This is an excerpt from Lonely Planet's A Year of Festivals.
Festivals are a living, dancing museum of cultures and traditions in an increasingly globalised world. There is no better place for travellers to understand a country than an event where it proudly celebrates its individuality, whether through music, camel races or monumental food fights.
The top festivities for March are listed below.
Location: Cerro Mono Blanco, Catemaco, Mexico
Date: First Friday in March If witches and wizards have a spiritual home it may well be the Mexican town of Catemaco, a pretty place on the shore of Laguna Catemaco considered the centre of Mexico’s witchcraft and witch-doctor industry. Read more.
Location: Oxford Street, Sydney, Australia
Date: Beginning in February, and culminating with the parade in early March
What started in 1978 as a defiant civil rights march has become one of Australia’s proudest celebrations of diversity, attended by half a million locals and thousands of visitors from around the world. Read more.
Location: Venues throughout Austin, USA. The trade show is in the Austin Convention Center
Dates: Days vary in early to mid-March
Here’s further proof that things really are big in Texas, with a music festival so large it has almost single-handedly earned Austin the title of ‘live music capital of the world’. Started in 1987, it brings the music industry and performers together for 10 days – bands come to be discovered and music execs come to discover. Read more.
Location: Throughout northern India and Nepal
Dates: Three days around the March full moon
The most boisterous of Hindu festivals, Holi waves goodbye to winter and welcomes in spring in a rainbow of colours. In India it’s predominantly celebrated in the north of the country, and is quite rightly known as the Festival of Colours for the raucous events on Holi’s final day, when children and adults take to the streets throwing colourful gulal (powder) over each other. Read more.
Location: Lamu, Kenya. Most of the celebrations are centred on the Riyadha Mosque.
Date: The birth date of the Prophet Mohammed; the date shifts according to the Muslim calendar
Celebrating the birth of the Prophet Mohammed, this festival has been held on Lamu for more than 100 years and involves much singing, dancing and general jollity. Read more.
Location: Sidi ben Aïssa mausoleum, Meknès, Morocco
Date: The day before the birth date of the Prophet Mohammed; the date shifts according to the Muslim calendar
Morocco has a number of moussems (festivals in honour of saints) throughout the year but that which celebrates Sidi ben Aïssa is by far the largest. Read more.
Location: Calle Ocho, Miami, USA
Dates: Early to mid-March
Billed as the largest street party in the world, Calle Ocho is the grand finale to Miami’s Carnaval celebration. Started in 1978, it sees the closure for a day of more than 20 blocks along Calle Ocho through Little Havana, the Cuban pulse of Miami, for a party attended by around one million people. Read more.
Location: Valencia, Spain. The fireworks displays are in Plaza del Ayuntamiento.
Dates: 12–19 March
Exuberant and anarchic, Las Fallas is Europe’s wildest spring party, which is a pretty big deal for what is essentially a glorified puppet show. It’s a time when the city is all but taken over by the fallas, which are huge sculptures of papiermâché on wood, built by teams of local artists. Read more.
Location: Paulaner Keller, Munich, Germany
Dates: Two weeks around St Joseph’s Day (19 March)
Meet Oktoberfest’s little brother – the tougher, more downto- earth sibling whose company can be enjoyed without the crowds. For Bavarians, Starkbierzeit is like the opening of the fridge door to a new season of beer drinking, coming just as winter disappears and summer begins to peep over the horizon. Read more.
Location: Chichén Itzá, Mexico
Date: 20 or 21 March
At the ruined temple city of Chichén Itzá, the creators of the El Castillo pyramid devised a quirk that would shine on for centuries longer than Mayan civilisation. Such is the pyramid’s architectural precision that during the vernal equinox – when night and day are of almost equal length all over the world – the morning and afternoon sun produces a light-and-shadow illusion of a serpent ascending or descending the side of El Castillo’s staircase. Read more.
Location: Dublin, Ireland. The parade starts on Parnell Sq and heads down O’Connell St, through College Green to an appropriate end at St Patrick’s Cathedral.
Dates: Five days around 17 March
Wherever in the world there’s a Plastic Paddy, there’s a St Patrick’s Day festival with green beer, blarney and craic, but the most authentic way to celebrate Ireland’s patron saint is in the country’s capital, Dublin. Read more.
Location: Throughout Bali
Dates: The Lunar New Year, according to the Balinese saka calendar, falling on the first new moon after mid-March
Bali’s major festival pushes one year noisily out the door and very quietly ushers in the next one – if raucous, riotous New Year events are not your thing, then Bali well and truly has the celebration for you. Read more.
Location: Throughout Japan, but especially good at Yoshino
Dates: Cherry blossoms can begin to appear in Okinawa as early as January and not until May in Hokkaido, but through the bulk of the country they’re usually in flower near the end of March.
One of the most beautiful natural sights in Japan is of groves of cherry trees in full blossom, giving the appearance of earthly clouds of flowers. Read more.
Location: Barangay San Pedro Cutud, San Fernando, Philippines
Date: Good Friday
If you thought Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ was uncomfortably graphic, spend a passionate Good Friday in the Luzon city of San Fernando and you’ll think it was The Sound of Music. On this day, fanatical Christians re-create the final days and the death of Christ, though it’s no simple pantomime. Read more.
Need more festivals? Here's a list of further events in March:
Golden Shears Festival (Masterton, New Zealand; Three Days Ending On The First Saturday In March) In a country with four million people and 40 million sheep, it’s only right that there should be a shearing festival
Yap Day (Yap, Micronesia; 1 March) Micronesia’s biggest cultural event, showcasing a range of traditional dance forms
Phujllay (Tarabuco, Bolivia; Second Or Third Weekend In March) One of Bolivia’s largest festivals, commemorating the defeat of the Spanish in 1816
Omizutori (Nara, Japan; 12–13 March) The monks of Tōdai-ji throw hot embers from a balcony onto spectators to purify them; a water-drawing ceremony follows if you’re worried about burns
Hounen Matsuri (Komaki, Japan; 15 March) Fertility festival in which a 2.5m-long, 280kg wooden phallus is carried between shrines
No Ruz (Iran; 21 March) Iranian New Year and the country’s biggest celebration
Paro Tsechu (Paro, Bhutan; The 11Th To The 15Th Day Of The Second Bhutanese Month) Religious festival in Paro Dzong. On the final morning, an enormous embroidered image (more than 18 sq m) of Guru Rinpoche is unfurled for the only time of the year
Festival Of The North (Murmansk, Russia; Late March Or Early April) The so-called ‘Polar Olympics’, with events such as reindeer-sled races and an international ski marathon
Caribou Festival (Yellowknife, Canada; Last Week In March) www.cariboucarnival.ca Winter-ending festival in far-northern Canada, begun as a survival contest and now more about snow volleyball, dog-sled races and snow sculptures
See festivals in other months of the year here
This is an excerpt from Lonely Planet's A Year of Festivals.
This article was first published in December 2010 and was refreshed in February 2013.