1. Rio Carnival
Rio de Janeiro has had lots of time to perfect its annual carnival celebration, since it started in 1723. Today, nearly 2 million people a day crowd Rio’s streets, making it the biggest celebration in the world and one of the best places to visit in February. As the last big celebration before Lent, the event is marked with parades, floats and costumed revelers. Competition among samba “schools,” in which people with common interests form a group and decorate around a theme, is one of the top carnival activities. Each group may have up to 4,000 people and six to eight floats in the parade.
2. Pingxi Lantern Festival
The Lantern Festival traditionally marks the end of Chinese New Year, with the island nation of Taiwan celebrating it in a colorful way. It’s one travelers won’t want to miss, as the Discovery Channel rates Taiwan’s celebration as one of the best festivals in the world. Firecrackers go off, and colorful lanterns abound, especially in Pingxi where thousands of lantern light up the night sky. When the tradition started back in the 19th century, the Taiwanese would say a prayer for the coming year as they released their lanterns overhead.
3. Serengeti National Park
Every year in mid February roughly a million wildebeest gather on the short grass plains of the Southern Serengeti to give birth. Over 400,000 calves are born in the space of about 3 weeks. Aside from the newborn wildebeest calves, the plains are also alive with young animals of all kinds from young zebras to the numerous predators that follow the migrating herds. As the rains end the animals head north-west into Kenya’s Masai Mara in what is known as “the great migration.”
4. Oruro Carnival
Each year in Oruro, just before Ash Wednesday, the Bolivian city of Oruro hosts the Carnaval de Oruro, one of the most important folkloric and cultural events in all of South America. The festival features over 28,000 dancers, performing a broad variety of ethnic dances. Around 10,000 musicians accompany the dancers. Unlike carnival in Rio where a new theme is chosen each year, carnival in Oruro always begins with the diablada or devil dance. It is considered to retain most of the artistic expression coming from pre-Columbian America.
5. Donsol Bay Whale Sharks
More adventuresome travelers may enjoy a boat cruise through Donsol Bay where they’ll be able to see whale sharks migrating. The whale shark got its name because it is a shark that’s bigger than a whale – many are well over 10 meter (33 feet) long. They like tropical waters, which makes Donsol Bay in the Philippines’ southern Luzon Island a great habitat for them. The protected species migrates through Donsol between November and June, with the numbers peaking between February and May, giving Donsol the nickname of “whale shark capital of the world.” This huge fish is not shy about approaching boats; indeed, some carry scars from encounters with propellers.
Thailand is a good place for residents of northern climates to escape the cold and snow in February. This is considered the last “cool” month until fall while the crowds thin out a little after the peak Christmas season. There may be slightly more rain, but not enough to ruin anyone’s holiday. Pretty much travelers just have to decide on location, from the beaches of Phuket and temples of Chiang Mai to the markets of Bangkok and hiking in northern Thailand.
7. Carnival in Venice
The carnival in Venice is another pre-Lent celebration that undoubtedly causes people to ask, “Who is that masked man?” That’s because the elaborate masks revelers wear is the most famous part of the carnival that Venice has been celebrating since the 12th century. People’s behavior behind the masks became so disreputable, the tradition of wearing masks was publicly banned for a couple of centuries, emerging from the shadows in the 20th century as a way to attract even more tourists to this canal city. Near the end of the celebration, an international panel of fashion and costume designers picks one mask as the most beautiful.
8. Chinese New Year in Hong Kong
Hong Kong kicks in the Chinese New Year with a big festival that considers itself among the best in the world. Colorful floats center around the animal in the Chinese Zodiac for the coming year. Bands come from around the world to play in the opening night parade. The Chinese flock to temples to pray for a great new year. Flower markets, fireworks and horse races fill the coming days. The Lunar New Year festival lasts for 15 days, ending with the traditional Lantern Festival. The celebration is similar to Christmas in western countries as families get together and exchange gifts, usually red packets containing money.
9. New Orleans Mardi Gras
New Orleans began celebrating Mardi Gras just a few years after its founding in 1718. Early celebrations were balls organized by the governor. Today’s celebration features elaborate floats in parades through town (only foot parades are held in the famed French Quarter) and costumed revelers wearing purple, green and gold vie for strings of beads tossed from the floats. Mardi Gras is a French term meaning “fat Tuesday,” and is the day the celebration begins. In recent years, Mardi Gras has gotten a reputation for being rowdy, but sponsors insist it is still a family celebration and people can avoid misbehaving crowds by staying out of the French Quarter after the parades.
10. Trinidad and Tobago Carnival
Carnival in Trinidad and Tobago takes on a lively Caribbean flavor with parades, costumed participants and spectators, and movin’ to the groovin’ of island music. The annual carnival is held the two days before Ash Wednesday. Since the opening celebration begins at 4 a.m. Monday and goes non-stop for two days, this is one carnival that may appeal more to people who like to party. Spectacularly-costumes participants celebrate with abandon, before settling down for the somber weeks of Lent that lie ahead. A variety of competitions, including limbo dancing, take place.