How to Celebrate Carnival in the Caribbean All Year Round

How to Celebrate Carnival in the Caribbean All Year Round

Trinidad-Carnival-Costumes

Party-loving travelers will want to pencil these 2019 Carnival dates into their calendars. Carnival doesn’t have to come just once a year. In the Caribbean, there are plenty of chances to keep the party going for practically the whole year round. With dozens of carnival celebrations to choose from, there’s one for every personality.

Whichever carnival you choose, know that this incredible celebration of life and suspension of social norms might be one of the most liberating experiences you ever have. Pack your dancing shoes, leave your expectations at home and let yourself be transformed by the magic of Carnival.

Here’s a run down of some of the most popular carnivals across the Caribbean, decoding which celebration is perfect of each type of traveler.

1

Junkanoo

Bahamas and Turks & Caicos

For Lovers of African Beats & Dance in December

Junkanoo has reportedly been around since the sixteenth century, when slaves on the islands were given a few day’s reprieve at Christmas time to celebrate with their families. Today, Junkanoo is a vibrant festival of African music and dance, where islanders take to the streets in handmade masks and intricate costumes. This colorful tradition takes place at on Boxing Day and New Year’s Day, with the largest festivities in Nassau. Turks and Caicos also has a Junkanoo celebration, but theirs starts at midnight on January 1. Intrepid travelers who love African traditions and euphoric beats should consider a cheeky island hopping adventure to catch them both.

2

Defile Kanaval

Haiti

For Authentic Culture & Frenzied Festivities in July

Haiti is home to one of the largest carnivals in the Caribbean, extending across multiple Haitian cities during Lent. Defile Kanaval, as it’s known, floods the island for days with costumed revelers, delicious eats and a veritable cultural feast of creole music and dance. The frenzied festivities may lack the glitz and glam of better known carnivals, but there is no better place to experience authentic creole culture with the masses.

Defile Kanaval culminates the day before Ash Wednesday, and is still celebrated island wide, even after natural disasters plagued Haiti’s shores, proving the islanders’ interminable spirits.

3

The Burning of King Momo

ABC Islands

For Pyromaniacs in March

King Momo has long been the spirit animal of Carnivals across the world. Momo is a relic of the Greek god Momus, who was the god of mockery and satire. He’s been adopted as the patron saint of Carnivals and his presence giving revelers license to escape convention and indulge. In Roman times, a handsome man was chosen to be King Momus and reign over the Saturnalia festival. His job was encouraging others to eat, drink and indulge, while doing the same himself, at excess. At the end of the festival, he was sacrificed to the gods.

In The ABC islands of Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao, King Momo transitioned into a larger-than-life effigy made of wood and papermaché, who likewise reigns over the carnival happenings. Momo is introduced at the opening of the festivities, carried through parades and parties, and then ceremoniously set on fire on Fat Tuesday in a nod to his Roman origins. Pyros or Burning Man fans, this is the Carnival for you.

4

Crop Over

Barbados

Courtesy of Visit Barbados

For Laid-Back Revelers April Through August

Crop Over is a 200-year-old tradition that celebrates the end of Sugar Cane season in Barbados. This laid-back carnival-like celebration features indigenous art, calypso music, flower festivals and folk concerts. Think of it as a hippy-esque gathering that emphasizes the laid-back island life over a crazy party scene. Perfect for more mellow travelers or those hoping to revive the summer of love.

5

Carnival

Trinidad & Tobago

For Carnival Purists & True Partiers in March

For Carnival purists, there is no better place to spend the pre-lent season than Trinidad and Tobago. The Caribbean’s largest and best known Carnival celebration dates back to the 18th century on these two southern Caribbean islands, but it was the abolishment of slavery in 1838 that really fed the festival’s cultural explosion.

J’ouvert, the opening festival, takes place at 4am on the first day of Carnival, followed by an eruption of colors, energy and music that lasts until the opening of Ash Wednesday. Let go of convention and dive in head first to this colorful Caribbean celebration of living.

6

Batabano

Grand Cayman

For Families & Turtle Lovers in April & May

The Cayman Islands are an especially family-friendly destination, and their Carnival celebration is no different. Batabano is one of the youngest Carnival-like celebrations in the Caribbean. It’s less than 20 years old and one of its highlights is the Junior Batabano, held especially for children and families.

Colorful stilt walkers parade through the streets, and children are treated to interactive events like mask decorating and dance. “Batabano” is the name for the tracks that the local sea turtles leave in the sand when they cross the beach—  nod to the island’s turtle-loving heritage.

7

Los Diablos Dazantes

Venezuela

Courtesy of Oscar

For Off the Beaten Track Travelers in June

Just inland from the Venezuela’s Caribbean capital, a 300 year-old religious tradition is also one of the most spectacular carnival-like celebrations in the area. Los Diablos Danzantes is exactly that—devils dancing through the town of San Francisco de Yaré on the day of the Corpus Christi feast. This Afro-indigenous celebration commemorates Venezuela’s origins, and it’s so culturally significant, that it’s protected as a UNESCO Cultural heritage event.

The keepers of the festival, the Societies of the Holiest (Sociedades del Santísmo), are the oldest brotherhood in the Americas. These 11 societies plan all of the festivities and each dresses their Devils in bright colors and hideous masks before parading them through the streets in festival song and dance as a tribute to their ancestors. If you’re looking for an off-the-beaten-track, true cultural experience, Los Diablos Danzante is the carnival celebration for you.

8

Sugar Mas

St. Kitts & Nevis

For Christmas & Calypso Lovers November Through January

St. Kitts’ Christmastime carnival is an amalgamation of the island’s African traditions and European heritage. The result is one of the most unique Christmas celebrations one could take part in as Sugar Mas is an explosion of colors, music and energy. The island’s capital is filled with beauty pageants, costume contests, musical competitions, street performances and Christmas masses. However, the culmination is always the Calypso contest—musical groups intertwine humor and satire into their music in an effort to woo the judges—where winners beomce well-known across the West Indies.

9

Vincy Mas

St. Vincent & the Grenadines

For Partiers With Serious Stamina in June & July

Vincy Mas started off as a lent-season carnival, until 1976, when revelers decided the festivities should be moved to midsummer. Now, Vincy Mas spans the months of June and July, and is full of parades, pageants and street parties that last for weeks. Rather than sporting the intricate costumes favored at other carnival celebrations, Vincy Mas relevers cover their bodies in oil, mud and paint and dance to steel drum street music, calypso and soca.

This month-long celebration is one of the longest carnival celebrations in the world—so make sure you’ve got some serious stamina if you’re planning to to keep up with the crowds on St. Vincent at Vincy Mas.

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