Festivals and events

The World’s Most Colourful Festivals

Vibrant parades, technicolour costumes and celebrations in monochrome make up the spectrum of festivals across the planet

Humankind is never so colourful nor so exuberant as when people get in festival mode, and the world abounds with celebrations of imaginative brilliance. Here’s a roundup of some of the world’s most colourful festivals.

Holi, India

The ‘Festival of Colours’ celebrates the start of spring across North India, with people throwing coloured water over each other and smearing each other’s faces with coloured powder. Though a Hindu festival, nowadays Indians of all persuasions take part in Holi, and not just because it’s fun – but also because it’s a great release valve in which caste, creed, gender, age and all the marks of status are binned for one day. The only distinguishing mark is the new rainbow colour of your skin.

Carnival, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Credit: Levi Bianco/Gettyimages

Surely the world’s most spectacular festival, the Carnival of Rio de Janeiro is a stupendous orgy of theatricality that gives Brazilians world fame as matchless party people. Carnival is so supremely important that capital-dwellers – Cariocas – spend all year preparing for the celebration each February. Alongside gigantic parade floats, scantily-clad performers make up for a lack of material with a riot of colour: vibrant plumes of feathers, gem-encrusted headdresses and glittering outfits.

Esala Perahera, Kandy, Sri Lanka

Credit: Ishara S.KODIKARA/AFP

Few rituals match the splendour of the Esala Perahera. To honour the nation’s most sacred relic, the Buddha’s tooth – held deep within Kandy’s Temple of the Tooth – a replica is carried around the city for 10 days in a great procession. Growing grander each evening, the pageantry reaches a magnificent climax on the last night. Whips crack, drums beat and oboes wail, dancers shimmy, dozens of gorgeously caparisoned elephants stride past, until there comes the glittering majesty of the Maligawa Tusker, carrying the replica in a golden casket within a bejewelled carriage.

Las Fallas, Valencia, Spain

Credit: Keith Mundy

The Mediterranean port city of Valencia hosts Europe’s biggest festival every March. About two million visitors join the Valencians to see the fallas – gigantic papier-mâché figures paying homage to celebrities or lampooning politicians ­– and witness hundreds of people parade through the streets in richly brocaded traditional gowns. It starts with thousands of fireworks, setting the night sky ablaze with vibrant pyrotechnics, and ends with a massive congregation of all the fallas, with one chosen as the winner.

Boryeong Mud Festival, Boryeong, South Korea

Is a festival even a festival without colour? Yes, if you head for the South Korean seaside town of Boryeong in July to join three million others in monochrome, mud-caked madness. Begun in 1998 as a promotional event for mud-infused beauty products, the fest now centres on immersive attractions such as a mud pool, mud slides, mud prison, mud skiing and mud body painting – all, you guessed it,
in a single hue.

Cathay Travell Book


Discovery online brings together all the inspirational travel writing from our two inflight magazines, Discovery and Silkroad. Be sure to look out for the print editions when you next fly with Cathay Pacific or Cathay Dragon.
Discovery Book Silkroad Book