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5 Places to Travel for Music and the Best Ways to Experience It

Some of the world’s most melodious destinations are featured in a new video by the United States Tour Operators Association. We took a closer look.

What better way to connect with a place than through its music? Recognizing the power of song and dance to transform your travels into something truly special, the United States Tour Operators Association set out in search of some of the best sounds on the planet. The result is USTOA On Tour Live, a road documentary that offers insight into the faces and places behind these global traditions. In celebration of this new video, we dove into the five destinations highlighted in it, from the Lindjo dancers of Croatia’s Adriatic Coast to the mesmerizing Mevlevi music of Türkiye. Once you’ve explored the musical offerings of each locale and their noteworthy sights and tastes, visit USTOA to start planning your own harmonious adventure.

Colombia’s many rhythms


Colombia simply bursts with the spirit of song and dance.

Courtesy of ProColombia

Known as the “Land of 1,000 Rhythms,” Colombia’s cultural diversity has gifted the world such inimitable music styles as champeta, vallenato, porro, and cumbia. With influence from native traditions, as well as from Africa, Spain, and beyond, each region of the country offers a new world of music to discover, made even more accessible through an abundance of folk and international music festivals.

Arguably the best starting place to feel the heartbeat of Colombia would be the Barranquilla Carnival, a celebration held each February or March that was declared a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO. Heading deeper into the country alongside the Andes Mountains in the bustling, salsa-dancing city of Cali, the Petronio Álvarez Music Festival showcases the traditional music of Pacific coastal communities each August. Plus the Vallenato Legend Festival in Valledupar every year in late April and the Mono Núñez Andean Music Festival, an annual musical event in June organized in Ginebra, are among the seemingly countless other cultural events found throughout the nation.

Music lovers will also have all they need without ever leaving cities, from Bogotá’s many universities and cultural centers to the cobblestone streets and colonial architecture of Cartagena. In the latter, the bohemian neighborhood of Getsemaní offers visitors nonstop culture, starting with dinner at one of their inventive, world-class restaurants like Celele or Cocina de Pepina. Cap the evening with a nearby concert from a proud Colombian musician like Gregorio Uribe and his infectious cumbia-soaked sound.

Of course, as the country with the most biodiversity per square mile on Earth, Colombia’s unrivaled variety extends beyond music. Of the myriad natural delights to discover throughout its six main regions, the lush flora and rugged peaks of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta and the wild, beach-fringed deserts of La Guajiraeach part of the Greater Colombian Caribbean—are a mere hint of what’s on offer.

Dubrovnik’s dance of the ages

Dubrovnik’s Lindjo folk dance in action

Dubrovnik’s Lindjo folk dance in action.

Courtesy of Archive of Folklore ensemble Lindjo Dubrovnik

After centuries as one of the world’s great maritime superpowers, the ancient port city of Dubrovnik features layer upon layer of cultural heritage waiting to be unearthed. With immaculately preserved Baroque architecture framed by a cerulean sea, the ebb and flow of visitors attracted to this jewel of Dalmatia has left an indelible influence on the city, in its colorful cuisine and famed literary tradition—as well as its distinctive, historical music scene.

Eternally popular, Old Town Dubrovnik simply bursts with life, with live music spilling into the streets. Stopping at Libertina for an espresso, a cold pint of Ožujsko lager, or perhaps even a glass of pošip—a uniquely Dalmatian wine—you’ll immediately find yourself surrounded by local artists and eccentrics of varying stripes. Head outside to Gundulićeva Poljana, Old Town’s open-air market, to taste all kinds of local flavors, from candied almonds to local honey, the air further sweetened by the sounds of the surrounding buskers. If you’re lucky, you’ll even catch a performance by the littoral Klapa singers in USTOA On Tour Live; their harmonious incantations aren’t to be missed.

For those visiting during the summer months, it’s best to keep an ear tuned to the steps of the Dominican Monastery or the Church of St. Blaise, where local folk hero Ibrica Jusić has been keeping the tradition of the troubadour alive with impromptu concerts for some 50 years. Drawing influences from Croatia, France, Italy, and Bosnia, particularly in the sevdalinka tradition, Jusić is but one highlight of the Dubrovnik Summer Festival, now in its 74th year. The festival takes over the streets of the city with outdoor performances of music and theater from all over the globe, representing a long, proud intellectual legacy in the city. At the center of that tradition, as USTOA’s video shows, is that of the kolo linđo.

Dating back to the early 19th century, with influences from Dinaric and Mediterranean dance, the kolo linđo is a crucial social institution wherein dancers can freely express themselves, even in the face of oppression. As a form of courtship, participants gather in a circle, led by the dance leader, or kolovođa, who, while playing their fiddle-like lijerica, pairs off dance partners who then face off in a spirited, oft-flirtatious dance circle. Often—but not only—found at weddings, the kolo linđo represents a crucial part of Dubrovnik culture, and catching a performance by troupes like Lindjo should be at the top of the list for your next Adriatic adventure.

Musical diversity in Panamá

Indigenous communities like the Emberá people keep the past alive in Parará Purú

Indigenous communities like the Emberá people keep the past alive in Parará Purú.

Courtesy of Visit Panamá

As the literal junction point between North and South America, between the Caribbean and the Pacific, Panamá is inevitably a confluence of cultures, and its music scene reflects this, with additional influences from Spain, Africa, and countless Indigenous peoples. Also rooted in the country’s history as a crossroads, modern folk musicians distill many of these traditions into a style known as pindín, otherwise called música típica, a joyful and eclectic gumbo of sounds that uses everything from the accordion and the mejorana (a five-stringed guitar) to the bocana (a four-stringed guitar), tambores (wooden drums), and even a form of yodeling.

In more recent years, the catchy, irrepressible rhythms of reggaeton represent—by far—its most popular musical offering to the world. Of course, when it comes to salsa, one of the world’s most beloved paths to the dance floor, Panamá’s influence can’t be overstated, including Rubén Blades, winner of 11 Latin Grammy Awards and a Panamá City native. And defying categorization, the Panamá City-based, Grammy-nominated band Afrodisíaco offers a modern interpretation of the Panamanian sound, with complex rhythms drawing from atravesao, tambor norte, bullerengue, congo, and cortacacho traditions.

Jazz aficionados have a home here, too, thanks to the Panamá Jazz Festival, hosted each January by the nonprofit Fundación Danilo Pérez, named after the Grammy Award–winning pianist. With the opportunity to collaborate with some of the biggest figures in jazz, young performers converge from around the globe, participating in masterclasses and other educational initiatives.

Even beyond the work of Pérez and his team, music education remains a priority in Panamá, with the Portobelo-based Escuelita del Ritmo using song to promote positive social change while preserving Panamá’s cultural heritage. Thanks to their hard work, international visitors can seek out their own musical education through ongoing congo drumming and dancing courses, offering an experiential introduction to the region’s wellspring of folkloric traditions.

Travelers interested in the stylings of native Panamanians can also observe these native sounds throughout the country among its Indigenous communities, including the Naso Tjër Di, Ngäbe, Buglé, Bribri, Emberá, Guna, and Wounaan. Seek them out on a trip here to help preserve their own distinctive music and dance traditions, whether it’s a visit to the Emberá communities along the delta of the Río Chagres or the Ngäbe-Buglé tribes found in the provinces of Veraguas, Chiriquí, and Bocas del Toro. With each experience comes the opportunity to shop for handmade instruments including the sonajero, a rhythm instrument made from a natural gourd, and to immerse yourself in Panamá’s stunning seascapes and jungle vistas.

Peru’s timeless music traditions

Dancers converge to celebrate Corpus Christi in Cusco.

Dancers converge to celebrate Corpus Christi in Cusco.

Courtesy of Andrés Allain

Peru is known worldwide for that Incan icon above the clouds, Machupicchu, but there’s so much more to this South American nation. From surfing the Pacific and navigating the Amazon River, nature lovers will certainly have their hands full here. And with musical traditions dating as far back as Machupicchu itself, there’s more than enough melody to make this one of the top musical destinations on Earth.

Throughout the country, you can hear hints of African, Native Andean, and European influence in instruments like the cajón, the ocarina and pan flute, and the guitar-like bandurria. Groups like the Banda San Pedro, who stars in the USTOA video, wear their European influence on their sleeve with full brass sections, yet their songs remain rooted in the hyper-local. And the band often performs at regional religious festivities such as Corpus Christi.

Even within the realm of devotional music, Peru remains diverse. In the Cusco region, the Inti Raymi festival, held yearly on June 24, helps preserve Incan spiritual traditions. And in the Andean town of Ocongate, the longstanding Pilgrimage to the Sanctuary of the Lord of Qoyllurit’i, otherwise known as the Snow Star festival, begins 58 days after Easter and attracts parishioners from throughout South America who join in round-the-clock singing and dancing.

For more accessible activities, the former Incan capital of Cusco remains one of the liveliest nights out on the continent, with an international offering of pubs, discos, and music halls featuring traditional folk, contemporary pop, and everything else in between. At the center of it all is the Plaza de Armas, where you can catch native music and dance at the Centro Qosqo de Arte Nativo, enjoy locally sourced cuisine and live music in a stylish, cyclist-friendly setting at Wasicleta or dance through the night at one of many nightclubs found throughout the area.

Musical time travel in Türkiye

Türkiye’s legendary Whirling Dervishes whirl away in Konya.

Türkiye’s legendary Whirling Dervishes whirl away in Konya.

Courtesy of GoTürkiye

Famously straddling the line between East and West, Türkiye has been a cultural crossroads for millennia, hosting civilizations as diverse as the ancient Anatolians such as Hittites and the Luwians; of course, the Ottomans; and the Turkish Republic. The varied influence of Türkiye’s diverse cultural heritage can be seen immediately with a visit to the UNESCO World Heritage Historic Areas of İstanbul and the Grand Bazaar found therein, where artisans deal in handmade Turkish instruments such as the oud, saz, and ney.

Türkiye’s ancient influences are also evident in the many musical genres found throughout the country, including in the cultural capital of İstanbul—home to the Beyoğlu Culture Route Festival and the İstanbul Jazz Festival every year in July, and the annual İstanbul Music Festival in June, each of which fills the metropolis with a staggering array of domestic and international acts. In the northwestern part of Türkiye, a two-hour drive from İstanbul, Edirne hosts the International Balkan Music Festival each October, celebrating the folk music and dance of the many varied Balkan cultures throughout the region.

Classical music fans will want to head to the capital of Ankara to take in a performance by the 200-year-old Presidential Symphony Orchestra and to the coastal city of Antalya, home to the annual autumn International Antalya Piano Festival. On the Turkaegean Coast, the charming towns of Bodrum and Çeşme offer open-air festivals during the summer, attracting those looking to soak in the sun when they aren’t taking in multicultural performances among the boulevards.

And who could forget Konya, the spiritual center of Sufism? Each September the Mystic Music Festival honors the legacy of the poet Rumi, and each December Şeb-i Arus ceremonies commemorate him, while hosting mesmerizing performances of the Mevlevi Order, otherwise known as the Whirling Dervishes, as shown in the USTOA video. During this mystical celebration, devotees gather to honor Rumi’s spiritual legacy and the wisdom of his teachings through the power of whirling. While there, be sure to pay a visit to Mevlana Museum, a monumental 13th century structure which serves as the final resting place of this great man.

How to get there in style

Flying to a musical destination with Turkish Airlines is a delight in itself.

Flying to a musical destination with Turkish Airlines is a delight in itself.

Courtesy of Turkish Airlines

To travel to your music-filled destination, whether it’s Türkiye or beyond, there’s perhaps no better option than Turkish Airlines. With its convenient hub in İstanbul, Turkish Airlines flies to more international destinations than any other, spanning 129 countries across five continents.

In addition to its young, fast-growing fleet, Turkish Airlines’ dedicated staff are on hand to offer world-renowned Turkish hospitality, including award-winning services in its Business Class cabins—which are all-new in its new and efficient 787-9 Dreamliner. Already renowned for offering top-notch cuisine, with a brand-new menu introduced in June 2023, Business Class passengers on long-haul and select regional flights can also look forward to Flying Chefs. The in-flight chef experience offers each guest restaurant-quality meals cooked to order using only the finest ingredients.

From its new home at the modern İstanbul Airport—on course to become the world’s largest on the planet—Turkish Airlines is defining the future of aviation. Always looking to improve the flying experience for travelers the airline offers programs such as the Turkish Airlines Corporate Club, one of the world’s most extensive corporate frequent flier memberships with special perks and benefits.

For those traveling from the United States, Turkish Airlines currently has 13 gateway cities that fly direct to İstanbul, including Atlanta, Washington, D.C., New York, Newark, Chicago, Houston, Dallas, Miami, Boston, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, and Detroit—with an additional gateway set to open in Denver later this year.

Discover your musical dream trip with USTOA

When it comes to music, the world offers seemingly endless avenues to explore, and while these five destinations are certain to wow you, they’re also only the beginning. To help you discover more of what’s out there, USTOA works with thousands of local experts across hundreds of countries worldwide, offering expert-led, unbeatable tours wherever it is you want to go, so you can venture worry-free onto the dance floor, moving to rhythms you may never have known you had in you. Compose your musical adventure with USTOA.

United States Tour Operators Association
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