If you want to really know about a place and its people, you must visit during the festival time. The celebrations, colours, joie de vivre around the event as well as the rituals and ceremonies make these festivals unique. We both love to visit the different festivals in India and experience the uniqueness of each community through their festivals. In a way, these festivals are different from each other, yet have a common thread between them. In this post, we have featured a few unique festivals around the world, as suggested by our fellow travel bloggers and writers.
- Unique Festivals around the world
- 100 Drums Wangala Festival, Meghalaya in India
- South Tyrol Jazz Festival in Italy
- Annual Penis Festival in Japan
- Fête des Lumières or Festival of Lights (Lyon)
- Entroido in Verin
- Sonoma Hot Air Balloon Festival
- Hungry Ghost Festival in Penang
- Vilnius Street Music Day
- Paris Zombie Festival
- Parada Ng Lechon or Roasted Pig Festival in Philippines
- Bansko Jazz festival
- Cirio de Nazaré in Brazil
- Halloween in Derry, Northern Island
- La Tomatina in Valencia, Spain
- Tapati Festival in Easter Island
- San Sebastián Street Festival in Puetro Rico
- Mértola Islamic Festival
- Formaggio Di Fossa – Cave Cheese Festival Italy
- Sant’Efisio festival in Cagliari
- Zamboanga Hermosa Festival in Zamboanga City, Philippines
Unique Festivals around the world
100 Drums Wangala Festival, Meghalaya in India
By Northeast Wandered of Experience Northeast India
There are many unique festivals celebrated in Northeast India. 100 Drums Wangala Festival is one such festival celebrated by the Garo tribes in Meghalaya. This is a 3 days harvest festival where the Garos pay tribute to Misi Saljong or ‘Pattigipa Ra’rongipa’ (The Great Giver) for blessing them with a rich harvest season. Music and dance form an integral part of the festival.
The festival starts with the village chief, known as ‘Nokma’ performing the Rugala ritual. At Rugala, an offering of the best and the first prepared rice beer, cooked rice and vegetables to the Almighty. The highlight of the festival is, however, the Mega Dance taking place on the final day. Each village forms a group of 10 drummers and 30 dancers and 10 such groups take part in the dance. So there are 100 drummers playing the drums and 300 dancers dancing to the beat of the drums. All of them are in their colourful traditional attire and elaborate headgears made of feather. The entire occasion is a spectacle to watch. Wangala Festival takes place every year in November.
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South Tyrol Jazz Festival in Italy
By Michela from Rocky Travel
If you like jazz music and nature, then be sure not to miss out on the summer Jazz Festival in South Tyrol, in Italy. I had the chance of attending this festival last year and fell in love with it. The great thing about this festival is that it’s held everywhere and not only in Bolzano and its surroundings. So it’s not only a city festival but a festival that brings musicians and music fans into nature, to create a fabulous blend of the beautiful mountain landscape with music artworks. The music stages are set up in unique locations, like hotels or huts in the mountains but also on grass fields at the foothills of a stunning mountain backdrop, like the Puez-Geisler that you see in this image. The Jazz Festival takes place every year, end of June. This festival attracts thousands of visitors every year. The dates for 2019 are from 29th June to 8th July. For ten days you will be able to see over 50 concerts in varied locations, scattered all over the Northern Dolomites. The first weekend this year will see San Vigilio near Meran, and the Hocheppan Castle as the main shows. The South Tyrol Jazz Festival is a terrific occasion to visit Bolzano and go hiking in its beautiful Dolomites.
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Annual Penis Festival in Japan
By Michael from Time Travel Turtle
The annual Penis Festival in Japan is quite a sight! A huge crowd gathers in the city of Kawasaki for the event and then three enormous penis sculptures are paraded through the streets. Meanwhile, families have come along and are eating lollipops, wearing masks, buying souvenirs… all in the shape of penises. The festival is officially called Kanamara Matsuri and it’s actually focused around a Shinto shrine. Although most spectators treat it as a bit of fun, it has a serious spiritual side for those who take part in the main events.
The shrine was used in the 1600s by prostitutes praying for protection from diseases. Over the years, that then evolved until people praying for fertility, healthy births, fruitful marriages. Now the penis also represents financial success and a prosperous life. The Penis Festival is held at the beginning of April each year and is only about a 30-minute train trip from central Tokyo. Most of the people who go are Japanese but foreigners are more than welcome to go along and watch.
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Fête des Lumières or Festival of Lights (Lyon)
By Stefan of Nomadic Boys
The “Fête des Lumières” light festival of Lyon in France is one of our favourite festivals. It takes place each year around the 8th December. This 4-day festival is the city’s celebration “thanking” the Virgin Mary who watched over the city and spared its residents from a terrible plague back in 1643. When the plague threatened the city on 8th September 1643, the municipal councillors of Lyon (“échevins”) promised to pay tribute to Mary if the town was spared. According to myth, the city was indeed spared, so the residents paid their thanks to Mary by placing a candle at their window. Fast forward to 1852, the festival was created following the inauguration of the statue of the Virgin Mary next to the Basilica, overlooking the city. The festival has taken place every year since then and is one of the city’s main highlights. We love it because there is an extraordinary and beautiful atmosphere across the entire city when lit up by candles. It’s also impressive because each year they put on some stunning outdoor light displays during the festival across the main monuments of Lyon. This is done to commemorate the city’s infamous resident celebrities, the Lumière Brothers, who created the world’s first motion picture in 1895.
Entroido in Verin
By Inma from A World to Travel
Entroido in Verin, Galicia Dating from the sixteenth century, the masked figure of the ‘Cigarrón’ – which, it is said, could be a mockery of the former tax collectors – is the main distinctive feature of this unique Galician Entroido – a sort of Carnival celebrated usually towards the end of Winter across many Galician towns, with different traditions and gastronomy delicacies to keep everyone happy and well fed. In Verin, one of the best known of them all, the celebrations last for a couple of weeks, but if we had to point out the best time to actually experience it, this would be the Domingo Corredoiro (aka. Running Sunday), where dozens of ‘Cigarróns’ march down the main street of the village hitting anyone who dares to stand in their way with a stick. On top of Domingo Corredoiro, there are a few other key days to this Galician celebration such as ‘Xoves de Compadres y Compadres’ and ‘Luns de Entroido’ when a fun flour battle takes place in the streets of Verin. You can find much more information about how to experience the Galician carnival in our article about the Entroido in Galicia. Enjoy!
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Sonoma Hot Air Balloon Festival
By Constance of Adventures of Panda Bear
The Sonoma Hot Air Balloon Classic is a local hot air balloon festival located in wine country near San Francisco. Nestled in Sonoma County, the festival occurs over an entire weekend every June in the town of Windsor. Each year at least 30 hot air balloons participate making for a beautiful experience. If you get there early enough, you’ll also have the amazing opportunity to see them set up the balloons, blow them up, and launch them in the early morning. The setup process is unique in that you’ll get to see the gas light up against the dark morning sky. Aside from balloon launches, tethered hot air balloon rides are available as well as hot air balloon rides. Hot air balloon rides are available at a festival sponsorship rate, they are not cheap but you help support the festival. The tethered hot air balloon rides are more affordable and you might even get to ride in a Sylvester from The Looney Tunes balloon! The Sonoma Hot Air Balloon Classic has been growing each year with more and more visitors seeing the launches. If you get a chance to attend, keep in mind that this IS an early morning experience as the winds are calmer in the mornings. Even if you’re tired you’ll be in for an amazing experience!
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Hungry Ghost Festival in Penang
By Marco Ferrarese of Penang Insider
The Hungry Ghost Festival in Penang is one of Southeast Asia’s most quirky celebration involving the dead. Legend says that during the seventh month of the Chinese lunar calendar (usually falling between August and September) the gates of hell open. It’s the time when King of Hell Tai Su Yeah unleashes an army of hungry ghosts back on Earth. They come to have a respite from the rigours of Hell,and look for some company and fun among the living. Penang, a popular Malaysian island on the backpacker trail, is where this festival is celebrated. The local Chinese oblige the ghosts’ desires: pop-up temples-cum-performance stages are set up all over the corners of George Town, where devotees offer fruits, incense sticks and prayers to the dead. Each one of the altars has a paper statue of Tai Su Yeah, which will be burnt at the end of the festival. For a month, Tai Su Yeah observes a diet of fresh food, beer, and at times even fresh lumps of opium, while the ghosts are free to roam around and mingle with the humans — never sit on the empty front row of chairs, which is reserved to the ghosts! To keep up with times, Penang local Chinese these days offer singing shows with scantily clad, sexy local singers, rather than traditional Chinese Opera. The best way to enjoy the Hungry Ghost Festival is simply to walk around George Town, look for those makeshift temples, which often are made by simply pulling an awning above a small lane, and talk to whoever is there. People are friendly and happy to allow foreigners to witness the celebrations. If you time your arrival with the last week of the Hungry Ghost Festival, you’ll be able to see the final ritual burning of Tai Su Yeah, which send all the ghosts back to hell. pium, while the ghosts are free to roam around and mingle with the humans — never sit on the empty front row of chairs, which is reserved to the ghosts! To keep up with times, Penang local Chinese these days offer singing shows with scantily clad, sexy local singers, rather than traditional Chinese Opera. The best way to enjoy the Hungry Ghost Festival is simply to walk around George Town, look for those makeshift temples, which often are made by simply pulling an awning above a small lane, and talk to whoever is there. People are friendly and happy to allow foreigners to witness the celebrations. If you time your arrival with the last week of the Hungry Ghost Festival, you’ll be able to see the final ritual burning of Tai Su Yeah, which send all the ghosts back to hell.
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Vilnius Street Music Day
By Helen of Helen on Her Holidays
The capital of Lithuania, Vilnius, is a beautiful, quirky city, proud of its cultural heritage and well worth a weekend trip. To get the most out of your visit to Vilnius, try to visit on Street Music Day, when the city comes alive in celebration of all types of music – traditional, modern, instrumental, amateur and professional. Vilnius Street Music Day takes place on a Saturday in May, when the weather is starting to warm up in Lithuania and people are happy to be outside after a long winter. From late morning onwards, musicians set up on street corners, outside churches, in parks and on the steps of shopping centres ready to entertain. Walking through the city centre of Vilnius on Street Music Day is a wonderful experience; within a short distance, we saw a guitar and drums duo rocking out in front of Vilnius’s landmark twin churches, a singer-songwriter with an acoustic guitar in Cathedral Square and a young violinist on Pilies Street. Further along Pilies Street, in Vilnius’s lovely Old Town, we saw another, more melodic rock group, a recorder troupe and a trio of young women playing traditional Lithuanian instruments. Street Music Day is now so popular in Vilnius that it’s spread across Lithuania. Each year, thousands of musicians take to the streets to entertain in a wonderful, nationwide festival of music and song.
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Paris Zombie Festival
By Elisa of World in Paris
The Paris Zombie Festival, also known as Paris Zombie Walk, is one of the coolest and weirdest festivals in Paris, France. It is an offbeat festival not much advertised by the Paris tourism board or by travel blogs, but since the last couple of years, people have started to include the Paris Zombie Festival in their Paris itineraries. The Paris Zombie Festival usually takes place on a Saturday of September or October. The exact date is only announced only 2-3 weeks in advance to keep the mystery as long as possible. The festival consists of a zombie parade along the central streets of Paris and it is very scary! The zombies gathering and departure point of the parade is usually at Place de la République but then the itinerary changes every year. Anybody can participate in this zombie parade as long as they are ready to become a zombie! In the Paris Zombie Festival, there is always music, excellent costumes (most of them hand made by the zombies themselves) and makeup and it is a fantastic opportunity for professional photographers or photo aficionados to take fantastic clichés. Are you ready to become a zombie in Paris?
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Parada Ng Lechon or Roasted Pig Festival in Philippines
By Mervin of Pinoy Adventurista
Parada Ng Lechon In the Philippines, it is common for lechon or whole roast pig to be served at any Filipino fiesta table and during huge celebrations. The Parada ng Lechon or Roasted Pig Festival in the town of Balayan is dubbed as the “king of all Batangas festivals.” It is a celebration held annually on the 24th day of June for the Feast of St. John the Baptist. As it is a celebration for St. John the Baptist, any one attending this festival should be ready to experience a unique parade of decorated roasted pigs and expect to get wet, splashed and drenched with water and get “baptized” again. During the festival, about a hundred lechon parade along the streets of this historic town leading to the church. The roasted pigs are dressed according to the theme of the participating groups. It is definitely fun to see roasted pigs dressed as a basketball player, beauty queen, motorcycle driver, policeman among many others. Whether you’re traveling to swim in one of the lovely beaches in Batangas or just want have a quick weekend getaway, drop by the town of Balayan and have a taste of their delicious lechon. The Parada ng Lechon (roasted pig parade) is definitely a festival you must see in Balayan Batangas. An ultimate “fiesta experience” you should attend even once in your life.
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Bansko Jazz festival
By Sarah & Nigel of A Social Nomad
Every August for the last 21 years the mountain town of Bansko, Bulgaria has hosted the Bansko Jazz festival. It’s a completely free event held in the old town square and it’s grown in leaps and bounds – prompting also a variety of other free festivals in the town throughout the summer. Bansko is most famous as Bulgaria’s biggest ski resort, but summer in Bansko is unique and the jazz festival is one of the reasons. The Bansko Jazz festival is always held at the beginning of August and was the brainchild of a local doctor. It’s always been both international and local in nature. The big band from the local town, Blagoevgrad for instance always plays. There are always international artists – from the USA, from Germany, Slovenia, the UK. Headline artists are well known and there’s always an eclectic mix of jazz styles performed. Sure you can pay to get the front row seats, but most people bring a picnic, or buy local food, beer and wine from the vendors around the square and sit on a blanket enjoying the family atmosphere that the festival brings
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Cirio de Nazaré in Brazil
By Laudy and Jerome Shaw of Brasil2Brazil
The people of Pará wait the whole year with anticipation the Círio de Nossa Senhora de Nazaré. Each October this religious processional takes place in the city of Belém do Pará, in the north of Brazil. It is one of the world’s largest religious festivals, second in size to Carnival in Brazil. It celebrates the patron saint of Pará, Our Lady of Nazaré, the Virgin Mary. The 15-day festival begins on the second Saturday of October.
The Cirio (Procession) begins at the Igreja da Se (Our Lady of Grace Cathedral) in downtown Belem. A statue of Virgin Mary is brought from its place at Basilica of Our Lady of Nazareth of Exile. There begins the 3.6-kilometer walk back to Basilica of Our Lady of Nazareth. The Virgin Mary statue is carried aloft. She is joined by thousands of people walking, often holding tight to a rope that snakes through the streets of Belem. People come from all over Pará and Brazil, some walking barefoot as an act of worship and repentance. The festival incorporates many traditional Parense foods. The foods are prepared in advance and when the faithful complete the procession they celebrate together with family at home or in restaurants.
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Halloween in Derry, Northern Island
By Teresa Gomez of Brogan Abroad
Did you know that Halloween originated in Ireland? It was originally a celtic festival called Samhain (pronounced sow-in) when people wore costumes and lit bonfires to guard off spirits. With the arrival of Christianism, some elements of the Samhain festival were incorporated into the new Christian calendar, which marked 1st November as a day when you honour all saints. The evening became All Hallows Eve, now known as Halloween. Derry in Northern Ireland a place that embraces this age long tradition with open arms making it the highlight of the year in this historic Walled City. The City really comes alive with the now famous Awakening of the Walls, when the 17th century walls become a stage with spooky performances, projections and supernatural installations. The city gets flooded with people fully dressed up to witness the Return of the Ancient Parade, and magic drummers appear out of nowhere. There is music everywhere in the streets and you can really see why Derry has been named Halloween Capital of the World by USA Today readers.
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La Tomatina in Valencia, Spain
By Alan from More Passport Stamps
La Tomatina is a popular tomato throwing festival held near Valencia in Spain. The small, quaint town of Buñol hosts this crazy festival every August, and has done since the 1940’s. It all started in 1945 with an argument during a parade. One of the participants fell off the parade and blamed a group of boys, in the ensuing scuffle, which just so happened to involve a fruit and vegetable stall, various foodstuffs were spilled, and many tomatoes were thrown. Armed police soon stopped the fight, but the following year the same young boys returned with their own tomatoes and began throwing them at each other and passers-by. Thus a tradition was started.
These days, huge bus loads of tourists are shipped in on the day and the streets of Buñol run bright red throughout. Fortunately, tickets are limited so as not to overload the small town and the locals still get access to parts of the town that tourists do not. For example another tradition is for a local boy to climb a greased pole to touch a pigs leg (that was placed there the previous night). Once the local has touched it, the large trucks full of tomatoes begin their crawl through the streets, and the volunteers in the back pelt them at tourists and locals alike, who pick them up and throw them back, and so the festival begins! So many tomatoes are thrown that they are now grown especially for the festival, they were even bred to ensure they tasted horrible!
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Tapati Festival in Easter Island
By James Ian of Travel Collecting
The Tapati Festival is a celebration of Easter Island culture that is like no other festival in the world. The festival is centered around a competition between two young women vying for the title of ‘queen’ of the island for the next year. It is really a ‘war between clans’, as each competitor is supported by her ‘clan’ of extended family and friends who, over the course of two weeks, all compete in a wide array of events to earn points for their future ‘queen’. The events are centered around traditional art, crafts and sports. Artisan events include a gastronomy competition with traditional Easter Islander cuisine; a jewellery-making competition with elaborate shell and nut necklaces; and wood and stone-carving. Performing arts events include body painting, story-telling, dance and singing contests. Sport events include deep-sea fishing, Polynesian canoeing, body boarding, the ‘triathlon’ in which the three events are (1) rowing across a lake in a reed raft, (2) carrying bunches of bananas around the lake and (3) swimming across the lake with a reed float; and the haka pei which is basically sliding down a hill on a sled made of banana tree trunks to go as far as you can. The Tapati Festival is capped off with a huge parade in which points are earned by the team with the most followers, so tourists are encouraged to join in, and the final crowning of the winner to be queen for the year.
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San Sebastián Street Festival in Puetro Rico
By Norbert Figueroa of Globo Treks
The San Sebastián Street Festival, also known as “SanSe,” is the most popular festival in Puerto Rico and it’s done to honor Saint Sebastian. While the catholic church celebrates his life on January 20th, SanSe’s 4-day event is celebrated starting from the third Thursday of January until Sunday. The festival is celebrated in Old San Juan which by itself is a small historic city, so imagine 200,000 people spread all over this Spanish colonial city’s narrow cobblestone streets. The city is more alive than ever with hundreds of artists selling their handmade crafts and local food during the day. One of the most colorful aspects of this festival is the parade of musicians playing their drums, guiros, and panderos while walking across the city wearing costumes of the Spanish Kings from the 16th century – Queen Isabel and King Fernando (the sitting kings from when Puerto Rico was discovered by Columbus), as well as many other folkloric characters. These costumed musicians are called “Cabezudos” (big headed) as they are wearing huge papier-mâché masks of their character. Puerto Rico is said to have the longest Christmas in the world. They start just after Thanksgiving and end at the SanSe!
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Mértola Islamic Festival
By Wendy Werneth of The Nomadic Vegan
Mértola is known as “the most Arabic town in Portugal”, and every two years it hosts the Islamic Festival. The town, along with many others in Portugal and Spain, was ruled by the Moors for more than 500 years. It is here that you will find Portugal’s only surviving medieval mosque. The mosque has long since been converted into a Catholic church, but the mihrab that points to Mecca remains intact. Mértola was the capital of a Taifa kingdom and an important commercial port. For four days in May, every other year Mértola once again becomes a medieval commercial hub. Vendors set up their wares at makeshift stalls that run through the streets of the whole town, creating a souq that would not look out of place in Morocco. Couscous, mint tea and other Arab delicacies are available to munch on, and musicians and belly dancers provide plenty of entertainment. Activities such as calligraphy workshops and children’s storytelling are also held during the festival. The Islamic Festival began in 2001, and the 10th edition will take place from the 16th to the 19th of May 2019. At a time when certain segments of European society have shown animosity towards immigrants and refugees, the Festival is an important means of promoting cultural diversity in Portugal.
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Formaggio Di Fossa – Cave Cheese Festival Italy
By Amber and Eric of With Husband in Tow
Formaggio di fossa is a unique cheese from the Emilia Romagna region of Italy. It is often used in regional pasta dishes. The word fossa translates to pit, but it is just as often referred to as a cave hence the common translation to “cave cheese.” Dating as far back as the 15th Century, people in this part of Italy, about an hour outside of Bologna, hid their food including cheese, in large holes or pits in the ground to protect their supplies from invaders. This tradition continues today with people from small villages throughout Romagna opening pits each August to fill them with large rounds of cheese. The pits are then covered with a plaster-like substance where the cheese is aged for three months. In the small village of Talamello, the Festival of Pit Cheese or “Ambra di Talamello” is held each November. The festival marks the opening of all of the town’s pits and the removal of the formaggio di fossa. This is no ordinary event. In the three months that the pits have been sealed, noxious fumes build up from the anaerobic fermentation taking place inside. When the seal is broken, these deadly fumes are released and tragically have taken the lives of men opening the pits. Today precautions are taken to avoid any harm coming to the men opening the pits, including the use of gas masks. While the public is not allowed to be present during the actual opening of the pits, they can be visited after the cheese is removed. During Ambra di Talamello, all the people of Talamello and the surrounding area celebrate formaggio di fossa, and the opening of the caves with music, dancing, and of course, cheese-related recipes and tastings. If you can’t make it to the festival, many of the most typical places to eat in Bologna around Emilia Romagna will have pasta dishes topped with these cheese.
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Sant’Efisio festival in Cagliari
By Claudia Tavani of My Adventures across the World
Sant’Efisio festival takes place on 1st of May in Cagliari, Sardinia’s beautiful capital. It’s an ancient festival, as it’s been celebrated each year since 1656 to honour the Saint who allegedly liberated Sardinia from the plague. During the festival men, women and children from a selection of Sardinian villages parade the streets in the traditional costumes of their village, walking from Sant’Efisio church in the centre of Cagliari all the way to Pula, a small village at 50 km. Some walk, some ride beautifully adorned horses. The very last to the parade is the statue of Sant’Efisio, in a beautifully decorated carriage pulled by bulls. It’s the most important festival in Sardinia, a celebration of its history and culture.
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Zamboanga Hermosa Festival in Zamboanga City, Philippines
By Katherine of Tara Lets Anywhere
The Zamboanga Hermosa Festival is a local festival held in Zamboanga City, Philippines. It’s done in honor of the miraculous Our Lady of the Pillar. It is celebrated every October, and unlike most festivals which are done in 1-3 days, the Zamboanga Hermosa Festival lasts for a month. Here are some of the activities you can witness or participate in during the Zamboanga Hermosa Festival: Regatta de Zamboanga or sail boat competition, local products exhibition where you can buy local delicacies and woven items, Lechon or roasted suckling pig festival where you can eat the best-tasting lechons, Chavacano music festival, Mascota de Zamboanga where you can watch models wearing beautiful mascotas or Spanish gown designed by local couturiers. The most-awaited is however the street dance where you can see locals show off traditional dance moves and attires. Whether you decide to stay for the whole month or only a week to witness the highlights, the Zamboanga Hermosa Festival is guaranteed to give you a fun, memorable experience. Moreover, this local festival is not only fun & colorful, it’s also a good way for you to know the culture of Zamboanga and get to know the people in this part of the Philippines.
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These are a few celebrations and unique festivals around the world suggested by our travel bloggers and writers. There are many more unique, quirky and colourful festivals celebrated everywhere. Let us know about them too in the comments.
I know this is a long list. So, why dont you pin the post for a later read?