Everyone’s heard of Burning Man and Rio Carnival. Maybe you’ve even been Mardi Gras or Oktoberfest. But there are many little-known festivals that are equally fun and far less crowded. If you’re ready to grow your bucket list, get inspired by 12 of the most unique and astonishing secret festivals around the world.
La Fiesta de Fallas
Come for the tapas and paella, stay for the fire and gunpowder at this Spanish festival. For five days in March in Valencia, a party in the streets converges around daily parades, pyrotechnical shows, and wondrous, towering effigies scattered throughout the city. These impressive, satirical structures, called Fallas are designed and built over the course of a year by skilled artists, only to be torched on the final night, La Cremà.
Be prepared for little sleep, as the marching bands ensure everyone rises early, an army of children explode firecrackers around the clock, and DJ’d street parties last until sunrise.
This summer-time festival revolves around a target shooting competition amongst social clubs in Germany, but there’s plenty of fun for non-participants to enjoy as well. Schützenfest celebrations begin with a traditional parade, followed by an Oktoberfest-like party that can last up to several days. Hanover Schützenfest is the largest in the world with over 5,000 marksmen, five massive beer tents, and a 10,000 person procession. No need to pack the lederhosen for this festival, but be prepared for lots of traditional Oompah music and Hefeweizen.
Extravagant banquets, boisterous concerts, and faux sacrifices take center stage at this Peruvian festival in Cusco. A nine-day celebration of the Incan New Year, the “festival of the sun” honors Inti, the sun god. Every 24th of June, a royal procession leads festival-goers to an ancient fortress for a daylong reenactment of ancient Incan rituals.
Boryeong Mud Festival
If you’re ready to get down and dirty, make plans to attend this two-week summer Mud Festival in Boryeong, South Korea. With events like mud wrestling, mud sliding, mud races, and a mud king contest, it’s truly a mud wonderland. Beyond the unadulterated fun of the event, the locally sourced mud is also used to manufacture high-quality cosmetics sold throughout the festival.
Cooper’s Hill Cheese Rolling
If you’ve been dreaming about a trip to the English countryside, let the annual springtime Cooper’s Hill Cheese Rolling Festival be your reason to go. As the name aptly implies, festivities center around rolling wheels of cheese down Cooper’s Hill — a steep, 300-foot slope in Gloucestershire — as contestants try to catch it. If that doesn’t sound exciting, consider that the cheese weighs up to nine pounds and travels at up to 70 miles per hour on its downhill journey.
Pingxi Lantern Festival
Many places throughout Asia commemorate the end of Chinese New Year with sky lanterns, but none quite like Pingxi. Attendees at the Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival come together each year to watch their lanterns collectively float into the night sky amidst folk performances, lantern riddle contests, and street carnivals. Sky lanterns carry the festival-goers’ goals and desires for the year ahead.
Jaisalmer Desert Festival
You’ve heard of Mr. Universe, but what about Mr. Desert? Head to the city of Jaisalmer, India this February for fire-breathing dance performances, snake charmers, puppet shows, acrobatic routines, and camel polo matches. Competition at this three-day festival really heats up with a moustache contest, turban tying challenge and a camel decoration tournament.
With days of flour, dirty cloth and ant throwing battles, nights of cross-dressing, and seemingly endless hours of loud music, you can see that northwestern Spain celebrates Carnival a little differently. Each city in Galicia holds parades with costume-clad leaders, but the most famous celebrations are in Laza, Verín and Xinzo de Limia.
Take the opportunity to dress in silly costumes, eat traditional local food like bica cake, pulpo (octopus) with paprika, orellas (pig ears), and drink licor café.
Each Greek Orthodox Easter at midnight, the island of Chios, Greece lights up with thousands of homemade bottle rockets. This “Rocket War” is a battle between two rival church congregations on opposite sides of the town of Vrontados. Set 440 yards apart, the two sides aim for the bell tower of the church on the other side. Though the spectacle only lasts about a half hour, the party lasts all night — and the ear ringing can last all Easter.
Noche de Rábanos
You’ve carved pumpkins at Halloween, but how about carving radishes at Christmas? Every December 23rd in town squares throughout Oaxaca, Mexico, participants display elaborate designs carved into this oft-overlooked vegetable in celebration of the official “Night of the Radishes.”
It’s certainly an exciting celebration to observe, but carving your own amateur entry may be worth your while. The artist with the best carving receives a 12,000-peso grand prize.
Monkey Buffet Festival
Monkeys are serious business in the Lopburi province of Thailand. In honor of their importance in Buddhist culture and popularity among tourists, festival organizers present 8,000 pounds of fruits, vegetables, cakes and candy for the local macque monkeys to enjoy every November. Performers in monkey masks and costumes, elaborate monkey sculptures and visitors from around the world surround these famed primates as they feast.
Grow out your beard, grab your best flannel and get ready to celebrate all things burly at this South African festival. Also known as the Lumberjack Games, this event draws competitors to the Lievland Wine Estate in Stellenbosch every April for axe throwing, log hurling, tree chopping, crosscut partner sawing and tree climbing contests. Less expert visitors can try their hand at wood sculpting, plant olive trees and swing on a giant tree swing.