From steel pan and jump-ups to pageants and parades, carnivals in the Caribbean are the perfect excuse to gyrate wildly with your sweetie. With a storied past, the tradition started centuries ago when Italian Catholics hosted costumed balls before the first day of Lent. As meat eating was not allowed during the holiday, they called the festival ‘carnevale’ which translates to ‘put away the meat’. The rest is carnival history and today, virtually every country in the Caribbean hosts a cultural kaleidoscope of high-octane dance, raucous street jams and fantastical pageantry.
“Sharing our carnivals with our visitors is one of our greatest joys,” said Hugh Riley, secretary-general, Barbados-based Caribbean Tourism Organization, “Be warned that Caribbean music is highly infectious and can lead your body, and other people’s, to move muscles one wouldn’t normally use in daily life. Expect to be lured into a music-infused costumed-covered trance that is addictive and hard to resist.”
Carnival Trifecta in USVI
Three islands and three carnivals rock the USVI with the Crucian Christmas festival in St. Croix leading the pack through January 8 with food, crafts and music. “I’ve been participating since I was eight years old,” remembers Chantal Figueroa, deputy commissioner, department of tourism, “During the month-long celebration, we eat traditional dishes to delight our bellies and then wash it all down with old time drinks.” Visit www.stxfestival.com.
Get Happy in St. Kitts
St. Kitts kicks up her heels through January 2 with Mocko-Jumbies on eight-foot stilts, dancers in bejeweled costumes and performances of the comedic play The Bull. “Visitors are enthusiastically welcome and can even participate in the Grand Parade,” says Senator Ricky Skerritt, minister of tourism, “I am especially fond of the street parades and have been an active participant since I was a teenager.” Visit www.stkittsneviscarnival.com.
Kicking off on New Years Day and continuing through March 8, Carnival is the biggest blow-out of the year in Aruba. Homes are transformed into elaborate sewing factories as lovelies of all ages primp for Carnival Queen Competitions. Visit www.carnavalaruba.net.
On March 6, non-stop shimmying is the signature of the Grand Carnival or “Gran Marcha” and on March 8, the Farewell Parade delights with a fireworks-stuffed King Momo that ignites after dark.
“Since Carnival is such a celebratory time,” smiles Andre Rojer, Curaçao Tourist Board, “we like to say that babies born in November are Carnival babies.” Visit www.Curacaocarnival.info.
Party Hearty in Trinidad
Heralded as the best party on earth, Trinidad Carnival is the granddaddy of them all, attracting hard core fans from across the globe who book air tickets and hotel rooms six months in advance. Mas ‘ or masquerade steel pan concerts, flamboyantly risqué costumes that can reach thirty feet high and take months to create and revelers slathered in everything from oil and grease to chocolate and mud are the sacred hallmarks of Carnival Monday and Tuesday (March 7 – 8). Visit www.goTrinidadandTobago.com.
April 25 – May 2: St. Maarten. Grand Parade and Festival Village are the big draws. Visit www.VacationStMaarten.com
April 29 – 30: St. Thomas, USVI. The largest of the USVI carnivals heat up Charlotte Amalie and the Lionel Roberts Stadium. Visit www.usvitourism.vi.
Carnival Survival Kit
- sneakers or comfortable walking shoes
- ear plugs
- tickets for popular events
- water bottles
- small amount of cash (keep valuables in the hotel safe)
- camera and batteries (many stores close during carnival)
- backpack to carry the above