Caribbean's Events and Festivals

Many Caribbean islands turn festivals and events into serious business

Andrei Tselichtchev | Dreamstime.com

Festivals in the Caribbean
 

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.

Carnival

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.

Months of Carnival in the Caribbean

Country Month
Anguilla August
Antigua July or August
Aruba February
Bahamas December or January
Belize February
Bermuda May
Cancun February and March
Curacao January
Dominica February or March
Dominican Republic February
Grenada July
Guadeloupe February or March
Jamaica April
Martinique February or March
Puerto Rico February or March
Saba July
St. Kitts December
St. Lucia June
St. Martin February
St. Maarten April
Trinidad and Tobago February or March
Virgin Islands April, May, June, or July

 

Jonkonnu

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.

Other Festivals

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.

Crop Over

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.

Patron Saints

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.

Jump-Up

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.

Musical Events

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.

Sailing and Fishing

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.

Sports

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:

January

  • 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

 

February

  • 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

 

March

  • 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

 

April

  • 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

 

May

  • 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

  • Barbados Gospelfest

  • 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

 

June

  • 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

 

July

  • 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

 

August

  • 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.

 

September

  • 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

 

October

  • 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

 

November

  • 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

 

December

  • 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.

 

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