What do you picture when you think of the Caribbean? If your answer is white sandy beaches and crystal clear blue seas, you’re not alone. It’s the typical picture postcard image that we all dream of on cold, rainy days.
Yet what many visitors to the Caribbean aren’t aware of is one of the islands’ most memorable features: their carnivals. Most of the islands have at least one or two major carnivals each year, and these offer you the chance to discover a side of the Caribbean that not all tourists get to see.
Here’s a round-up of three of the most colourful and engaging carnivals in the Caribbean.
Barbados: Crop Over
If you time your trip to Barbados in June, July or the start of August then you could get to take part in one of the Caribbean’s oldest carnivals. Called Crop Over, it has its roots in the 1780s and celebrates the country’s sugar harvest.
A King and Queen of the Crop are crowned during the festival, a title which is hotly contested and confers both financial and social benefits. The crowning takes place during Crop Over’s grand finale, Kadooment Day, which is normally the first Monday in August.
Leading up to this day are weeks of calypso competitions, which mix extravagant dancing with biting social satire or vocal encouragement to join the party, and performances of soca, a genre of music very popular in the Caribbean.
This is all accompanied by stalls selling the best of Bajan cooking, giving you an opportunity to experience Barbados’s vibrant street life to the fullest.
Kadooment Day is a national holiday where not only will you witness the spectacular processions, full of extravagantly costumed and body painted dancers, but you also might just find yourself pulled up to join in on a float…
The carnival ends with a large firework display, providing a fitting ending to an unforgettable day.
Given that people now travel from all over the world to experience Jamaica’s Bacchanal, you might be surprised to learn that this carnival only dates back to 1990. Jamaican musician Byron Lee decided that the island was missing out on the Mardi Gras fun that places like New Orleans and Rio enjoyed, and his solution was to get together with local performers to create this now-famous carnival.
Bacchanal is focused over the Easter week, and although it started in Kingston there are now smaller Bacchanal celebrations dotted all over the island. Luckily, this means that even if you’re not staying close to Kingston, you may still be able to get in on the fun.
The undeniable must-see of Bacchanal is the J’Ourvert Road March which closes the carnival. Paradise for photographers – and those who love to party – thousands of highly decorated and costumed dancers and performers take to the streets of Kingston during the march, accompanied by a riotous display of some of Jamaica’s best soca, dancehall and reggae bands.
If you go, make sure to keep an eye out for Bacchanal Jamaica, who are the island’s leading Mas Band. They were formed in 2001 from the top three bands at the time, Oakridge, Revellers and Raiders. Seeing them live during the carnival is an experience of both first rate music and an extraordinarily electric carnival atmosphere.
Turks and Caicos: Junkanoo
Junkanoo carnivals take place throughout the Caribbean, and on the Turks and Caicos Islands you can experience an exuberant festival against the backdrop of some of the most pristine and spectacular landscape the region has to offer.
Many of the carnivals take place on Providenciales, which has the largest population of all the islands. There are several smaller celebrations throughout the year, but the grandest carnivals take place during Christmas and New Year. If you fancy a slightly different way of seeing in the New Year then you should head to the Junkanoo, which takes place from midnight to sunrise every New Year’s Eve.
Junkanoo Turks and Caicos style is very distinctive due to its prominent gyrating dancing, as well as the parades of brilliantly decorated dancers, musicians and floats.
Performers spend months creating elaborate and colourful costumes studded with beading, sequins and feathers, often overlaid over wire mesh cages. Like everything else to do with carnivals, their transience is part of their appeal, as on the day after Junkanoo the costumes will be trashed, before the cycle starts again.
In the meantime, you can kick back on one of the many stunning white sand beaches as you recover from the exertions of the Junkanoo carnival!
Anna is a writer and travel blogger. This article was produced on behalf of Beaches.com, the Luxury Included Resort Company located on the beautiful islands of Jamaica, Barbados and Turks & Caicos.