Carnival Rio

Kick up your heals during Carnival in Rio de Janeiro. (Photo: Alamy)

Culture + Style

8 Winter Festivals That’ll Bring the Heat

Kick up your heals during Carnival in Rio de Janeiro. (Photo: Alamy)

Baby, it’s cold outside – but that doesn’t mean the partying has to stop! Warm up your winter with some hotter-than-hot destinations sure to give you some much needed Vitamin C. If you plan on visiting any of these warm weather destinations when the temperatures drop, check out the festivals that’ll get you outta your swimsuit and checking out some of the area’s local culture. Winter festivals with food and fun? Sign us up.

Carnival, Brazil

You can’t plan a winter trip to Brazil and skip out on its iconic Carnival celebrations (held during the Southern Hemisphere’s summer). Rio de Janeiro is known for some of the country’s best celebrations – taking place the four days before the start of Lent. The multi-day celebration features an opening ceremony where the Carnival King is crowned by the city mayor. Subsequent days feature street bands, parades, costume parties and lots of food and booze. At the Samba Parade, you can even arrange to join in the fun and march down the streets with the masses.

Dia de la Virgen de Guadalupe, Playa del Carmen

Celebrated annually on December 12, Our Lady of Guadalupe Day is a religious holiday to recognize the day Juan Diego encountered the Virgin Mary in Mexico City in 1531. Legend has it that Mary requested the bishop build a church on Tepeyac Hill and even turned a cactus into a bush of roses as a miracle to prove her presence. Playa del Carmen celebrates with parades honoring Mary with flowers and colorful outfits. If you’re visiting during this winter festival, be sure to check with your hotel to find out which streets are closed due to fiesta activities.

Dark and Stormy Regatta, British Virgin Islands

What better way to forget about winter than with some warm weather and crystal blue water in the British Virgin Islands? If you’re visiting BVI in early March, plan on attending the Dark & Stormy Regatta. In addition to watching the boats, there’s live music, food, dancing, kite flying and sand sculpture contests. A day on the beach? Yes please.

Día de los Reyes, Cabo San Lucas

Why not keep the Christmas festivities going in Cabo? Celebrated about a week or two after Christmas, Three Kings Day commemorates when the three wise men brought gifts to honor the birth of Jesus. Families in Mexico celebrate with gift giving and sharing a Rosca de Reyes, a ring-shaped cake with a small baby doll baked into it. Be sure to track one down at a local restaurant, because if you get the slice with the baby, you’re obligated to host a party in early February. Perfect excuse to let the party continue throughout winter.

Half Moon Festivals, Thailand

You’ve probably heard of the infamous full moon parties on the beaches of Thailand. They’re know for all-night partying, raging music and more dancing than you can imagine. If you want to experience the fun through a slightly more organized experience, try the Half Moon Festival (offered monthly) on the island of Koh Phangan. Grab some blacklight body paint and deck yourself out before heading into the fray. While the crowd here tends to be a younger, more hipster crew, who wouldn’t enjoy some music and a night of dancing?

Fiestas Zapote, Costa Rica

Held in January, Fiestas Zapote is considered the biggest rodeo of the year in Costa Rica. This winter festival is held in the city of Zapote, just north of San Jose. Best part of this bull-riding event? Spectators are welcome to join in the fun and take their shot at riding one of these wild animals. If you’re an adventure-seeker, this is your winter event. Besides the bull-riding, you’ll find festive food, rides and dancing and live music.

Philippine International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta, Philippines

Referred to as “A Weekend of Everything that Flies,” the Philippine International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta is the longest-running recreational aviation event in Asia. In addition to the wide variety of shapes and styles of hot air balloons that take to the skies, the event features skydiving, powered paragliding and aerobatic exhibitions. If you prefer to keep your two feet on the ground (we don’t blame you!) but you still want to get in on the fun, grab a kite and take part in the festivities.

Independence Day (February 27), Dominican Republic

In the U.S., Independence Day celebrations commence in July, but in the Dominican Republic, the end of February marks a time for celebration. The day is considered a national holiday, featuring free concerts, parades and speeches given by public leaders. Feast on some of the country’s traditional foods like mangu (mashed plantains) or sausage and rice dishes during this winter festival.