Cookie consent

We use cookies to improve your experience on this website. By continuing to browse our site you agree to our use of cookies. Tell me more | Cookie preferences

The world's messiest festivals

Story highlights

  • Glastonbury, the world's biggest music festival, is credited with inventing "mud surfing"
  • La Tomatina is probably the best known food-themed gathering
  • This year, the event will be limited to 20,000 participants, with tickets on sale in advance
  • At the annual World Bodypainting festival in Austria, artists paint models to resemble works of art

There is something innately messy about summer. The air's more pungent, bodies are stickier, and people seem more willing to make a mess. That must be why some of the world's filthiest festivals bide their time until the warmer months.

Mud pack

Glastonbury, which culminated Sunday, is the world's biggest music festival. But it's almost as renowned for its mud-splattered setting as it is the music -- indeed the festival is even credited with the invention of "mud surfing".

Rain boots are de rigueur for the event's 150,000 attendees, thanks in part to the U.K.'s typically soggy weather. This year was no different, with revelers arriving undeterred by the pouring rain.

"Sometimes, you'll see a fairly innocuous-looking shortcut between some tents that no one else seems to be using," recalls Rebecca Milford, a Glastonbury veteran. "You get halfway in only to discover it's actually a three-foot-deep mud hole. I was stuck for 30 minutes before some kind soul decided to pull me free."

iReport: Send us your best fireworks shots

    While celebrating muck is only incidental at Glastonbury, at the Boryeong Mud Festival in South Korea, sludge is the main event. The festival started in 1998, when a local cosmetics company started making products using Boryeong mud -- which is highly regarded for its high mineral content. They launched the festival as a marketing initiative. It has since become one of the main events on the South Korean calendar, with over 2.6 million visitors attending last year.

    This year, festivities start July 19. Prospective attendees can expect the usual mix of messy attractions, namely, mud fights, mud slides, mud baths, mud wrestling and a mud marathon.

    Food fights

    La Tomatina is perhaps the most famous gastronomy-themed gathering, though the celebrated produce in question (tomatoes) gets thrown, not eaten. Last year, 45,000 revelers joined the red riot in Buñol, Spain. Though the event has become increasingly well-known, veterans say there's no preparing for the juicy onslaught.

    "People start partying in the street and building themselves up into a frenzy. Then the trucks roll out and a mass of red shoots into the air. Next thing you know, you're diving in there and face-washing strangers with tomatoes," says Corey Kirkham, a guide with Top Deck Travel, which annually offers tours of the festival.

    Over 150,000 tomatoes get chucked during La Tomatina, and Kirkham says that a shower isn't always sufficient in washing away the remnants of the event.

    "The next day you're finding tomatoes everywhere, and still cleaning stuff out of various parts."

    Read: 8 amazing outdoor music venues

    This year's event is slated for August 28, though for the first time there will be a limit on the number of participants. Only 20,000 will be allowed in, and those attending will need to procure tickets beforehand.

    Still, there are several other, less-known festivals dedicated to the art of food-throwing. On June 29, thousands of winos gather in Haro, Spain, a small town in the Rioja region, to drench each other in reserve stocks of the area's signature vino. The event is known as La Batalla del Vino, or the Wine Fight.

      Just Watched

      Hindu tradition celebrated through color

    Hindu tradition celebrated through color 00:50
    PLAY VIDEO

    According to the organizers, the festival dates back to the 13th century, and started as a land dispute that ended in some upended wine. To commemorate that first battle, attendees come armed with buckets, water pistols, wine skins, and various other receptacles to get things flowing.

    Toby Paramor has been organizing tours through Stoke Travel for four years. He notes that clean-up isn't always straight forward.

    "You smell like wine for days," he says. Any clothes you bring to the event will be stained eggplant by the end, so it's best to consider anything worn on the day disposable.

    Body of work

    Sometimes, mess is merely the byproduct of a spectacular work of art. That's doubly true when bodies are used in place of a canvas, as is the case at the World Bodypainting Festival in Pörtschach, Austria.

    Read: Travel photos you wish you had taken

    The event, which kicked off July 1, started as a small gathering 16 years ago with 20 artists showcasing their work. Today, 30,000 people attend yearly. Festival organizer Denise Molzbichler says the artwork has become more sophisticated, pulling in professional makeup artists from around the world. Models aren't merely painted (often with a sponge of airbrush), but bedazzled, sculpted and adorned with elaborate headpieces. Prosthetics are also commonly used in crafting the type of fantastical characters usually reserved for a sci-fi epic.

    One of Molzbichler's favorite examples, she says, was when an artist painted three separate models and posed them to look like a motorcycle.

    "It was fascinating, because you couldn't recognize where the people began and ended. All you saw was the motorcycle," she recalls.

    Several bands play throughout the festival, though the art is definitely the key component. Molzbichler says she hopes the festival will help redefine how people view the practice.

    "We want people to understand that body painting is an art form. It's not just about coloring in some bodies," she says.

      CNN Celebrates

    • A jockey spurs the cows as they race in Pacu Jawi on October 12, 2013 in Batusangkar, Indonesia. This Pacu Jawi (traditional cow racing) is held annually in muddy rice fields to celebrate the end of the harvest season by the Minangkabau people. Jockeys grab the tails of the bulls and skate across the mud barefoot balancing on a wooden plank to show the strength of their bulls who are later auctioned to buyers.

      No matter the time of year, or place, a bounty of vegetables is often all it takes to get people singing, dancing, cow racing -- even parading around giant phalluses.
    • Fireworks boom, bulbs flash, and flames flicker as tens of millions of people across the globe celebrate the beginning of the Festival of Lights.
    • Our list of doomed sites include a haunted school, political prisons and an abandoned hospital. No...we wouldn't go in there either!
    • Heidi Klum attends Shutterfly Presents Heidi Klum's 14th Annual Halloween Party sponsored by SVEDKA Vodka and smartwater at Marquee on October 31, 2013 in New York City.

      Catch the best Halloween costumes from tinseltown featuring Heidi Klum, Jimmy Kimmel, Ellen DeGeneres, Miley Cyrus and all their A-list friends.
    • Masked revelers dressed-up as demons and witches take part in a Rauhnacht (rough night) New Year's procession in the southern German town of Waldkirchen on January 5, 2010. The annual festival, which finds its origins in medieval times, is held to ward off evil spirts from the past year. AFP PHOTO DDP / OLIVER LANG GERMANY OUT (Photo credit should read OLIVER LANG/AFP/Getty Images)

      There are still many places in the world that treat magic as serious business. Check out our guide to the world's witchiest hotspots.
    • The best photos of the eighth and annual gathering of geeks in the city that never sleeps. The sold out event allowed fans to mingle with stars.
    • Come november, millions of red crabs living on Australia's Christmas Island make their way to the sea to mate and, eventually, lay their eggs.

      When animals come together en masse, very often so do humans. Here's our guide to the animal migrations that bring people out in flocks.
    • Surviving the all-day drinking sessions of highly potent wheat beer at the (in)famous Oktoberfest in Munich is marathon, not a sprint.
    • For one weekend in September more than 155 million people in six neighboring countries across Central America pull out all the stops to honor the birth of their nations.
    • BIG PINE KEY, FL - JULY 11: Surrounded by yellowtail snapper fish, Elizabeth Campbell of Crystal Beach, FL pretends to play a french horn, July 11 at the Underwater Music Festival in the Florida Keys. Campbell was one of about 600 divers and snorkelers that submerged to listen to a local radio station's six-hour broadcast piped under the surface via special underwater speakers at the Looe Key National Marine Sanctuary.

      Some hobbies take genuine talent, others just don't, but the real skill is turning your weird past-time into an international event.
    • For Muslims, Eid al-Fitr is one of the most festive periods in the religion's calendar. We asked you to send us your best Eid photos, here are your best shots.
    • The one day insect festival is sponsored by the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. Bugfest attracts 25,000 visitors a year and serves up a range of creepy, crawly dishes. This year, the festival will focus on scorpions.

      Humans have a strange relationship with food. This seems to be a global truth that is perhaps best evidenced by the array of unusual food festivals the world over.
    • Each year, proponents of the healing powers of mud (and those that just like to getting down in the dirt) descend on Daecheon Beach in South Korea for the annual Boryeong Mud Festival. Last year, 2.6 million people participated, many diving in to the mud marathon, mud wrestling, and several other mud-related activities on offer.

      There is something innately messy about summer. That must be why some of the world's filthiest festivals bide their time until the warmer months.
    • Janto Marzuki captured these images of a Stockholm midsummer celebration on June 20, 2008. In Sweden, families celebrate the start of summer with dancing and singing around a decorated pole in a park. They have special celebrations in folklore style in the historic animal park called Skansen.

      We asked you to send us your best solstice photos. From skinny dipping, fire jumping and dancing like a rocket -- here are your best shots.
    • BELARUS: People bathe in the lake of Vyacha during 'Ivan Kupala Day', a traditional Slavonic holiday celebration in Mochany village, 25 km outside Minsk, early 07 July 2006. During the celebration originating from pagan times, people plait wreaths, jump over fires and bathe.

      Linked to fertility -- both of the vegetal and human variety -- the solstice has spawned celebrations meant to fan the flames of love and lust.
    • iReporter Jenna Adams captured this quintessential summer day photo at an annual youth group retreat at Lake Arietta in Auburndale, Florida.

"It had been raining all day, and finally in the evening it stopped so everyone decided to go out on the lake for a couple of hours and I happened to capture this photo of one of the students jumping off the dock," she says.

"This moment in particular may not be the most memorable, but the emotions that it stirs up within me remind me of all the moments that were memorable in 2012."

      For some it was an exhilarating holiday to an exotic place, finding new love or conquering their greatest fear. For others, it was witnessing an historic event.
    • Edinburgh's annual New Year's Eve (Hogmanay) festivities are cast aglow with a torchlight procession involving more than 25,000 locals on December 30. The parade is led by Shetland's Up Helly Aa vikings (pictured).

      For many people, New Year's Eve can be disappointing -- there's so much hype in the lead-up to the event, it often falls short of the mark.
    • If your Christmas is too often one of tacky decorations, over-cooked turkey and bitter family feuds, now may be the time to plan yourself a Yuletide getaway.
    • Jen Best from Liberty, Misouri, snapped this adorable picture of her six month old nephew, Grayson, playing with fairy lights after seeing the idea on Pintrest. "(Grayson) absolutely loved the lights," she says. "When we finished, my brother picked him up, and he held a light tightly in each hand and wouldn't let go."

      Christmas is synonymous with decorations, markets and extravagant quantities of food. But traditions differ greatly depending on where you are in the world.
    • For something intended to bring pleasure to loved ones, Christmas shopping in the Internet age can be a peculiarly joyless and atomized activity.
    • KADIMA, ISRAEL - DECEMBER 5: Fesh oil-fried and caramel-filled doughnuts, called sufganiyot in Hebrew, on display at the Roladin bakery December 5, 2006 in Kadima in central Israel. In Jewish tradition, it is customary to eat the doughnuts and other foods fried in oil during the upcoming eight-day festival of Hanukkah. Also known as the Festival of Lights, Hanukkah commemorates the re-dedication of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem in 165 BC following the victory of the Jewish Maccabees over the Seleucid Empire when there was only enough consecrated olive oil to fuel the eternal flame in the Temple for one day but miraculously, the oil burned for eight days. (Photo by David Silverman/Getty Images)

      For some, Hanukkah is "the potato pancake holiday" -- a holiday that takes the mundane potato and gives it a massive makeover.
    • The biennale will attract artists such as Sudarshan Shetty, whose previous works have included this aluminium and wood sculpture known as "This too shall pass."

      The port-city of Kochi, on India's west coast, isn't known for its arts scene but that will change as it's first arts bienale.