Every year, the islands of the Caribbean host hundreds of carnivals, festivals and holiday celebrations. Special events abound in this region, so regardless of which country you visit, there is a good chance something exciting will be going on.
Each country's Tourism Authority office also offers up-to-date information on upcoming carnivals, exhibitions, and general festivities. Dates may change from year to year, so if you're planning a return trip for you favorite festival, be sure to check the calendar for this year's dates and times. Island parties and celebratory events can be placed in one of three categories: traditional, musical and sports-related.
This festival's name may sometimes be spelled "Carnaval," and it may be held during different times of the year, but you can be sure to find this street party on any number of islands, including: Antigua, Aruba, Curacao, the Cayman Islands, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica, St. Kitts & Nevis, St. Lucia, Sint Maarten, and, of course, Trinidad and Tobago, where this quintessentially Caribbean festival got its start. Although the celebration of Carnival originated from the European tradition of pre-Lenten feasting, this festival has developed into something much bigger.
Often, those who do not celebrate before Lent will find Carnival the perfect occasion to commemorate other events in the island's past. But no matter the focus, all Carnival events include elaborate costumes worn by many participants, including an elected king and queen, and a street parade with colorful floats. Music is also an important part of the celebrations, and bands join in the parades, and often play at nearby venues. With glittering costumes and exciting events, this is one street party not to be missed for travelers looking to catch a glimpse of Caribbean culture.
|Antigua||July or August
|Bahamas||December or January|
|Cancun||February and March|
|Dominica||February or March
|Guadeloupe||February or March
|Martinique||February or March|
|Puerto Rico||February or March
|Trinidad and Tobago||February or March|
|Virgin Islands||April, May, June, or July
Jonkonnu, also spelled Junkanoo, is a festival celebrated widely in the British islands, and it is especially popular in Jamaica and the Bahamas. Its name is derived from a real person, who was an African named John Canoe (John Konny, to some). A prince and slave trader, he was said to have outwitted the British in the 17th century and taken control of a fort. He terrified the British and Dutch slave traders, and so became a hero of the slaves. Parades were developed to honor this historical figure and are filled with colorful costumes and creative characters, some of whom have strong European influences in the way they look and dance. Despite the European influences, what developed over the years is a distinctly Caribbean festival that differs from island to island.
Each island holds its own festivals that can draw as many crowds as the larger celebrations do. Whether it's the Friday "Jump-Up" on St. Lucia or the annual Crop Over festival on Barbados, you're sure to find a local celebration for nearly every occasion. Of course, you'll also find celebrations during major holidays, such as Christmas.
Barbados spent many years as the most important sugar-producing island of the Caribbean. This festival began as a way to celebrate the end of the sugar production process, but by the mid 20th century, Crop Over was no longer celebrated. The Barbadian people reinstated the festival in the 1970s as an important piece of their own heritage. Many compare Crop Over to a Mardi-Gras style celebration.
During nearly any week throughout the year, you can find a town on Puerto Rico holding a festival for its patron saint. These religious festivals begin in the church and later overflow into the streets where vendors and celebrators make a day out of it, even crowning a king and queen. These celebrations last for 10 days in each town, and towns with the same patron saint generally have the same festival dates. This is also a time when former residents of a town return. During the weekdays, these festivals begin in the afternoon.
This St. Lucian festival is one of the best-known weekly events in the Caribbean. Each Friday night, Gros Islet takes to the streets with music and vendors. An opportunity to sample St. Lucian barbecue should not be missed. You can dance to local music and enjoy tropical, fruity drinks.
Those hoping to enjoy great music will not be disappointed by Caribbean musicians. Music festivals include some of the region's best acts, and, no matter what time of year you're traveling, there is almost always at least one music festival in the Caribbean - the hardest part is choosing which one to see.
Jazz events are popular on many islands, but some of the best-respected jazz festivals take place in Puerto Rico, St. Lucia, and Barbados. In fact, St. Lucia Jazz runs with the slogan "The Best Party in the Caribbean" for its star-studded springtime festival. For more than 10 years, fall travelers have been enjoying the Barbados Jazz Festival, also known as Paint it Jazz. And the Puerto Rico Heineken JazzFest is older yet and takes place each May.
On Jamaica, home of Bob Marley and reggae, you'll find plenty of reggae music festivals, the largest by far being Reggae Sumfest, held each summer. Early in the year, the Air Jamaica Jazz and Blues Festival also lets festival-goers and music fans have a day in the sun, literally. Those seeking a bit of Latin flair in their music can find it in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. Merengue fans can make their way to Santo Domingo's annual Merengue Festival, one of the region's most popular Latin music festivals.
The Bahamas and the Virgin Islands are home to some of the most popular sailing and fishing tournaments, but most Caribbean sailing aficionados would also enjoy the annual Antigua Yacht Regatta or its Sailing Week. Each island known for sailing or fishing hosts a number of important events. Martinique is home to one of the Caribbean's longest races - the Transat des Passionnés is a biannual race from Europe to the Caribbean. Soloists and doubles can also participate in the island's Transquadra race, making this same trek every three years. There are almost too many fishing tournaments to mention in the Bahamas, but fishermen are fond of established classics such as the Native Fishing Tournament, which takes place in August and has been held for more than 50 years, as well as newer tournaments, such as the ESPN Billfish Extreme Challenge. Meanwhile, the British Virgin Islands host a Spring Regatta, as well as some irreverent sailing events, such as Foxy's Halloween Cat Fight, a catamaran race. Visitors to the U.S. Virgin Islands may want to take into account that 24 world-record catches have been counted in U.S.V.I. waters, and plenty of sailing and fishing tournaments can be enjoyed here as well.
A wide variety of sporting and gaming contests - from local competitions to world-class events - take place all year throughout the Caribbean. On land, there are tournaments in rugby, cricket, horse racing, and car racing. At sea, you can catch wind surfing competitions as well water-based triathlons and swimming and yachting races. A yachting regatta invites both seafaring and land-dwelling partiers - watching the ships compete is the ideal reason for an island fete.
In addition to sanctioned events, you may be lucky enough to catch a domino or bridge tournament, a hot air balloon, or a kite race, during your visit to the Caribbean. Events like these typically have the feel of a festival, with concerts, cookouts and spontaneous "jump-ups" happening alongside the competition.
Here are some highlights from the Caribbean's exciting and packed events calendar:
Barbados Jazz Festival
Rhythm and Blues Festival in U.S.V.I.
Grenada Sailing Competition
Mayan Village Show in Cancun
Junkanoo Jump Up in Turks and Caicos
Who Cares Wahoo Tournament in Turks and Caicos
Panorama Steel Pan Festival on Trinidad and Tobago
Round the Island Race in Antigua
Bermuda Festival of the Performing Arts
Classic Yacht Regatta in St. Martin/St. Maarten
San Sebastian Street Festival and Ponce Carnival in Puerto Rico
Rebel Salute Music Festival in Jamaica
Trinidad and Tabago Amateur Ladies Golf Open
British Virgin Islands De Caribbean Regatta
Jamaica Pineapple Cup
Bermuda Couples Golf Tournament
Puerto Rico Freefall Festival
Bahamas Annual Track and Field Classic
Barbados Holetown Festival
Nautical Week on Martinique
Valentines Day Cup in Turks and Caicos
Holetown Festival in Barbados
St. Croix International Regatta in U.S.V.I.
Valentine Jump Up in U.S.V.I.
Sweethearts of the Caribbean and Classic Yacht Regatta in B.V.I.
Rum Cay Day Festival in the Bahamas
Casals Festival in Puerto Rico
Maricao Coffee Festival in Puerto Rico
Spanish Town Fishermam's Jamboree/Annual Wahoo Fishing Tournament in B.V.I.
Grenada Classic Yacht Regatta
Cayman Swordfish Challenge
Ladies Pro-Am Golf Classic on Bermuda
Transcaraibe des Passionnés on Martinique
La Ruta Maya Belize River Challenge in Belize
Jazz Artists on the Green on Trinidad and Tobago
Tobago International Game Fishing Tournament on Trinidad and Tobago
Bermuda International Film Festival
Heineken Regatta in St. Martin/St. Maarten
Mardi Croix Parade in U.S.V.I.
St. John Blues Festival in U.S.V.I.
BVI Spring Regatta and Sailing Festival
Caribbean Arts Festival in B.V.I.
PGA Tour's Puerto Rico Open
Taste of Rum in Puerto Rico
Sailing Week in Antigua
Classic Yacht Regatta of Antigua
A Taste of St. Croix in U.S.V.I.
Aruba Piano Festival
Island Roots Festival in the Bahamas
Aqua Festival on Martinique
Salt Cay Splashdown Days in Turks and Caicos
St. Martin Open
Rincon International Film Festival in Puerto Rico
Soborea Puerto Rico
The St. Croix triathlon in U.S.V.I.
International Ecofest on Dominica
St. Lucia Jazz Festival
El Festival de la Palabra in Puerto Rico
Jamaica Golf Classic
Jamaica Fiber Festival
Aruba Soul Beach Music Festival
Urban Fiesta in Puerto Rico
Antigua and Barbuda Sports Fishing Tournament
Cancun Jazz Festival
South Caicos Regatta in Turks and Caicos
Windvibes Kite Boarding Tournament in Turks and Caicos
Big South Regatta in Turks and Caicos
Cashew Day in Belize
Angostura Tobago Sail Week on Trinidad and Tobago
Taste T&T Festival on Trinidad and Tobago
St. Martin Billfish Tournament
Festival of Laughter in St. Martin/St. Maarten
Barbados Celtic Festival
Goombay Festival in the Bahamas
Rock D Spice Festival on Grenada
Caribbean Fashion Week in Jamaica
Tobago Underwater Carnival
Jadot Cup in Turks and Caicos
North Caicos Exravaganza in Turks and Caicos
Fools Regatta in Turks and Caicos
Dia de San Pedro in Belize
San Pedro Lobster Festival in Belize
Tobago International Gospel Festival on Trinidad and Tobago
Jazz and Latin Music Festival in Aruba
Aruba International Film Festival in Aruba
St. Martin Music Festival
St. Martin/St. Maarten Fashion Week
Dennery Fish Festival on St. Lucia
Fishermen's Fest on St. Lucia
Pineapple Festival in the Bahamas
Espíritu Santo in the Dominican Republic
Cultural Festival in the Dominican Republic
Latin Music Festival in the Dominican Republic
Wind Cup Wind Surfing in the Dominican Republic
Puerto Rican Heineken Jazz Festival
Ocho Rio Jazz Festival in Jamaica
Merengue Festival in the Dominican Republic
Crop Over Festival of Barbados
Bermuda Big Game Classic
Reggae Sumfest in Jamaica
Carriacaou Regatta Festival on Grenada
Highland Spring HIHO in B.V.I.
Festival del Merengue in the Dominican Republic
Caronlina International Jazz Festival
Makka Pro Surf Contest in Jamaica
Portland Jerk Festival in Jamaica
Little Ochie Seafood Festival in Jamaica
Crop Over Festival of Barbados
Caribbean Chess Carnival on Trinidad and Tobago
Yole Boat Race on Martinique
Middle Caicos Day in Turks and Caicos
Deer Dance Day in Belize
Emancipation Celebration on Trinidad and Tobago
Tobago Heritage Festival on Trinidad and Tobago
Carib Great Race on Trinidad and Tobago
Mango and Pineapple Festival
Non Mariners Race on Bermuda
Rose Festival in August
St. Thomas Open in U.S.V.I.
Emancipation Festival in B.V.I.
Jolly Harbour Regatta in Antigua
Curacao North Sea Jazz Festival
Jamaica Rock and Blues Jam
St. George's Cay Day in Belize
Bermuda Jazz Festival
San Juan International Billfish Tournament in Puerto Rico
Creole Week in the Dominican Republic
Harvest Moon Race of St. Croix in U.S.V.I.
National Warri Festival of Antigua
Annual Pro-Am Regatta in B.V.I.
Isla Mujeres International Music Festival in Cancun
San Fernando Jazz Festival on Trinidad and Tobago
PGA Grand Slam of Golf on Bermuda
King Edward VII Golf Cup on Bermuda
Bermuda Music Festival
Bermuda Culinary Arts Festival
Feast of La Marguerite on St. Lucia
International Creole Day on St. Lucia
Billfish Tournament on St. Lucia
Conch Festival in the Bahamas
International Culture Festival in the Bahamas
Bahamas National Trust Wine and Art Festival
Puerto Plata Festival in the Dominican Republic
Dominican Republic Jazz Festival
Caribbean Culture Festival in Cancun
Turk and Caicos Conch Festival
Battle of the Drums in Belize
World Rugby Classic on Bermuda
Barbados Food & Wine & Rum Festival
Festival of Puerto Rican Music
Hatillo Festival of the Innocents in Puerto Rico
Reggae Marathon in Jamaica
Cayman Islands Marathon
Jazz à la Martinique
Carrefour Mondial de Guitare on Martinique
Lord Nelson's New Year's Eve Pursuit Race in Antigua
National Day on St. Lucia
Bahamas International Film Festival
Abaco Christimas Festival in the Bahamas
Dominican Republic International Film Festival
There are many more festive events that take place in the Caribbean than can be listed here. So whether it's a musical, religious, or cultural festival you're looking for, you're sure to find plenty of sights and sounds to dazzle you during your stay.
Help us improve! We welcome your corrections and suggestions.