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World’s best international festivals

Carnival festival in Brazil, courtesy Tucan Travel

Dance with a Brazilian, drink with a German or dress like a Japanese geisha: At marquee festivals and events around the world, your group members can fulfill their international
travel dreams.

Taking a trip abroad can be a wonderfully enriching experience at any time of year. But during the special cultural and historical events that take place in international destinations, the sights, sounds, tastes and customs of the host countries come alive in ways that are impossible to replicate elsewhere.

Many of the world’s great festivals and events have achieved high profiles over the years — you’ve probably read about them in magazines and seen clips of them on television — and they often attract millions of visitors. Although there are logistical challenges involved with taking groups to those iconic events, tour operators offer special packages that highlight those celebrations with all of the convenience of a fully escorted tour.

If your group travelers enjoy a great party, take them to one of these great international festivals for a bucket-list-worthy experience.

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
If you think that Mardi Gras is a big deal in the American South, you should check out Carnival, an event that takes over Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, every year during February or March.

Like Mardi Gras, Carnival is a celebration that takes place just before the beginning of the Lenten season. Rio’s event is considerably larger than Mardi Gras and other carnival celebrations, though, attracting as many as 2 million attendees each year.

Travelers who go to Carnival will see some similarities to stateside celebrations, including parades and elaborate, colorful costumes. But Rio’s festival also integrates elements of Brazilian culture. One of the primary features is the samba, a musical style influenced by African rhythms that has become the banner sound of Brazil. During Carnival, thousands of samba musicians and dancers gather from neighborhoods across the city to put on large parades and celebrations overflowing with music, movement and color.

Carnival has taken place in Rio since the 1700s; in the 1980s the city created the Sambadrome, a large arena that houses the samba celebration. United Kingdom-based tour operator Tucan Travel offers tours and packages that take groups into the Sambadrome during a Rio Carnival experience.

“We have quite a few tours that either start or finish in Rio during Carnival,” said Jess Millett, Tucan’s communications coordinator. “We offer a supplemental four-night Rio package with accommodations, parade tickets and Sambadrome tickets.

“There’s a lot of free time to go exploring. If your group wants to, we have a list of recommended galas and balls that take place, and we can arrange a visit to those as well.”

Munich, Germany
Imitated (but never duplicated) in places all over the world, Oktoberfest is perhaps the most famous cultural event in all of Germany. For more than 200 years, Germans and international visitors have flocked to Munich for a 16-day celebration of beer and Bavarian culture in late September and early October.

Some 6 million people attend the celebrations each year, making tickets and hotel rooms somewhat challenging to acquire. But numerous tour operators secure admission and lodging well in advance and offer their travelers easy access into one of the world’s most celebrated festivals. Go Ahead Tours has two different tour itineraries that include Oktoberfest celebrations.

“Oktoberfest is one of those events that has notoriety with our customers,” said Lael Kassis, the company’s director of product development. “For a lot of people, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience. They want to go experience the beer gardens and the Bavarian culture.”

Both of Go Ahead’s Oktoberfest itineraries include a day at the festival as part of a larger tour in the region. One focuses on German history in Berlin, Dresden, Bamberg and Munich. The other includes Munich with visits to other cities in Switzerland and Austria. On both tours, passengers get a full day to experience Oktoberfest, with free time to explore the festival grounds and admission into one of the famed beer garden tents.

“That’s the experience every customer needs to have while they’re there,” Kassis said. “Most of the tents are sponsored by a local brewery or restaurant, and they serve beer and traditional food. They have traditional music and dancing.

“They might end up spending an hour with a local German family. It’s really a time when they can experience the culture firsthand and interact with the local population.”

Brian Jewell

Brian Jewell is the executive editor of The Group Travel Leader. In more than a decade of travel journalism he has visited 48 states and 25 foreign countries.