Historic festivals and cultural celebrations provide expansive experiences of a lifetime for travelers of every age. You'll gain insight into what matters to local communities paired with a bit of history. Here are several to consider:
While many celebrate a New Year with fireworks and frivolity, the Balinese choose to cleanse the spirit, meditate and bask in silence on Nyepi, or Silent Day.
On Nyepi Eve, observe local villagers as they play music, dance and parade colorful, hand-crafted “monster dolls” through the streets, while encouraging evil spirits to join the party, hoping they will then sleep through Nyepi. During the 24 hours of silence that follows, Bali’s airport, seaports, roads and all businesses are closed, steeping the island in a magical, pristine quiet. Lighting and the use of electricity are kept to a minimum and visitors and resort guests are encouraged to join islanders in a day of relaxation and reflection. It’s an ideal time for journaling, napping, quiet conversation, candle lit dinners and stargazing.
Ease into the day with morning yoga at the Four Season’s Jimbaran Bay’s peaceful, ocean-front pavilion. At the Four Seasons Resort at Sayan guests are invited to join in a meditation under the stars aside the roof-top lotus pond. Nyepi falls according to the lunar-based Balinese calendar and thus changes each year.
Nadaam Festival, Mongolia.
A sophisticated and elegant expression of nomadic culture, the Nadaam festival is popular among Mongols and believed to have existed for centuries. The core of the festival is comprised of “Danshig games” - wrestling, horse racing and archery - once reserved only for men. Today, women and girls participate in some aspects. With spiritual roots – both shamanist and Buddhist – the festival celebrates cultural identity with art, singing, dancing and ceremonies throughout the region in mid- Summer.
The 137-year old, Celebration of Life, an annual, month-long festival of Polynesian song and dance, gets underway each July. Singers and dance troupes from 118 Tahitian islands gather for an annual competition highlighting ancestral traditions and legends. Live music accompanies the contenders, using traditional instruments like the nasal flute or vivo, marine shells or pu, and more recently, the ukulele. With meaningful choreography and costumes, it’s considered the centerpiece of the festival. Visitors can also take in traditional sports and games based on ancient athletic activities. Expect a stone lifting competition, a javelin- throwing event, va’a (outrigger canoe) races, a copra competition, and a fruit carrying contest.
Longs Peak Scottish Irish Highland Festival, Estes Park, CO.
Jousting knights, hoisting athletes and calling bagpipes have been entertaining families for more than three decades in this scenic mountain setting. One of the nation’s largest celebrations of the heritage, sounds, tastes, and the arts of Scottish and Irish cultures gets underway the weekend after Labor Day. You’ll be serenaded by bands - the marching kind, the rocking kind and everything in-between - hailing from Great Britain, Scotland, Ireland, Canada and the United States. Don’t miss the free parade down Main Street, a colorful preview of the festival’s glory. Contact: www.VisitEstesPark.com.
Obon, a matsuri, or Japanese festival, is held each summer to honor the ancestors’ spirits and to welcome
them back for a brief visit with the living. A 500-year-old tradition in Japan, the festival begins as small lanterns are lit to guide the spirits
home. There are offerings of food to nourish the spirits, either at household altars or at food stalls lining the streets. A most memorable
sight is bon odori, the traditional dances that take place around a yagura (raised platform). Thousands wear yukata, a lighter summer
kimono, dancing to the beat of the taiko drums. Many communities in the U.S. celebrate Obon. In California’s Santa Maria Valley, all are welcome for a festival that includes taiko drumming, traditional dancing and bonsai and martial arts demonstrations.
Day of the Dead, Mexico.
One of the world's most lively cultural events, Mexico's Day of the Dead is a tradition that takes place each year from Oct. 31 to Nov. 2. The ceremonies are thought to reunite the living with their deceased relatives with food, drink and other festivities. Intrepid's Mexico City:
Day of the Dead Original trip combines culture and history for an immersive 5-day experience in the heart of the Dia de Los Muertos festivities and includes a visit the Frida Kahlo Museum in Coyoacan, a chance to witness Day of the Dead ceremonies and to help create a traditional Day of the Dead altar.
Get close to creatures of the sea for a wild family adventure. Here are four ideas to consider:
1. Swim With Whale Sharks.
Swimming with the largest fish in the sea is a thrill worth seeking. Whale sharks are massive, reaching lengths of 40 feet and 15 tons. Despite their imposing presence, the gentle creatures peacefully share the warm seas with visitors who arrive via boat from the shores of nearby Cancun. Two at a time, along with a guide, you’ll don a life jacket or wet suit and fins, before jumping in for a swim with these plankton slurping vegetarians. No touching is allowed (the mega-fish are considered a “vulnerable species”) but you can swim alongside as they thrust forward their super-sized square jaw and begin filtering everything in their path like a water-born vacuum cleaner.
Contact: www.Cancun.travel; www. solobuceo.com.
2. Swim with Stingrays.
Wade into the warm Caribbean Sea at the Stingray City Sandbar for your family’s chance to pet the dozens of sea creatures who visit the area for a little love and a few tasty treats. Today tour operators will assist in your introduction to the Southern stingray, taking over for the fishermen who originally attracted the rays to the area by cleaning fish and tossing the remnants into the water. Soon the stingrays associated the sound of boat motors with breakfast. For a more pleasurable experience, avoid visiting when cruise ships are in port.
3. Alaska up close.
Kayak among whales, sea lions and past puffins when you explore Alaska with Inner Sea Discoveries and American Safari Cruises. With only 22 to 86 guests on board on their well-planned vessels, you’ll wind your way into narrow passages and into wilderness areas that the bigger ships cannot access. The adventuresome in your clan can don a dry suit and use a Stand Up Paddleboard to get even closer to Alaska’s extraordinary wild riches.
Contact: 888-862-8881; www.InnerSeaDiscoveries.com
4. Adventures with alligators.
No one wants to get too close to an alligator. But at this park, home to more than 800 gators ranging in size from eight inch babies to 15 foot, one thousand pound adults, you’ll learn about the ways of these fierce creatures, from a safe distance. As you wander through natural swamps and marshes you’ll also encounter turtles, lizards, giant frogs and exotic birds. Lectures and live shows add to the experience.
Contact: 843-361-0789; www.alligatoradventure.com/