The Caribbean islands have numerous festivals going on at any given time, usually of the traditional, musical or sport variety. Some occur once a year; others every weekend. Music, masks and bright costumes are usually part of these upbeat festivals; dancing in the street is a regular occurrence.
For some people, a holiday in the Caribbean can be a once in a lifetime trip, as
flights aren’t exactly cheap, so most people try and take advantage of the all inclusive holiday deals on offer. Below is our guide to some of the best festivals and events in the Caribbean that you might be lucky enough to see if you’re on holiday at the same time.
The two-day Carnival (or Carnaval) at the end of February in Port of Spain, Trinidad, was originally a time of celebration before Lent, but has become much bigger than that. Preparations start months ahead of the Monday and Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. There are street parties, parades and calypso and soca dancing.
Steel drum bands rehearse constantly at mas camps, open to the public. This is also where they build their fantastic, bright floats, on which ride the festival king and queen for the street processions. Apart from this festival on Trinidad, many other islands have their own Carnival at different times of the year, celebrating different things.
Junkanoo, or Jonkonnu, is celebrated in Nassau, the capital of the Bahamas and other originally British islands. Said to be named after the 17th century African prince John Canoe or Konny, this celebration commemorates a man who cleverly outwitted the British and Dutch slave traders. He became the hero of all slaves.
Shirley and Bay Streets in Nassau are packed by party-goers from two in the morning, who watch and partake in the parades, dancing and bands playing until dawn. Local groups called shacks prepare for months by making masks and fabulous costumes and floats, hoping to win the prize for best group.
Barbados has its turn for five weeks in July and the beginning of August with the Crop Over Festival. This festival originated in the late 1700s, when the sugar cane harvest came to an end. Sugar cane production here was among the most prolific in the world and therefore of the utmost importance to the entire Caribbean.
Today, the focus of the festival has shifted and it is similar to a Mardi Gras type of celebration. The best calypso bands entertain the revellers in tents around the city, competing for the Pic-Of-De-Crop award. Numerous street fairs and parades occur at all times, culminating in large parades on Kadooment Day, a national holiday.
In the beginning of May the St Lucia Jazz Festival, also called “Paint it Jazz”, draws many famous names. During its ten days, international stars such as Lauryn Hill, Smokie Robinson and Herbie Hancock entertain audiences in an open-air auditorium surrounded by a stunning natural landscape.
Jazz, R&B and calypso compete with fusion, mainly on Pigeon Island to the north of St Lucia. Many fringe activities feature local musicians playing in venues around the city and these are often free of charge. This festival started in 1991 and has grown to a world-class event on the musical calendar.
The Reggae Sumfest in mid July is celebrated in Montego Bay, Jamaica, birthplace of the legendary reggae king Bob Marley. For four days, top musicians and thousands of fans commemorate the legacy of Marley”s genius in the largest of the many annual reggae fests on the island.
With an all-festival pass, one can attend events such as the beach party on the Sunday night, the Dancehall Night and shows featuring international artists on Thursday, Friday and Saturday night. Non-reggae artists performing have included Mary J. Blige and LL Cool J.
St Patrick”s Day is celebrated in Montserrat on 17 March. Originally celebrated by the many Irish Catholics who came to the island around 1630 in pursuit of freedom of religion, it has become a festival lasting an entire week. The locals also remember the day in 1798 that African slaves revolted against their masters.
The festival is a blend of African and Irish, calypso and emerald green, with cheerful bands and partying. Many guest lecturers also visit the island and people take part in historical walking tours, visiting places of importance to the history of the little island.
The Jump Up in St Lucia is a weekly occurrence and famous in the whole of the Caribbean. On a Friday, night people in the town of Gros Islet are to be found in the cordoned-off streets, having barbeque and tropical fruit drinks bought from street vendors. Local musicians entertain party goers dancing on the pavements.
The Dominican Republic”s Festival de Merengue draws thousands to its street party of pulsing musical rhythms in July, with open air stages along its ocean front drive. In late July, Loiza Aldea on the coast of Puerto Rico celebrates its patron saint, Santiago de Apostol, with street parties, concerts and parades. Fabulous masks are for sale as souvenirs.
In January, the Tumba Festival in Curacao sees drumming bands competing for the opportunity to play the official Carnival Road March song. Dancers in costumes gyrate on an elaborately decorated stage and entice the audience to dance along. The Aruba Hi Winds windsurfing and kite surfing event in July features freestyling by day and partying by night.