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5 truly amazing (and traditional) alternatives to Burning Man

by | Oct 14, 2019

Looking for a festival near you? Or perhaps something as far as possible from you — something that’ll take you out of your comfort zone and teach you about the world? All of the alternatives to Burning Man below (except the first one) date back dozens or even hundreds of years — meaning that the madness on display is typically seasoned with history, folklore, and tradition.

But first — what is Burning Man, and what’s the core philosophy behind it?

Anti-consumerism, radical self-expression and communal effort are just three of the guiding principles behind Nevada’s iconic week-long gathering.

More than a festival, Burning Man is an annual event that sees the creation of a thriving — but temporary — metropolis called “Black Rock City”. Its “citizens” come together to celebrate freedom, community and spirituality against a beautiful desert backdrop filled with music and art.

Sounds like fun, right?

Well, yes and no. Even the most established of Burners would admit that surviving in the heart of the desert for a whole week is quite the challenge.

Fortunately, the liberating philosophy of Burning Man can be found in a number of festivals around the world. From Mexican festivals that celebrate the dead, to events that take place – quite literally – in the middle of “Nowhere” — here are some of our favorite alternatives:

 The middle of Nowhere.

Nowhere

Aragon, Spain – July 7-12, 2020

Burning Man lives by its principles. It’s not about attending any specific event — it’s about living in a certain way, wherever in the world that may be.

And thanks to a group of UK Burners, you can now bring that sense of purpose to the middle of Nowhere, in a festival dubbed “Burning Man’s European counterpart.”

Directly inspired by the very same principles of the Black Rock City event, Nowhere is an annual celebration of everything that its famous older sibling lives for.

Located in Spain’s Monegros desert, Nowhere is focused on self-reliance, self-expression and artistic freedom. There are no pre-arranged attractions; spontaneity is key.

If you’re looking to build something fascinating from the ground up — and have some fun in the process — you might want to coinsider a trip to Nowhere.

Mexico’s Day of the Dead. Credit: Salvador Altamirano

Day of the Dead

Mexico – November 2, 2020

Look beyond the skulls and skeletons, and you’ll see that Mexico’s Día de Muertos — or Day of the Dead — is actually a joyful celebration of life, rooted in family, friendship and love.

Often thought of as Mexico’s answer to Halloween, this annual holiday in fact originates from ancient Aztec rituals — and it’s a far cry from the gothic and dark undertones of its mistaken counterpart.

Instead, the Day of the Dead is a colorful event in which people remember — and celebrate — loved ones who have died.

From necro-parades to sugar skulls, on November 2 each year, seemingly the whole of Mexico dances ecstatically with faces painted in the Catrina style. (It’s also acceptable to crack open a few cervezas.)

And while the Day of the Dead isn’t a festival as such, its strong sense of spirituality, communal focus and celebratory tone certainly has embers of Burning Man floating through its core.

Bisket Jatra

Bisket Jatra

Bhaktapur, Nepal – April 13, 2020

For something a little more edgy, look no further than Bisket Jatra – one of the oldest and most important festivals in Nepal.

Bisket Jatra is a nine-day festival that takes place in Bhaktapur — an ancient walled city nestled in the Kathmandu Valley. The festival’s purpose is to celebrate the New Year according to the Bikram Sambat calendar. To mark the occasion, the Newar inhabitants of Bhaktapur split into two groups and engage in an enormous, chaotic tug-of-war that traverses the whole city — often involving thousands of people on each team.

Though the early stages of the event are a family affair, it often continues long into the night. The two teams frequently charge one another en masse, and throw stones in an effort to regain control of the chariot they’re trying to pull to their end of the city.

More often than not, hundreds of riot police end up getting involved — and yet this chaos is almost a way of life, and the whole thing is inevitably repeated again the following year.

Bisket Jatra culminates with the erection of the “Yoshin Pole” — a lingam-like, 80-foot-high construction. Thousands of onlookers cheer as it goes up. Sometimes it snaps; it’s absolute mayhem.

If you’re down for citywide riots and collapsing lingams, this iconic Nepali festival will certainly be one to tell the grandkids.

La Tomatina

Buñol, Spain – August 26, 2020

Let’s take a look at something a little less dramatic than Bisket Jatra, but no less wild – Spain’s La Tomatina festival.

Originating in 1945, La Tomatina is a food-fight festival that sees up to 20,000 people throw tomatoes at each other — all in the name of good old-fashioned entertainment.

Held in Buñol (near València) on the last Wednesday of August each year, the festival is known as “the world’s biggest food fight” and involves the throwing of more than a hundred tons of tomatoes.

You can also throw guilt-free. The famously messy fight uses only inedible tomatoes which, once cleaned away, somehow leave Buñol looking shinier than ever.

Driven by a community spirit and ending with an intensive cleanup process, La Tomatina could be the left-of-field alternative to Burning Man you’re looking for.

Holi, the festival of color. Credit: Shubham Bochiwal

Holi

India/Nepal – March 10, 2020

Also known as “the festival of color”, Holi is celebrated in February or March every year — not only in India and Nepal, but practically everywhere else with a large South Asian Hindu population.

Fun, expressive and (literally) bursting with color, Holi is much more than an excuse to throw paint at people you love (not to mention passing strangers). The festival’s focus on color, fireworks and bonfires are based on the stories of Holika (who was burned to death as a symbol of good triumphing over evil), and Krishna – a Hindu god known for his color-spreading and flower-throwing antics.

During Holi, people dance round bonfires, throw bright paint powder in every direction, and enjoy traditional foods with friends and family. It brings the entire community together like no other day of the year. Just make sure you leave your expensive designer threads at home.

Beyond Burning Man

Whether you’re a Burner who wants to keep the fire going throughout the year, or a festival-lover who can’t quite make it to Black Rock City — we hope you’ve found some inspiration from these alternatives to Burning Man.

If you do take us up on one of our recommendations, make sure you read about the smartest way to book a flight. And for more stories about life on the move, check out our blog for topics ranging from making friends as a remote worker to how you can keep your passport safe when traveling.