Colourful Carnival Celebrations Around the World
Whether you call it Carnival or Mardi Gras, it’s time for some of the world’s best parties to take place as winter draws to a close in the lead up to Easter. Mardi Gras’s/Carnival’s colourful traditions include elegant masks, elaborate costumes, dancing, competitions, clowns and music galore and is celebrated all over the world, in weird and wonderful ways.
We've scoured the globe to find some of the most fantastically unique celebrations that you can’t help but dance along with.
UNIQUE EUROPEAN GEMS
Party Details: With a Carnival tradition dating back to the 14th century and officially listed as an Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO, this Carnival in the medieval walled town of Binche is hailed as the best in all of Belgium. Nearly a thousand wax-masked clowns known as ‘Gilles’ roam the streets starting at dawn on Ash Tuesday, dancing to the beat of drums in wooden shoes and beating sticks to ward off evil spirits. Later on, the Gilles don fanciful hats bedecked with ostrich feathers and toss oranges to crowds as they march through the town. If you’re lucky enough to be pelted with an orange, don’t submit to the temptation to throw one back—it’s considered a massive insult!
When to Go: The official festivities begin on Sunday, 26 February 2017 and culminate on Shrove Tuesday (28 February). Celebrations include music, street performers, a street parade of clowns, jugglers and dancers.
Where to Stay: The Best Western Plus Orange Hotel, located in La Louvière is just a short drive away from Binche. A great base which includes a bicycle rental service, garden terrace and fitness room, guests can start their day with the delights from the buffet breakfast before heading to the carnival.
Party Details: Boasting the largest Carnival celebration in Switzerland, the Basel Fasnacht is a three 3-day, around-the-clock blowout that begins the Monday after Ash Wednesday (6 March 2017). Satirically dressed revellers march through the streets, piping on their piccolos and beating on drums. Featuring endless rounds of parading brass bands, fantastical floats, and sarcastic singers, you need to be on the lookout for the infamous “Waggis”, known for showering spectators without official Fasnacht Badges with handfuls of colourful confetti.
When to Go: With reliable Swiss precision, the Basel Fasnacht lasts for exactly three days, beginning at 4:00am on Monday, 6 March, 2017 and finishing up at 4:00am on Thursday, 9 March, 2017.
Where to Stay: Situated just steps from Basel’s historic centre and the train station, MadibApartments L8 is the perfect crash pad to soak up the Carnival scene in Basel. It’s close enough to the action for you to secretly and conveniently escape the crowds for a quick power nap to recharge for the next round of masked mayhem.
Party Details: Grab a protective helmet and jump into the fray in one of the world’s most famous food fights “The Battle of the Oranges”. Legend dictates that a young peasant girl refused to give in to the advances of a tyrannical lord on her wedding night and defiantly decapitated him, spurning a local rebellion. Although arrows have been exchanged for citrus fruit, the re-enactment of this epic battle is no less intense and is the highlight of Carnival celebrations in Ivrea, with thousands of inhabitants dividing into nine teams, intent on beating the “pulp” out of each other.
When to Go: Around 500,000 kilos of oranges will be hurled around Ivrea from 25 February to 28 February 2017.
Where to Stay: Tend to your battle wounds in style at Castello Di Strambinello, a medieval castle in picturesque surroundings of woods and hills and just a 15 minute drive from Ivrea.
SCINTILLATING SOUTH AMERICAN CELEBRATIONS
Party Details: During the epic six-day “Carnaval baiano”, you’ll be bouncing to the beats pumped out by dozens of bands and artists strategically stationed throughout this massive street party, so come prepared to mingle with the masses! The annual celebrations in Salvador welcome an estimated two million+ party goers to the city. You can’t samba your way through the streets without sampling Brazil’s national cocktail, the caipirinha, which will keep you dancing till dawn.
When to Go: The official party gets started in Salvador on Thursday 23 February 2017 and runs until the 1st March, but don’t be surprised if people are dancing in the streets well before and after these dates.
Where to Stay: With stunning ocean views in the heart of one of Salvador’s most colourful neighbourhoods, the Pousada Casa Vila Bella is the perfect place for some authentic local hospitality and a little R&R between rounds of reckless abandon.
Party Details: As the former seat of power for the Inca Empire, the Peruvian city of Cusco delivers a truly unique Carnival celebration that pays homage to both its Spanish colonial history and indigenous traditions. Dressed in local costumes bedecked with colourful streamers, locals flock to the regional capital for a week of festivities. Prepare yourself to get soaked, as the celebrations also include playful water fights in the streets near the central Plaza de Armas, as well as a large public feast. The lively party also includes rounds of ritualised dancing around an enormous “yunza” tree loaded with presents and gifts. Couples take turns trying to hack down the tree, with the couple striking the final blow being tasked with sorting out the yunza tree for the following year!
When to Go: The week-long series of Carnival celebrations in Cusco will take place from 24 February to 1 March 2017, so make sure you’re there in plenty of time to take in all of the festivities!
Where to Stay: Tambo del Arriero Hotel Boutique is a charming colonial boutique hotel in the Nueva Alta neighbourhood, just 5 blocks from the main square of Cusco and offers accommodation with a cosy atmosphere.
FABULOUS FAR-FLUNG FESTIVITIES
Party Details: With more than 80 miles of coastline and a reputation for being one of the world’s premiere party destinations, Goa packs a real punch with not one, but two fabulous festivals that are worth travelling for in the early part of the year. The first noteworthy party of the season, the Goa Carnival, is a mix of diverse traditions and religious ceremonies that culminates in a large parade featuring fantastical floats, dancing and a wide range of music on par with its counterparts in South America. For an exclusively Indian experience, stick around until March for the second not-to-be-missed party, the iconic and colourful Holi Festival. On the day after the first full moon in the month of March, the “festival of colours” is a wet and wild free-for-all that has to be experienced to be believed. Starting in the early hours of the morning, people of all ages drench each other in brightly coloured water and fling large amounts of powdered dyes everywhere and at everyone. The joyous multi-coloured chaos usually tapers off as evening approaches, but is by far one of the most exuberant and memorable ways to welcome the changing of the seasons.
When to Go: In 2017, the Goa Carnival starts on Saturday 25 February and finishes up on Tuesday 28 February. To indulge in some wanton finger painting, stick around for the Holi Festival in Goa which takes place this year on 12 March.
Where to Stay: Located right on Miramar Beach in the bustling centre of Goa’s capital, Panaji, the Goa Marriott Resort & Spa is an ideal choice for taking advantage of all the partying, culture, and pampering that India’s smallest state has to offer.
Party Details: What began as a local gay rights march in Sydney in 1978 has exploded into one of the most popular and beloved tourist events in Australia. Featuring a packed calendar of events, the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras is one of the largest gay pride festivals in the world and now attracts enormous crowds to its decadent and eccentric parade. With something for everyone, the Sydney Mardi Gras is by far Down Under’s most impressive street party!
When to Go: It all kicks off on 17 February this year and takes over Sydney for two week until Sunday 5 March.
Where to Stay: For the ultimate Sydney experience, nurse your post-Mardi Gras hangover at the casual and cool Bondi Beach House, just steps from the city’s most iconic stretch of golden sand.
QUÉBEC CITY, CANADA
Party Details: Taking place over two weeks each year in Québec City, unlike other Carnival festivities around the world, the Québec Winter Carnival is a celebration of everything frozen. Featuring numerous events and parades showcasing the festival’s friendly snowman mascot Bonhomme, revellers can wander gleefully through the Ice Palace, admire ice sculptures created on site by artists from around the world, or simply enjoy a wide range of winter sport events, including snowshoe and dogsled races. The theme of the snow sculpture contest this year will be Canada's 150th anniversary.
When to Go: This year’s Winter Carnival takes place from January 27 to February 12, so there’s plenty of time to take advantage of all the frozen fun!
Where to Stay: As the most photographed hotel in the world and the crown jewel of North America’s only fortified city, a stay at the historic Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac is an indulgent treat for your frozen Canadian getaway, especially if you plan to attend the exclusive masquerade ball held in the grand ballroom.