Halloween is just around the corner – and while commercialised chaos descends here in the UK, vibrant cultural celebrations of life and death are taking place all across the globe. Take advantage of subsided tourist volumes at this time of year and experience some of the most fascinating autumn festivals and experiences the world has to offer.
El Dia de los Muertos, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico
A world away from the tackiness of over-commercialised Halloween, El Dia de los Muertos (the Day of the Dead) is the Latin world’s soulfully spiritual celebration of life and death. A combination of indigenous Aztec, Maya and Spanish culture mixed with Catholicism, it is Mexico’s largest celebration of the calendar year. All across Latin America, streets are adorned with radiant yellow marigolds, sky blue sugar skulls and elaborately dressed, papier- mâché calacas. Our pick of places to enjoy the merriment is San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, at the four-day La Calaca festival, an interactive celebration of local art and creativity inspired by the holiday. Afterwards, head to Mexico City to revel in the last few celebrations left in the wake of the holiday. Set up base in the trendy Las Alcobas boutique hotel; home to elegant lush gardens and mini-spas in every room, it serves as a welcome respite from all that wild merriment!
Foyle Halloween Carnival, Derry-Londonderry, Northern Ireland
The very birthplace of the holiday, Northern Ireland is a fitting host to Europe’s biggest Halloween parade. Celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, the Foyle Halloween parade is a 3-day street party, abuzz with blazing fireworks, live music and vibrant carnival culture. Voted best Halloween destination in the world by USA Today, bask in the glow of streets illuminated with neon marching bands and fire-breathing street performers. To top it off, an impressive, city-wide show of pyrotechnics closes the holiday night spectacularly.
Center Gai Street, Shibuya, Japan
Festival-loving Japan wouldn’t pass up the chance to celebrate Halloween in full, unapologetic force – and neither should you. Taking place on the nearest weekend to the holiday, the thronging congregation that flocks to Center Gai Street may not be an official parade, but what it lacks in formality it more than makes up for in attendance – and enthusiasm! Around 100,000 costume-clad Halloween devotees attend, a kaleidoscopic river of colour and noise. Get caught up in the gaudy frenzy of the nightlife, with an atmosphere of eccentricity found at no other place and no other time. Recover from the chaos at the centrally-located Conrad Tokyo, with Michelin-star restaurants and a swimming pool overlooking the breath-taking Tokyo skyline.
Dunton Hot Springs, Colorado, USA
American Halloween is at its best in Colorado. Spend the holiday season in a picturesque setting of the leafy, autumnal West. Take your pick of Colorado’s countless elaborate balls and costume parties – don your finest cloak and fangs, and celebrate the holiday in true American style! Explore the Denver Botanical Gardens, striking at Halloween with an eight-acre corn maze and host to ‘Glow at the Gardens’ – an atmospheric evening of lights and live music. If you’re feeling courageous, give the 13th Floor Haunted House a visit, but be warned – it was voted the #1 scariest haunted attraction in the U.S. for good reason! For accommodation with a twist, stay in spooky luxury in the restored ghost town of Dunton Hot Springs, a magical smoky campus of serene woodland and remote cabins.
Pchum Ben, Cambodia
Celebrated slightly earlier than counterpart religious festivals around the world, Cambodia picks early October to honour its ancestors. A fifteen-day lent (mercifully trimmed from the 3 month period it was in ancient times) builds up to Pchum Ben Day – a climax of fraternity and food, marked by the waning moon. Throngs of crowds in vibrant traditional dress swarm Cambodia’s golden pagodas, a sea of embroidered silk and jingling bangles. The presenting of smoky incense and steamed num onsam to welcome the hungry souls of loved ones conveniently doubles up as a chance to repent for the year’s sins. A colourful mosaic of dishes will line the temple floors, often cooked with special rice to accommodate those ghosts cursed with ‘smaller-mouths’ (– a punishment for past lives’ sins). Visitors can expect a warm welcome from any pagoda, but for easy access to the majestic temples of Angkor Wat, stay at the stylish Belmond La Residence d'Angkor, in the heart of bustling Siem Reap.
Kürbisfest im Retzer Land, Austria
A sea of vivid orange and green, Kürbisfest im Retzer Land is a celebration of Halloween’s most iconic symbol – the humble pumpkin. Offering every pumpkin-infused delicacy you could possibly imagine – think creamy risottos, smoky goulashes and steaming pies – this rural festival is ‘ein Fest für die ganze Familie’! With a scenic vineyard backdrop of idyllic Obermarkersdorf, no setting could exude autumn more than the reddy-orange and golden-brown leafiness of rural Austria in October. Stick around till November 1st and spend All Saints Day in Vienna, with a luxurious stay in the grand Hotel Sacher.
Breathtakingly beautiful, the surreally barren plains of the Namibian desert are the perfect setting to spend the Halloween season. Explore the deserted ghost town of Kolmanskop, eerie with abandoned buildings and faded houses, steadily being reclaimed by the desert sands. A mere echo of a once thriving diamond mining town, dilapidated bath tubs lie scattered outside, unsettlingly half-submerged in the sand. The Gateway to Kolmanskop, the tranquil town of Lüderitz interrupts the parched orange landscape with German art-nouveau architecture and colonial charm. Combine these excursions with our Desert Haze itinerary to explore the rest of the dramatic desert landscape; spend your days on exhilarating game drives and your nights sleeping beneath the stars.