Can't Make it to the Playa? Here Are 19 Alternatives to Burning Man

Article by: Eamon Armstrong|@eamonarmstrong

Fri May 25, 2018 | 13:40 PM

Ever since Burning Man first sold out in 2011, there has been a major issue with scarcity around tickets. Although the Burning Man Organization has tried to mitigate scalping and push for a higher attendee limit, the reality is that as the event’s popularity continues to grow, some of us simply won’t make it to the playa. So what's a would-be Burner to do? Well, there are several alternatives to “That Thing In The Desert.” Some (Nowhere, AfrikaBurn) are “regionals,” officially recognized by the Burning Man Project. Others were inspired by their founders’ trips to the desert. While there are other opportunities than the general sale to get tickets (please don't pay over face value!) you may want to put some of these 19 festivals on a back...burner.

AfrikaBurn (South Africa)

Afrika Burn 2017 Peter Ruprecht
Photo by: Peter Ruprecht

AfrikaBurn is the largest regional event outside of Black Rock City and has been running in the Tankwa Karoo National Park since 2007. For those who have been to both, AfrikaBurn most closely resembles Burning Man with mutant vehicles, theme camps, costumes and lots of fire. Like Burning Man, AfrikaBurn is all about creative expression and boasts a few big art pieces to rival its parent festival in the United States.

Beltane Fire Festival (Edinburgh, Scotland)

Beltane Fire Festival Ellen Duffy   01
Photo by: Ellen Duffy

If you go to Burning Man for the promised freedom to dance naked and perform fire rituals, you’ll love the Beltane Fire Festival. This Scottish take on Germany’s Walpurgisnacht (Witches’ Night) takes place every spring on April 30th. Thus, there is a deep reverence for nature, including a representation of the Green Man (a Burning Man Art theme in 2007) and plenty of fire! Ever had a playa wedding? At Beltane you can get handfasted, which is a temporary or permanent marriage, depending what you’re looking for. This is definitely a great pilgrimage for hippie burners.

Burning of the Clocks (Brighton, England)

Hero Burning The Clocks Ray Gibson
Photo by: Ray Gibson

Is your favorite part of Burning Man watching the temple burn and letting the past go up in a blaze of beautiful art? You'll like the Burning of the Clocks in England. This small festival is a winter solstice celebration and a secular celebration that signifies a rebellion against the commercialism and consumerism of Christmas. Every year there is an art theme relating to the concept of time and participants create their own unique lanterns. At the climax of the festival, everyone throws their lanterns into a massive bonfire to ignite their hopes and dreams for the coming year. The event culminates with larger lanterns being set on fire and fireworks displays along the coastline. It’s not so much a big party, but more a celebration of ambitious intentions and FIRE!

Electric Daisy Carnival (Nevada, United States)

Kristina Bakrevski For Insomniac 1

If you like to spend your time at the big sound camps of Burning Man, Electric Daisy Carnival is the festival alternative for you. Some burners might reject this recommendation as too commercial and not in the spirit of the 10 Principles, but the radical community that exists in this PLUR wonderland invokes much of the burner ethos. There’s also the fact that EDC buys a lot of art from Burning Man, which in turn helps support artists who’ve slaved away all year creating huge pieces of art. And let’s be real: You can’t deny the incredible costumes and surreal atmosphere of this festival. The Insomniac folks responsible for this event are burners themselves and run the popular “Wide Awake” mutant vehicle. There’s also a similarly wretched exodus when it’s all over, so if you love sitting in your car you’ll get to do a lot of that as well.

Electric Forest (Michigan, USA)

Electric Forest 2017   01
Photo by: Electric Forest

Electric Forest, which has been called "Burning Man in the woods," has created a participatory artist culture by repurposing objects from the nearby Sherwood Forest. With contortionists dressed as butterflies and trippy movie screenings set up in the midst of the dark forest, this festival is for people who love Tim Burton films and enjoyed getting lost in the woods as kids.

Envision Festival (Costa Rica)

Envision Festival 2017 Jamieson Mulholland Hooper Cropped

Are you into the international vibe and cultural exchange that happens on the playa? Envision Festival in Costa Rica has that in spades, and is literally on the playa. We also give props to Envision’s commitment to Leave No Trace – they take festival sustainability to the next level. They have filtered water stations, contribute to permaculture, hold panels on greening ethics, work with reforestation organizations, and they're initiating a no single use policy where patrons participate in a reusable cup and plate program. No more throw-away plates and cups in this jungle paradise. In addition to all that mindfulness, there’s yoga, healing centers and plenty of cutting edge electronic and world music. For the globe trotter who still likes to get down and boogie, this festival is terrific.

Fusion Festival (Germany)

Hero Fusion Festival Merlijn Hoek Cc

The experience at Fusion is very much like a German Burning Man, an attempt to experiment with integrating new attitudes meaningfully into one’s daily life; for that reason alone, it’s a must-see. Unplug from the grind, learn about yourself and create something, if only for a collective good time. Much like Burning Man, Fusion is a polarizer and not for everyone, but the true fans love it and live it, and no amount of rain or anything else can take away from the collective, creative life lived for these few days each year.

High Sierra Music Festival (California, United States)

High Sierra Music Festival 2016 Courtesy Of Hsmf 1

Some people love the silly irreverence of Burning Man but aren’t so into the spirituality and self-importance that sometimes permeates Black Rock City. Consider High Sierra Music Festival. It’s an unpretentious shredfest featuring eclectic live music and a friendly vibe. There are silly costumes and hilarious theme camps, like the fine people of Glittertown who will accost you with “glitter emergencies.” It’s truly all fun and games with sunrise kickball and lots of families running around. Finally, HSMF is very participatory for a music festival – there are lots of campsite jams and a free-for-all acoustic stage where you can noodle to your heart’s content.

Kumbh Mela (India)

Kumbh Mela 2013 Porter Yates Fluxville
Photo by: Porter Yates

If you view Burning Man as a spiritual pilgrimage, you should check out Kumbh Mela, the world’s largest festival – and one of its oldest. Kumbh Mela only happens every three years in India, and 2018 is your chance to go. This important Hindu festival may be the most similar physically to Burning Man (on this list) because they both involve creating a massive tent city despite great logistical strain. In 2012, on Kumbh Mela’s largest day, its attendance made it the most populous city in the world, with 30 million participants. There are art cars, theme camps, and holistic healing. In fact, the commonalities between these two major cultural events of East and West are so striking that Fest300's founder wrote an article about it after visiting in 2012, which was part of the inspiration for this website!

La Calaca (Mexico)

Hero La Calaca Mishele Wells
Photo by: Mishele Wells

If Burning Man is all about experiencing epic art and participating in community, go to La Calaca in beautiful San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. La Calaca was founded by a bunch of burners who wanted to apply some BM principles such as civic engagement into a different context. Now the festival holds its own as Day of the Dead-meets-Burning Man, complete with costumed processions, musical performances and live art installations. This context creates a reverence for life and death similar to what you might find at the Temple. Yes, there are parties but at its core La Calaca is a cultural ambassador and art movement that calls for more urban arts interventions as a means of positively impacting a mostly Mexican community.

Las Fallas (Spain)

Las Fallas 2013 Junta Central Fallera   012

Artists and craftsmen lighting their works of art on fire amidst a bacchanalian celebration that goes on all night long? Sounds like Burning Man, but this is an urbane European version with an even more diverse representation of attendees and locals. The excitement and fear of watching 400 spectacular sculptures going up in flames in a beautiful coastal city may remind you of another Spanish festival: the Running of the Bulls. But the visual feast of Las Fallas won’t have you running in the streets. It will have you grabbing your camera. It’s one of the most photogenic festivals in the world.

Lightning in a Bottle (California, USA)

Lightning In A Bottle 2016 Daniel Zetterstrom

Take a creative powerhouse like Burning Man, with the same mind-warping musical talent, and trade the desert for lush greenery, rolling hills and a scenic lake, and you have the fairytale of Lightning in a Bottle (LIB) . This five-day celebration of art, sustainability, music, performance and life aims to spread the proverbial lightning beyond the bottle and into the daily lives of all its participants.

Lucidity (California, United States)

Lucidity 2018 Miles Najera    1 Of 29 (21)
Photo by: Miles Najera

Is Burning Man your chance to be free-spirited and experimental? Check out Lucidity in Santa Barbara, California. This “Burning Man in the woods” experience was born out of planting a dozen fake trees at Burning Man in 2011 in an installation called “Walkabout Woods.” Like Burning Man, the festival has a dynamic yearly theme and has art installations scattered throughout the grounds. It is one of the most environmentally conscious festivals and is committed to ending single use.

Nowhere (Spain)

Alicepepperellnowhere2012ap 02  Logo

Photo by: Alice Pepperell

What was Burning Man like back in the early days, a quarter century ago? If that's a question rumbling around your mind, then you might want to become a citizen of Nowhere . In 2012, Nowhere's population skyrocketed to 1,000 from just a couple hundred a few years ago, which gives you a sense of the intimacy amongst the people and the primacy of art that defined Burning Man’s beginnings.

Oregon Country Fair (Oregon, United States)

Oregon Country Fair 2015 Matte Hanna Dragon Gate
Photo by: Matte Hanna

Who wouldn’t want to create his or her own experience in a magical wonderland? That’s what BM is all about, and that’s what the Oregon Country Fair is about too – only it takes place on 280 wooded acres of land, making it a lovely change from the dusty playa. Oregon Country Fair has 18 stages of eclectic offerings: jugglers, poets, belly dancers, puppets, marching bands and a big area for exploration. It produces zero waste and educates attendees about sustainability. Anything goes with festival costumes at a fair where breast painting is even more popular than face painting.

Rainbow Serpent (Australia)

Rainbow Serpent Festival 2017 Francesco Vincenzi 1

The only major event in the world with a more diverse set of wardrobes is Burning Man. Expect the unexpected. Rainbow Serpent is well-known for its great taste in eclectic music styles. You're likely to find something for everyone here. But, like Burning Man, you need to come prepared for this festival as you're going to pack it in and pack it out which means it's helpful, if you're a virgin, to find a veteran who's done this festival before.

Shambhala Music Festival (Canada)

Shambhala Music Festival 2015 Xavier  Photography   01

If you go to Burning Man for the incredible sense of community, put the magical forest of Shambhala on your list. Shambhalovies could actually teach burners a thing or two about brotherly love. There are no corporate sponsorships; instead, they say “our attendees are our sponsors.” Shambhala’s incredible stages are like large-scale Burning Man art pieces mixed with theme camps. Each represents its creators’ vision entirely, right down to the stage’s performance lineup.

Sziget (Hungary)

Sziget Festival 2017 Rockstar Photographers 1

Some people like to call Sziget the Eastern European Burning Man. Yet, while there are similar creative elements, it’s a fully-fledged festival that has transcended comparison. First and foremost, Sziget is a music festival. It attracts big name musical talent, but it’s the sheer variety of musical experiences that sets Sziget apart. There’s a huge amount of interactive art spread throughout the island. Sziget appears to be taking note from Burning Man by adding more interactive art each year. The Tarot Labyrinth is a longtime favorite where your path is determined by the fate of the cards. Sziget takes mazes to a new level with the Luminarium, an inflatable chill zone that resembles a cathedral from outer space.

Up Helly Aa (Scotland)

Up Helly Aa Andrew Shearer 14
Photo by: Andrew J Shearer

Are you a viking at heart? Do you like to burn stuff? Do you hang out on playa with DPW or Death Guild? You might want to make a visit to Up Helly Aa, an annual Viking festival on an island north of Scotland. At Up Helly Aa, costumes (of the viking sort, naturally) are abundant during its traditional procession featuring the Guizer Jarl and his Jarl squad. The squad also designs parts of its viking costume for the event, so its different each year. If you fancy dressing like a woman, one of the main afterparties includes Transvestite Tuesday. Each year is themed and like Burning Man’s 10 Principles, Up Helly Aa has an annual bill drafted in secret by a committee of volunteers – which then gets read aloud at the ceremony. In true warrior fashion, Up Helly Aa has never been cancelled due to weather, including severe winter storms. Sound familiar? The culmination of the event involves burning a 9-meter-long galley, or Viking longboat.

If you don’t have a ticket yet and are determined to attend Burning Man 2018, never fear. There is the STEP ticket transfer program and the small OMG sale right before the event. You may have friends who decide not to go, or there may be an art project that needs your help. Where there’s a will there’s a way – but if you somehow lack one or the other, the festival world is certainly not short on alternates to That Thing in the Desert.

Did we miss any of your favorite Burning Man alternatives? Add your ideas to the comments!

For more suggestions, check out our full list of the world's best festivals.