Avoid public transport: it gets crowded during the festivals and most sights are a short walk from the city centre.
  • Warm up with a miso ramen or grilled mutton at the pop-up food trucks.
  • Try to check out the smaller sculptures as well as the flashier ones – they’re often carved by talented local artists.
  • Brush up on your Japanese manga for a full appreciation of the numerous giant snow characters.

Top trips

Trip name Days Total
AUD
CAD
CHF
EUR
GBP
NZD
USD
ZAR
price from
Japan Winter Festivals 9
USD $3,425
CAD $3,465
AUD $3,600
EUR €2,500
GBP £2,150
NZD $4,265
ZAR R32,755
CHF FR3,085
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Rio Carnaval, Brazil

Rio Carnaval, Brazil

It’s probably the world’s most famous party, a sequined, feather-filled fiesta that pulses to a fiery Brazilian beat. Welcome to carnaval! Every February in the lead-up to Lent, Rio’s streets erupt with colourful floats, exposed flesh, thumping samba rhythms and up to two million revellers. The epicentre of festivities is, of course, the Sambadrome, but smaller street parades break out all over the city, swinging and sweltering in the Brazilian summer sun. To the uninitiated, carnaval can seem a bit overwhelming – like being hit in the face with a rainbow – but that’s where Intrepid steps in. We’ll get you behind the scenes and the sequins to uncover carnaval the local way. Get your dancing shoes on. 

When to travel: Carnaval runs from the Friday before Lent and finishes on Fat Tuesday (after which, traditionally, one is meant to give up all bodily pleasures). This usually falls around mid-February each year.


Festival survival guide

  • Get in the swing with a funky dress-up outfit. The locals will love it and you’ll blend right in.
  • Prepare for the heat. Bring good quality sunscreen and lots of water to make it through the sweltering days.
  • For a miracle local hangover cure, walk into any pharmacy and ask for ‘engov’, a local wonder tablet containing caffeine and paracetamol. 
  • Don’t be shy to mingle with the locals. Now is the perfect time to practise your Portuguese.
  • Plan your return journey. Buses usually finish around 11 pm and it’s not wise to wander Rio alone after dark. 

Top trips

Trip name Days Total
AUD
CAD
CHF
EUR
GBP
NZD
USD
ZAR
price from
Buenos Aires to Rio Unplugged 17
USD $2,515
CAD $2,595
AUD $2,545
EUR €1,755
GBP £1,470
NZD $2,835
ZAR R25,625
CHF FR2,120
Book trip
Rio to Buenos Aires 19
USD $2,440
CAD $2,643
AUD $2,635
EUR €1,786
GBP £1,512
NZD $2,893
ZAR R25,948
CHF FR2,159
Book trip
Rio Carnaval Package Basix 6
USD $1,645
CAD $1,780
AUD $1,750
EUR €1,205
GBP £970
NZD $1,950
ZAR R17,470
CHF FR1,455
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Camel, India

Pushkar Camel Fair, India

Even camels need to let their hair down occasionally and the Pushkar Fair (or Pushkar ka mela) is where they get their chance. Tens of thousands of camels, horses and cattle descend on the town of Pushkar in Rajasthan, along with 400,000 locals, tourists, acrobats, dancers and snake charmers. The festival coincides with the full moon day of Kartik in the Hindu calendar and runs for about two weeks in October or November each year. Visit the mela, one of the last great traditional Indian fairs, to see the locals barter for livestock or get swept along in crazy competitions and crowd events like ‘longest moustache’ and the ‘tourists v locals’ cricket match. 

When to travel: Because the festival is based on a lunar calendar it can be a challenge to synch up exact festival dates with your trip. It’s usually held in October or November, but research and plan well ahead to make sure you catch it. 


Festival survival guide

  • Bring a scarf or something to help cover your mouth – the dust and the sand get everywhere.
  • This is a dry festival, as well as a vegetarian one – so be prepared for no meat, eggs or booze.
  • Watch where you step! One of the unfortunate side effects of lots of camels is lots of camel dung.  
  • If you’re a light sleeper, bring earplugs to block out the night-time prayers that echo through Pushkar during the mela. 
  • If you can, arrive a couple of days before the official start of the festival. That’s when camel numbers are at their most impressive.

Top trips

Trip name Days Total
AUD
CAD
CHF
EUR
GBP
NZD
USD
ZAR
price from
Classic Rajasthan 15
USD $1,290
CAD $1,335
AUD $1,310
EUR €920
GBP £775
NZD $1,455
ZAR R13,500
CHF FR1,110
Book trip
India South & North 29
USD $2,695
CAD $2,775
AUD $2,735
EUR €1,885
GBP £1,570
NZD $3,020
ZAR R26,755
CHF FR2,225
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Naadam Festival, Mongolia

Naadam Festival, Mongolia

The wind-swept tundra and rolling steppes of Mongolia aren’t a typical setting for a big party, but they might be the most impressive. Each year thousands of Mongols celebrate Naadam, their biggest national holiday and festival. Traditionally it’s an exhibition in the three classic Mongolian martial arts: horse riding, archery and wrestling. But it’s grown over the years to be the biggest celebration of traditional culture on the Mongolian calendar. Watch the performers in Ulaanbaatar’s National Sports Stadium, but make sure to save time for some sizzling street barbecue and traditional throat singing too.

When to travel: Naadam is held on a national holiday from 11 July to 13 July each year, and you’ll find the biggest celebrations in the capital of Ulaanbaatar.


Festival survival guide

  • Try and find a game of shagai while in town. It’s a local version of skittles played with sheep bones. 
  • If you can manage it, touching the sweat of the winning jockey or wrestler is said to bestow good luck.
  • Make sure to check out the local craft stalls for some Mongolian souvenirs.
  • Whatever you do, don’t miss the opening and closing ceremonies. They’re always spectacular.
  • It may sound strange, but a taste of traditional Mongolian airag (fermented horse milk) is a must. 

Top trips

Trip name Days Total
AUD
CAD
CHF
EUR
GBP
NZD
USD
ZAR
price from
Wild Mongolia 15
USD $2,985
CAD $3,080
AUD $3,040
EUR €2,090
GBP £1,750
NZD $3,340
ZAR R29,695
CHF FR2,465
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Mardi Gras, New Orleans, USA

Mardi Gras, New Orleans (USA)

Mardi Gras is to the States what Carnival is to Brazil. Not just in a ‘they’re both big on faux glamour’ kind of way, but more the fact they both mark the same celebration. Literally translating to ‘Fat Tuesday’ in French, Mardi Gras, like Carnival, marks the day before traditional fasting sets in on Ash Wednesday – hence the emphasis on plumping up while you still can. Mardi Gras in New Orleans isn’t as boisterous an affair as its Brazilian equivalent – though really, what is? – but it is an absolute hoot. The parades are delightfully gaudy, the costumes a full-blown affront to wholesome tastes and the mood oh-so-very-merry. New Orleans, St Louis and Galveston are the best places to get in among the action.

When to travel: Kicking off on the day before Ash Wednesday, exactly 47 days before Easter Sunday, Mardi Gras changes year-to-year, though tends to occur around the end of February/beginning of March.


Festival survival guide

  • Things can get pretty hectic during Mardi Gras and it’s easy to get separated. If reveling with others, choose a meet-up spot for if (when) you lose each other.
  • A central part of the festival involves float participants flinging strings of beads and doubloons (coins) into the crowds. Bring a bag along to stuff these mementos into. And be careful when picking them up off the ground as fingers are prone to getting trodden on.
  • Drinking on the street from cans or glasses is illegal. Get yourself a plastic cup and drink away.
  • While there’s an abundance of alcohol, scantily clad flesh and general good-time vibes, keep in mind that this is a family affair.
  • Get involved. If you rock up sans wig, oversized glasses, mask and/or sequins, you’ll quickly feel like a party-pooper.

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Montreal Jazz Festival, Canada

Riverside, French-speaking, a UNESCO City of Design, hometown of Leonard Cohen and Arcade Fire… As if Montreal wasn’t cool enough already, they just had to go and create the world’s biggest jazz festival. And then, just to push the point a little further, they went and made the majority of the performances free. The brainchild of Montreal local Alain Simard, the ten-day event is said to attract upwards of two million punters each year and over 3,000 artists. Trolling through those who’ve played here over the years is rather like flicking through a who’s who of jazz and blues history: B.B. King, Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, Miles Davis, Nina Simone, Herbie Hancock, Dave Brubeck, Stevie Wonder… Even if you’re not much of a jazz fan, the vibe that overtakes the city – stylish, swanky, sophisticated – is downright infectious.

When to travel: Due to many of the performances taking place on outdoor stages, the festival runs at the peak of summer. The exact dates change year on year, but end of June to beginning of July is when the music usually comes to town.


Festival survival guide

  • While most of the concerts are free, you’ll probably need to buy a ticket to see the big name acts. Find out who’s playing and secure yours early.
  • Take a punt on seeing acts you’ve never heard of. If they’ve been selected by the festival’s musical programmers, they’re bound to be good.
  • Pick up a concert program. It’s free and a pretty handy guide to who’s playing where and when.
  • Use public transport to get to the event or take advantage of the city’s public biking system, Bixi.
  • Dress for all occasions. True, the festival does take place in the middle of summer… but this is Canada.

View all trips to Canada



La Tomatina, Spain

La Tomatina, Spain

Ah Spain, for all your sultry sophistication you still know how to have a rollicking good time. Just look at Bunol’s La Tomatina festival. Held each year on the last Wednesday of August, the world’s most celebrated food fight came about... um, nobody’s too sure how. But that’s not the point. Pelting people with tomatoes is. In the good old days (i.e. pre 2013), up to 50,000 were said to descend on this small town for tomato-throwing purposes, though now a ticketing system restricting numbers to 20,000 has been introduced. This is one festival where you really won’t feel left out not being local. No language skills necessary, scant opportunities for cultural faux pas, just a fervent desire to get covered in goopy tomato-ey goodness.

When to travel: Bunol’s tomato festival takes place each year on the last Wednesday of August.


Festival survival guide

  • Certain rules do apply. You’re morally obliged to squash your tomato before pegging it at someone. No ripping of other people’s clothing. No throwing of anything other than tomatoes. Fairly simple stuff really.
  • Wear solid, closed shoes that you won’t mind throwing away afterwards (same goes for clothing).
  • Some combatants choose to wear goggles when going into battle. You may elect to do the same.
  • If you’re looking to capture the event on film, make sure your camera is tomato-proofed.
  • Being a small town, it’s pretty difficult to find accommodation in Bunol. Either book way ahead or stay in nearby Valencia.

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4th July, Independence Day

Independence Day, USA

Independence Day commemorates the day the US formalised their independence from Great Britain by ratifying the Declaration of – yep, you guessed it – Independence. Also regularly referred to as July 4th, it’s the nation’s National Day and celebrated as a Federal Holiday – no small matter in a country where two weeks of holiday is the norm. Coincide some travel in the US with this date and you’ll be treated to an extravaganza of all things Americana: BBQs and baseball games, parades and picnics, flags and fireworks, Yankee Doodles and Uncle Sams… Heck, you could even catch a hotdog-eating contest. Nothing acknowledges casting off the shackles of British imperialism like smashing 61 hotdogs.

When to travel: To experience 4th of July celebrations you’ll want to be there on the 4th July. Makes sense.


Festival survival guide

  • Independence Day is relatively easy so long as you’re partial to red, white and blue. Wear the colours, paint ‘em on your face or bedeck your food with them.
  • Fireworks are a big part of Independence Day celebrations. Watching the pyrotechnics put on by the local authorities is bound to be a more spectacular – not to mention safer – experience than crackers fired off by the neighbours.
  • This being said, for an authentic insight into American culture and lifestyle, try to score an invite to a local’s celebration. Just quietly seek cover when the explosives are brought out.

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Songkran water festival, Thailand

Songkran, Thailand

In a country such a Thailand, even ceremonial rituals aren’t beyond a little fun and frivolity. From a tradition originally all about instilling a respect for your elders and cleaning Buddhist imagery evolved Songkran – the world’s biggest water fight. Every year, from 13–15 April, right across the Land of Smiles, Thais young and old arm themselves with any object of water-holding ability – hoses, water pistols, buckets, Tupperware containers – and set about soaking each other silly. To be fair, the practice does have a symbolic significance: a splash of water represents washing off the misfortunes of the past year in preparation for that to come. But ultimately, the whole affair serves as one big street party splash-fest.

When to travel: Songkran takes place 13-15th April each year.


Festival survival guide

  • Sounds obvious, and it is, but only take waterproof photo equipment out with you.
  • Don’t head out in any clothing you’re not willing to see ruined.
  • Thai traffic can be tumultuous at the best of time and barrages of water coming every which way doesn’t help things much. Avoid driving if you can and exercise caution when walking the roads.
  • Have alms ready to give monks.
  • Refrain from dousing monks, babies or the elderly – unless they douse you first. Then it’s game on.
  • Only throw clean water at people.

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Tet Festival, Vietnam

Tet, Vietnam

Vietnam’s biggest festival celebration is a little like New Year’s meets a good old spring clean. In the interests of ushering in a new year happy, healthy and prosperous, much ado is made of sweeping out the old and prepping the scene for all things fortuitous. Homes are cleaned, respects are paid to ancestors, new clothes are bought and worn, banquets are prepared, flowers are arranged about the house and an emphasis is put on the paying of debts and resolving of feuds. For the visitor, what all this commotion translates to on the ground is an exhilarating atmosphere of anticipation and renewal. Get along dressed in your finest, tuck into specially prepared festival dishes, wish all you meet ‘Năm mới dồi dào sức khỏe’ (or as close as you can get) and see the fireworks go off.

When to travel: Depending on the year, celebrations can last from several days to over a week. The festival usually takes place between the last ten days of January and first 20 of February.


Festival survival guide

  • Superstitions and taboos hold great cultural currency during the Tet period and it’s well worth being aware of a few of the major do’s and don’ts. The first visitor a family receives into their home is believed to herald their fortune for the year, so never show up uninvited (unless you’re super loaded and lucky). Following this logic, don’t visit a family if you have recently lost a family member. May sound a little unfair, but you don’t want to confer your own misfortunes onto others.
  • Sweeping during the first days of Tet is also taboo, as it signifies the sweeping away of good luck.
  • Many businesses shut down during Tet as workers head home to spend time with their families. Either stock up a little in advance or try to be in a sizeable city where you’ll still be able to find places open. Shops and restaurants that keep doing business during Tet will often add a surcharge to the bill.
  • Be sensitive in haggling over prices. Sellers have a strong belief that if their New Year starts strong their year is destined to be a prosperous one. It can therefore be extremely disheartening to miss out on a sale or be bargained down unduly. If you do enter a shop, try to purchase at least something – even if it’s small and cheap. Otherwise just inspect the goods from outside without entering.
  • In a similar vein, refrain from arguing, indulging in conflict, enacting cruelty etc. These displays are believed to determine what the nature of the New Year… as well as being pretty good restrictions to abide by in general.

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