There’s no better way to immerse yourself in another culture than by celebrating a festival with the locals. Whether you’re throwing colorful dye during India’s Holi street parties, wandering parks decorated with Japan’s iconic cherry blossoms or spotting whale tails breaking the waters off South Africa’s coastline, here are some of the world’s top cultural festivals to take part in across our Alfred& destinations.
When: usually March, determined by the lunar calendar
India comes alive with colour during the Hindu festival of Holi. Held on the last full moon of the lunar month Phalguna, which usually falls in March, the festival marks the end of winter and signifies new life, as well as the triumph of good over evil. During the two-day festival, join locals and tourists alike for a giant street party that involves pelting each other with colourful, perfumed powder mixed with water. Celebrations take place all over the country and also include bonfires, music and feasts.
Cherry blossom festival (Hanami)
When: February to May
During this world-famous festival, stroll through Japan’s parks laden with pink cherry (sakura) trees. Blossoms represent the beauty and fragility of life and begin in February, spreading north to Kyoto and Tokyo in April and May. Catch incredible displays at hotspots like Tokyo’s Ueno Park, home to 800 blossom trees, and UNESCO-listed Nijo Castle in Kyoto. The ancient tradition of flower viewing, Hanami, is treated with great reverence in Japan and involves picnicking beneath the trees with friends and family.
Hermanus Whale Festival
Where: South Africa
Come to Hermanus, South Africa, in September to spot hundreds of graceful southern right whales during this week-long festival. This is peak time for whales to calve and rear their young in the sheltered bay. Listen out for the Hermanus whale crier, who wanders the clifftops signalling sightings with a horn, and take boat trips to observe these marine heavyweights. During the festival, Hermanus hosts street parades, fun runs, markets and food stalls. Visit the eco-tent to learn about ocean conservation; the festival’s roots hark back to Wendy, a whale that locals saved after being beached here in the 1930s.
Kwita Izina gorilla naming ceremony
Where: Volcanoes National Park
In September, Rwanda holds a grand naming ceremony for its baby gorillas. Kwita Izina, which means ‘to give name to,’ follows the tradition of community baby naming in Rwanda and celebrates the country’s superb gorilla conservation efforts. The week-long festival is held in Volcanoes National Park, home to around 340 of the world’s remaining 1,000 mountain gorillas, and takes place every September to coincide with World Gorilla Day on the 24th and mark the month when famed conservationist Dian Fossey set up Karisoke Research Center here in 1967. September is also dry season, making it the best time to take gorilla trekking tours in Rwanda.
When: October or November
The magical festival of lights, Diwali (also known as Deepavali) is the most important event in the Hindu calendar. During the festival, people all over India line the streets with candles and lamps to signify light overcoming darkness; the word Deepavali is derived from the Sanskrit for clay lamps (deepa) and avail (row). Festivities take place sometime in October and November depending on the lunar calendar and are held over five days, each holding a special significance. Travel anywhere in India during Diwali and you’ll witness dazzling light displays, fireworks, feasts and prayers.
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