With many countries worldwide having achieved COVID-19 herd immunity, the world is slowly returning to normal. This shift means mass events like Carnival are back on the agenda. Several Caribbean islands, including Antigua and Barbuda, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Trinidad and Tobago, have already announced plans for their carnival celebrations; and other islands are likely to follow suit. If you’re looking forward to celebrating carnival safely this year, here are ten Caribbean islands to keep in mind.
Trinidad and Tobago
Trinidad is the premier destination for Carnival in the Caribbean. What started as a way for enslaved people on the island to celebrate with their version of European masquerade balls has turned into one of the biggest annual parties in the Caribbean. Carnival in Trinidad happens on the Monday and Tuesday directly before Ash Wednesday, usually in March. Revelers from all over the world line the streets on the two days decked out in the most dazzling costumes, cover their bodies with oil, grease, chocolate, and mud as part of the sacred traditions, and dance nonstop to the music of steel drum bands. Port of Spain is the epicenter of all things Carnival in Trinidad, but similar parties take place in various other locations in the twin-island republic, in Trinidad and Tobago.
St. Vincent and the Grenadines
Vincy Mas is what they call carnival in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Even though St. Vincent is one of the smaller islands in the Caribbean, the island has a massive appetite for Carnival. Traditionally, Vincy Mas was celebrated a few days before Lent, but today, the carnival has turned into a summer celebration, beginning in June and culminating in early July. Vincy Mas has all the typical elements of a Carnival in the Caribbean: vibrant costumes, street dances, calypso, and street band music. Uniquely, Vincy Mas has a J’ouvert and Mardi Gras parade on the last two days, which feature mass bands, dancing, and music.
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Carnival in Martinique is a unique celebration of French and African culture. This island’s version of Carnival lasts five days, beginning just before Lent (usually at the end of February or beginning of March). Like other Caribbean carnivals, Martinique has costumes, singing, dancing, and music during this time. A Carnival King or Vaval (a mannequin made from paper, reeds, or wood, which symbolizes Carnival) is also created and carried through the parades during the festival. During the parades, an elected Carnival Queen sits beside the Vaval, which is burnt at a massive bonfire on the last day.
St. Lucian Carnival is a month-long celebration of sexy costumes, music, and the island’s culture. Carnival in St. Lucia was initially celebrated during Lent but was eventually moved to the summer to better cater to tourists during the island’s peak season. The celebrations start in June with several parties and events, including steel band competitions, pageants, and a Junior Carnival. But most revelers and spectators look forward to the last two days of Carnival when the two-day costumes parade and Road March competition occur in mid-July. Both women and men come scantily dressed in costumes with jewels, beads, and feathers and dance to plenty of soca, reggae, and calypso music.
Barbados Crop Over has become one of the most famous Carnivals in the Caribbean due to annual celebrity sightings of Bajan-singer, Rihanna. Crop Over began in Barbados in the 1700s as a huge celebration that marked the end of a successful sugar cane harvest. Even though the sugar cane industry declined on the island, the festival was revived and transformed to what we know of Crop Over today. Crop Over begins every June and runs until the first Monday in August, culminating in The Grand Kadooment. During the weeks leading up to the final parade, events such as a massive Bridgetown market, Festival King and Queen competitions, Kiddies Kadooment, and other competitions happen.
Grenada, the island of spice in the Caribbean, celebrates its “Spice Mas” Carnival every August. Spice Mas, while fun and entertaining with pageants, J’ouvert, and a Monday Night Mas, also has deep-rooted and spiritual elements usually linked to the island’s colonial history. From the ShortKnee masquerade, a unique fusion of French and African culture, to the “Vieux corps” carnival gowns, Grenadians have managed to make Carnival on their island a distinctive and captivating experience. If you do happen to make it to the streets of St. George’s for Spice Mas, don’t be frightened if you see masqueraders covered in black oil, horns, and chains riding in the street. This portrayal is called “Jab Jab,” a long-time Grenadian African slave tradition.
Jamaica Carnival has gained the reputation for being one of the most popular and most exciting Carnivals in the Caribbean. Dubbed ‘Bacchanal’ in Jamaica, this carnival combines all the traditional aspects of a Caribbean Carnival with Jamaica music, food, and vibrant people. The Bacchanal celebrations occur in Ocho Rios and Kingston and span from March to the end of April, where the final event, “Bacchanal Road March,” takes place. Locals and tourists alike cover themselves with oil, glitter, and paint come out in their costumes to dance in the street or on branded trucks to the latest soca and dancehall tunes.
Under the theme “Come, Experience Life!” the tiny island of St. Maarten comes alive during the Carnival season in April. The celebration is the island’s most significant annual cultural event and encourages people from all over the world to come “play mas.” Carnival in St. Maarten occurs over 17-days, filled with parades, music competitions, reggae and soca bands, vibrant costumes, dancing, and plenty of drinks and food. All Carnival festivities on the island center around the Carnival Village, the island’s largest arena, and the specific location for all things related to Carnival. Every year, celebrities and musicians worldwide are called to headline Carnival, so you also enjoy great musical performances.
In the first week of May, all Bahamians come together in the Bahamas, specifically Nassau, for a week-long festive celebration. During this week, all the hotels and Airbnb’s are practically booked out (so be sure to book in advance) as tourists visit the island to enjoy the food, weather, and culture and participate in the Carnival celebrations. The most famous reggae and soca artists get booked to entertain revelers with live music as they make their way through the enormous parades. Bahamian Carnival is not to be confused with Junkanoo, which is a street parade with similar elements that takes place in December.
Carnival in Puerto Rico, officially called Carnaval Ponceño, is an annual week-long celebration held in Ponce. Carnaval Ponceño typically begins a week before Lent and, thus, is celebrated in either February or March. During Carnival week, parties and parades happen daily, starting with the Parade of the Carnival King and ending with the “Burial of the Sardine” (Entierro de la Sardina) ceremony on the day before Ash Wednesday. Puerto Rico’s culture has a significant Spanish influence. Many of the traditions, rituals, and costumes you will see during Carnaval Ponceño are an ode to Puerto Rico’s Catholic roots.