While most Caribbean islands’ carnivals take place before Lent, in Jamaica it kicks off before Easter Sunday and lasts until the end of the following weekend. During this time, reggae gives way to soca music and calypso tunes. It’s the long-awaited time of the year when the Caribbean party island celebrates Carnival. If you’re planning to travel to the birthplace of Bob Marley to play mas along with the island’s top Carnival bands this year or just visiting as a spectator, this guide has all the information you need.
A Short History of Jamaica Carnival
Jamaica’s Carnival might seem very similar to the one that takes place in Trinidad. That is because the people who founded it were frequent visitors and huge fans of the annual event on the nearby island. Byron Lee and his friends would travel to Trinidad every year to attend the Carnival had to cancel their trip two years in a row. First, due to Hurricane Gilbert in 1988 and then because of the elections in Jamaica in 1989. A year later, they decided to take matters into their own hands and organized their very own Carnival in Jamaica, that became an instant success. Every year since 1990, starting from Easter Sunday and up to the end of the following week, steel bands and dancers dressed in glamorous costumes and hit the streets of Kingston town in an explosion of color.
When & Where Does the Jamaica Carnival 2019 Take Place?
The official dates for Jamaica Carnival 2019 are April 25 to April 30 but the most known celebrations and fetes begin on April 20. The main and most popular events of Carnival take place at Jamaica’s capital, Kingston, but there is plenty of partying and festivities across the island during the Carnival period. The port town of Ocho Rios on the northern coast of the island also hosts several Carnival celebrations and parties.
How to Get to Jamaica Carnival
Jamaica has two airports: the Norman Manley International Airport (KIN), which is close to Kingston, and the Sangster International Airport which is located in Montego Bay. Choose the one that suits you best based on the location you’re planning to stay.
The Best Events & Parties to Attend in Jamaica Carnival 2019
Marbana in Port Antonio
Marbana is a multi-day event that signals Carnival’s blastoff with an array of flamboyant parties. The Cocktail Fundraiser at the Trident Hotel on Friday, April 19 takes over the role of warming up the crowds and should be square one on your Carnival itinerary. On Saturday, April 20, head towards the Frenchman’s Cove Resort, near Port Antonio on Jamaica’s northeastern shore to attend the Cliff Cooler concert that starts at 6 pm and goes on until midnight. Marbana’s main event takes place on Easter Sunday at the same place. The “Caribbean’s Ultimate Beach Club Experience” party kicks off at midday, lasts until 7 pm and it’s definitely a feast you don’t want to miss with tickets priced at $120.00.
Frenchmen Rise Up Party in Ocho Rios
On Saturday, April 20, Pearly Beach in Ochos Rios hosts the Frenchmen Rise Up Breakfast Party. From 5 pm to 12 am, soca tunes fill the white-sand beach while an enthusiastic crowd moves to the uplifting beats.
Rock the Boat
When locals say that during the Jamaica Carnival you’ll find a party everywhere, they really do mean it. Sail along the Ocho Rios coast with Rock The Boat party on Saturday, April 20 and dance to the rhythm of soca and dancehall on board. The party starts as soon as the boat leaves the port at 4 pm and lasts until 7 pm. Tickets cost $75 for women and $80 for men.
Bacchanal Jamaica Beach J’ouvert
Being one of the three most beloved local Carnival bands, Bacchanal Jamaica couldn’t not host their own pre-carnival party on the beach. This year on the 20th of April, Bacchanal Jamaica Beach J’ouvert brings the finest soca musicians on stage once again for a night full of music and dancing. This event has featured numerous popular artists like Machel Montano, Imij and Company and Shurwayne Winchester and Traffik in the past. This year’s line-up includes Shenseea and Shal Marshall as headliners, with several other musicians taking over the opening acts. The party takes place at the Grizzly’s Plantation Cove in Ocho Rios and will undoubtedly be one of the most splashy events of the carnival season.
Other Notable Events to Look Out For
Besides the celebrations listed above, there are several other events that are not to be missed during the week leading up to the Carnival’s greatest parade. Some of them are Caesar’s Army B.R. Jamaica in Kingston National Stadium on Sunday, April 21, I Love Soca Jamaica on Wednesday, April 24 in Sabina Park and Tribe Ignite Jamaica on April 25.
What Carnival Bands Are Playing?
The three main Carnival bands performing at Jamaica’s Carnival are Bacchanal Jamaica, Xaymaca International and Xodus. You can even buy one of their glimmering costumes and march along with Jamaica’s finest as long as you buy your ticket in advance on their official websites.
Apart from the Bacchanal Jamaica Beach J’ouvert, Bacchanal Jamaica is staging another party. On April 26, 2019 the Bacchanal J’ouvert takes place as well as the Bacchanal Road Parade on April 28th, 2019. See the route the final road march will follow here.
Xaymaca International is another renowned Carnival band that will be marching in the streets of Kingston during the Road March, on April 28. Xaymaca International also organizes the Xaymaca Cool Down Lyme at Fort Clarence Beach and a beach fete both taking place the day after the parade of the bands.
Xodus band is just as impressive and celebrated as the other two acts and they also organize their own parties and fetes starting from the end of February up until the Road March at the end of April.
Where to stay?
Needless to say that Jamaica’s coastline is lined with all-inclusive resorts and five-star hotels. If you decide to stay in Kingston, in the heart of the Carnival, you’ll find many luxurious as well as budget hotels for your stay. The high-end Courtyard by Marriott Kingston right next to Emancipation Park in New Kingston, the lavish Eden Gardens Wellness Resort & Spa and the striking Spanish Court Hotel will offer you all the necessary amenities for making your trip an unforgettable experience. If you want to be close to the celebrations but still be able to leave the noise behind once you head back to your accommodations, book a room at the four-star Strawberry Hill Hotel which is located 45 minutes away from Kingston’s city center. For a more budget-friendly accommodation check out Belleh23 Kingston Creative Guesthouse, Jacks Hill Tropical Arcadia and Chippies B&B.
Ocho Rios, the second most popular city in Jamaica, is a one-hour drive away from Kingston. Among others, here you’ll find the deluxe Jamaica Inn, all-inclusive Sandals Royal Plantation and the fancy Hermosa Cove Villa Resort & Suites. Those traveling on a budget should take a look at The Lion House Jamaica, the Wizzy Apartment and Idilio Rooms.
Being one of the most famous towns in Jamaica, Montego Bay on the north of the island brims with all types of hotels. Keep in mind though, it takes about three hours to get to Kingston from Montego. The 400-acre Half Moon resort with 1.9 miles of private white-sand beach is a top choice for those looking to give themselves a special treat. The world-class Hyatt Zilara Rose Hall resort and the all-inclusive Breathless Montego Bay Resort and Spa offer unique experiences to their guests. For a cheaper alternative, make sure to check out The Retreat @ A Piece Of Paradise, Mobay Kotch and Hotel Montego.
Where to Eat?
From stylish restaurants to takeaways and street food stalls, Jamaica has a place to fill your hunger in every corner. For a fine dining experience head to Rockhouse Hotel in Negril. Due to their spectacular location, the hotel’s three restaurants: Rockhouse Restaurant, Pushcart Restaurant & Rum Bar and the Pool Grill & Bar, have gained an international reputation as a must-visit place.
If you’re staying in Kingston, and you don’t want to spend your time driving west, Summerhouse restaurant will do the trick for a top-notch culinary experience. If, again, you’re too busy marching along with one of the Jamaican bands and just want to grab a quick bite, head to Andy’s restaurant in Kingston for a proper taste of the traditional jerk chicken dish or to Chilitos JaMexican Food for a Mexican tortilla with a Jamaican twist. After midnight, when the party’s over and your stomach calls for food, you’ll appreciate us adding the 24/7 open Pita Grill on our guide.