Depending on where you are in the world, March marks the start of spring or autumn; but whatever your starting point, there’s a travel adventure on the doorstep.
Lonely Planet’s destination experts have a host of suggestions to satisfy your wanderlust this month, from scoffing delicacies at a Kiwi food festival to fiery spectacles in Japan and following the floats at Spain’s Semana Santa.
Heat, sun and lively events in southern Cape, South Africa
The southern Cape region of South Africa, which includes Cape Town and the Garden Route, has a climate pattern that is very different from anywhere else on the continent. As a result it has given birth to some of the most unique flora on the planet – Table Mountain hosts over 2000 native species of plants, more than are found in the entire United Kingdom. In March, when the rains are coming down elsewhere in southern Africa, the Cape’s air is hot and the skies are a beautiful shade of blue.
March is also one of the busiest months on Cape Town’s cultural and sporting calendar, with several great events. The first week of the month features various cycling races, culminating on Sunday 6 March with the Cape Town Cycle Tour, the world’s largest timed cycling event (some 30,000 participants). The following day Infecting the City, an inventive performing arts festival, will take over many of the city’s squares, fountains, museums and theatres; it runs until the 12th. The 12th is also a lively one, with the colourful Cape Town Carnival street party flowing down the Walk of Remembrance.
Matt Phillips – Destination Editor for Sub-Saharan Africa. Follow him on Twitter @Go2MattPhillips.
Wake up your taste buds at Hokitika Wildfoods Festival, New Zealand
Foodies should head to New Zealand in March to challenge their taste buds at the Hokitika Wildfoods Festival (wildfoods.co.nz). Hokitika, on the South Island’s dramatic West Coast, is full to bursting on the second Saturday in March. Note: attendance is capped at 10,000 after peaking at over 20,000 a few years ago. The festival kicked off a quarter of a century ago when a local decided to hold a celebration of local food after fending off multiple requests to try her home-brewed gorse flower wine. These days you can also try deep-fried beetles or colostrum cheesecake (yes, you read that right). If your tastes are a little more vanilla, you might be tempted by the whitebait patties or marinated tuna instead.
Tasmin Waby – Destination Editor for Australia, NZ and the Pacific. Follow her on Twitter @TasminWaby.
Play with fire in Nara, Japan
In March, Japan’s deer-filled ancient capital Nara hosts one of the country’s oldest Buddhist festivals, at the centuries-old temple complex of Tōdai-ji. During the Omizutori festival, the fiery spectacle of Otaimatsu sees monks parading each night on the verandah of Nigatsu-dō carrying large burning torches, showering embers on the crowd metres below – an act that is meant to purify and bring good luck to visitors. As the event runs from 1 to 14 March, there are plenty of nights to choose from, and time in between to explore the Kansai region – Nara is just a short train ride from the shrines, temples and exquisite gardens of Kyoto, and the foodie haven of Osaka. Arrive in Japan early in March and as well as a few burning embers you may also catch the colourful end of plum blossom season.
Laura Crawford, Destination Editor for Japan, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and the Philippines. Follow her on Twitter at @crawfplanet.
Enjoy international cinema in Cartagena, Colombia
Cartagena de Indias, the jewel of Colombia's Caribbean coast, is famous for its history, nightlife and tropical climate. Colonial stone walls, colourful churches and balconied mansions line Cartagena’s maze of cobbled streets, which lead to elegant plazas throughout the historic district. It’s not just the architecture that stuns – from sultry salsa dance to tasty street food (try an arepa de queso, a griddled corn patty stuffed with cheese), the cartageno culture is inviting and inspiring.
There’s never really a bad time to check out this charming seaside city, but for a week each March, Cartagena is abuzz with cinema fever. This year, the International Film Festival of Cartagena (ficcifestival.com) takes place 2-7 March. It’s the oldest cinema event in Latin America, and throughout the festival, films from around the world will be screened not only in theatres, but also schools, jails, hospitals, churches, libraries and retirement homes in order to create the unique experience of bringing film industry workers closer to their audiences.
MaSovaida Morgan – Destination Editor for South America. Follow her on Twitter @MaSovaida.
Cheer for Arctic athletes in Nuuk, Greenland
This March, Nuuk will play host to the Arctic Winter Games 2016 (awg2016.org), the largest event of its kind ever to be held in Greenland. The six-day extravaganza will see athletes from Arctic regions such as Sápmi (commonly known as Lapland), Yukon and Alaska compete across 15 sporting disciplines, from badminton to biathlon skiing, as well as the more unusual Dene games, in which competitors go head to head in events steeped in tradition, such as pole pushing and finger pulling.
Given that Nuuk's population is just 16,000, the city is likely to be rather more crowded than usual, but if you can bag yourself a bed between 6-11 March, not only could you witness the sporting prowess of Arctic athletes, you'll be able to partake in some unique experiences yourself. And what better way to discover Greenland's natural beauty than to glide alongside sea mammals on a whale-watching tour, or to kayak through the icy waters of Nuuk Fjord, the second largest fjord system in the world after Scoresby Sund.
Gemma Graham – Destination Editor for Northern Europe. Follow her on Twitter at @gglpde.
Witness the sombre Holy Week processions in Seville, Spain
Every Easter, Spain is shrouded in a solemn atmosphere in commemoration of the country’s most important festival: Holy Week or Semana Santa. Although the festival is revered countrywide, the biggest celebrations are found mainly in Andalusia, specifically Seville.
In the week preceding Easter Sunday (which falls on 20-27 March), Seville’s old town is flooded with processions of 17th-century floats bearing figures of Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary. Members of the brotherhoods or cofradias carry the weight of these massive floats on their backs, while nazareno penitents dressed in tunic robes and conical hoods trail behind bearing candles.
The mood is gloomy and the sorrowful flamenco hymns and cries of the pilgrims can be heard from miles away. Sharing in the deeply rooted Christian traditions on this special week is a highlight for many.