Where and When for Caribbean Carnivals

All Inclusive Resorts in Caribbean Welcome 2017 Carnivals
Sun Sentinel

It’s a party!

If your ideal vacation includes numerous opportunities for non-stop fun, you may want to schedule it to match a Caribbean Carnival.

In a Nutshell: “Carnival” is about over-the-top, shed-your-inhibitions fun. Like Mardi Gras, it’s traditionally a last chance for excess before the solemn season of Lent for Catholics. Many Caribbean destinations celebrate Carnival.

The annual bash is practically synonymous with Rio de Janeiro. But it’s also a big deal in the Caribbean, which, despite popular belief, isn’t one homogeneous destination. Each Caribbean island has its own history, cuisine, culture — and its own take on Carnival.

Planning an all inclusive resort Caribbean vacation to coincide with one of the region’s many Carnivals provides a ton of added value. When Carnival is being celebrated at a Caribbean destination, the whole island hums with energy and good vibes.

During a Carnival week, a traveler can still enjoy the gorgeous beaches and tropical scenery — but if they choose, they can take the party levels up to maximum by immersing themselves in Carnival celebrations that are a feast for the senses.

The dates for Carnival shift slightly from year to year, since it’s keyed to the Lenten Season; Carnival is officially the Monday and Tuesday (called “Fat Tuesday”) preceding Ash Wednesday.

There are too many for us to do more than hit the highlights here, for a more complete listing and to learn about the history of Carnival, we recommend Wikipedia:


Carnival on Aruba

The Dutch island of Aruba kicks off their Carnival in the days after New Year with a torch parade and continues the festivities up to Ash Wednesday. Throughout this period there are festive jump ups (parties), steel band music, and road marches winding their way through the streets of Oranjestad, the island’s capital. One of the highlights is the nighttime Lighting Parade, which features costumes illuminated with tiny lights.

  • Where to stay: It’s hard to beat the Check PricesDivi & Tamarijn Aruba, a family-friendly all-inclusive close to all the Carnival action in Oranjestad.

Carnival in the Bahamas

In the Bahamas, they celebrate Junkanoo, a Carnival-like celebration that kicks off just after Christmas and carries on like a house on fire until New Year’s Day, with costumed street parades along Nassau’s streets. As visual as Junkanoo is, it’s the sounds that carry it over the top — a riotous clang and bong of cowbells, brass horns and goatskin drums.

Carnival on Barbados

Barbados gets bawdy in late July to early August. Barbados could give Trinidad a run for the title of “top party island” — just don’t call Barbados’ event “Carnival”. It’s called “Crop Over“, and it’s so important to this former British colony that it’s a national holiday. As the name suggests, Crop Over celebrates the end of the harvest, on an island that was once among the world’s largest sugar producers.

Soca music competitions, the coronation of the Crop Over king and queen, parties, boat rides and parades — nearly two months of nonstop festivities lead up to the main event, Kadooment Day, the first Monday in August, when revelers parade through the streets in barely-there bikinis loaded with sequins and feathered finery. You might even spot pop star Rihanna, who often returns to her native island for the festivities.

  • Where to stay: For couples we prefer the adults-only Check PricesSandals Royal Barbados, but families will love Check PricesTurtle Beach Resort, both are very close to the majority of Carnival events in Bridgetown.

Insider tip: Bring a bathing suit along on Kadooment Day. After parading and partying in the streets of Bridgetown, revelers head to the outskirts for a swim at Brandons Beach.

Carnival on Bonaire

Bonaire’s Carnival season follows the Lenten Calendar, and is a distinctly family-friendly affair, with such events as a children’s parade, and a kid’s festival. Things get dramatic with a crowning event, in which everyone parades down to the Kralendijk Stadium parking lot, where they burn an effigy of “King Momito” the Carnival King.

  • Where to stay: We like the Check PricesDivi Flamingo Bonaire, a family-friendly resort that is popular with divers and snorkelers, but most importantly, it’s walking distance to all of the Carnival events.

Carnival on Curacao

Curacao’s Carnival generally occurs in late February. The pounding beat of African tumba music fills the air at a Carnival that’s lively but not as risque as the bashes on other islands. This is a Carnival you’d be comfortable taking the kids to.

The parades are a big deal. Some 60 marching groups stream down the streets of Willemstad, a capital city so picture-perfect, you’ll think you’ve landed on the movie set for a quaint Caribbean island.

Two good spots to enjoy the festivities are the Carnival Dome near the beginning of the parade route and the Carnival Tribune, near the end. Both have seating, music, food and drink.

“Our melting pot history has led to a progressive ‘live and let live’ philosophy that has long welcomed the LGBTQ community,” says Andre Rojer of the Curacao Tourist Board.

Curacao prides itself on making sure everyone can enjoy the party. Considered one of the Caribbean’s most gay-friendly destinations, it has hotels catering to gay tourists and an annual gay pride parade.

Insider tip: When it’s time to eat, head to the food stalls of Plasa Bieu, also known as the Old Market. Sample the popular goat stew or traditional tutu, a dish of ground-up beans with sugar and other goodies.

Carnival on Dominica

For most of the year, laidback Dominica is a serenely natural paradise of rainforests, mountains and waterfalls. During Carnival season, the island ramps up the festivities with street jump ups, calypso contests, and steel band concerts, climaxing with the crowning of the Carnival Queen. Carnival on Dominica is one of the shorter celebrations, taking place over just a couple of days leading up to Ash Wednesday. Most events happen in the capital city of Roseau but smaller celebrations can be enjoyed elsewhere on the island.

  • Where to stay: Although it lacks a beach (the coastline is rocky), the Check PricesFort Young Hotel is a terrific (and very hip!) all-inclusive and located right in the middle of the action in Roseau.

Carnival on Dominican Republic

Carnival in the Dominican Republic has an impressive pedigree, dating back to the 16th century. Carnival is celebrated during the three-day lead up to Ash Wednesday, and features some of the most frightening costumed dancers in the Caribbean, “El Diablo Cojuelo,” masked creatures adorned with mirrors, rattles and horns. While Carnival is celebrated throughout the country, Santo Domingo hosts the Grand National Carnival Parade, which marches along the capital city’s seaside promenade, or malecón.

  • Where to stay: Ordinarily we prefer the all inclusives located in Punta Cana, La Romana, or Puerto Plata, but all three locations are a bit far from where the main events happen (in La Vega and Santo Domingo), if you want to be where the action is, Check PricesBeLive Experience Hamaca Beach is a great choice, as is the very small and boutique Check Priceswhala!boca chica resort, both are family friendly.

Carnival on Jamaica

Jamaica’s version of Carnival is called “Bacchanal”, which typically kicks off in February and keeps kicking until May. Tourists are welcome to join in, but these parties are powered by local energy. Most of the action takes place in Kingston, the island’s urban capital, and Montego Bay, the center of the island’s tourism on the northwest coast. Events include road marches, concerts, and costumed theme parties.

  • Where to stay: While many Carnival events on Jamaica are held in and around Kingston, Kingston itself is not a tourist destination so there are no all-inclusives nearby (those that claim to be are actually a significant distance away) so we recommend you stick to the Montego Bay area, where there are many, notably our faves the Check PricesIberostar Grand Rose Hall (for adults-only) and the Check PricesSunscape Splash (for families).

Carnival on Trinidad & Tobago

Trinidad rivals Rio and New Orleans’ Mardis Gras for high-octane Carnival merriment, and this mecca for Carnival in the Caribbean generally sends the sparks flying in late February. The riotous, multicultural spectacle starts with the pre-dawn J’ouvert (daybreak in French Creole) on the first day of Carnival, when people throw paint on one another, and culminates with Parade of the Bands, where several thousand scantily clad costumed revelers dance to pulsating soca.

One of the best things about Trinidad is the option for visitors to join in the fun, don costumes, and dance through the streets of the island’s capital, Port-of-Spain.

Fun Trivia Fact: Birthplace of the steel pan drum, Trinidad is an oil-rich country whose ports have long been flooded with empty oil drums which resourceful locals turned into instruments. Panorama, the world’s largest steel pan competition, is held over several days in January and February leading up to Carnival, but the big final competition is just before Carnival in Queen’s Park Savannah in Port of Spain.

Similar, but lower key Carnival celebrations, are celebrated on Trinidad’s sister island, Tobago. When Carnival is done, it’s cool down time, and weary revelers kick back on Trinidad’s Maracas Beach and Tobago’s Pigeon Point Beach.

  • Where to stay: Downtown Port of Spain’s traffic is at its worst during Carnival, so consider staying within walking distance of Queen’s Park Savannah, where many events are held. There are plenty of great hotels nearby, but sadly no decent all-inclusives within a reasonable distance.

Insider tip: If someone asks if you want a wine, they’re not wondering if you’d like a chardonnay. They’re asking if you want to “wind” … as in wind your hips or gyrate, presumably in tandem with the person asking.

Carnival on St. Kitts

In St. Kitts they play Sugar Mas and schedule their Carnival in the Christmas season leading up to Jan. 2, with a festive “Last Lap Jam”. The St. Kitts Carnival is a blend of holiday good times and Afro-Caribbean traditions, with Masquerades, Mummies and Mock Jumbies on stilts. For the ultimate fun, consider joining one of the costumed Carnival troupes; three of the most popular are Red Devils, The Sky is the Limit, and Birds of a Feather.

  • Where to stay: The Check PricesSt. Kitts Marriott of course! It’s a tiny island and anywhere you stay will be close to Carnival events, but you can’t go wrong with a top-quality brand like Marriott.

Carnival on St. Lucia

Saint Lucia wisely moved their Carnival to mid-July, where they can reign supreme during the summer. Known for its towering Piton mountains, breathtaking beaches and a world-class jazz festival, St. Lucia used to hold its Carnival before Lent, as many other destinations do, but changed the festival date in 1999 to eliminate competition with Carnival titan Trinidad & Tobago and to attract more tourists to its lush playground in the summer.

Carnival on St. Lucia is a more intimate affair that remains on the smaller side, but still features three weeks of festivities including steel band performances, soca concerts, a Carnival Queen Pageant, and a two-day parade of the bands in the islands capital city, Castries. It culminates with the 3-mile-long Parade of the Bands through the capital city of Castries.

  • Where to stay: Most Carnival events are on the north end of the island. The oceanfront Check PricesSt. James's Club Morgan Bay is a great choice in that area.

Insider tip: You’ll hear the locals talk about “liming”. Simply put, to “lime” is to party or to hang out. It refers to the art of doing nothing while sharing food, drink and laughter with friends. And no matter what season you visit, the fishing village of Gros Islet hosts a lively street party Friday nights, full of barbecue, drinks and dancing.

There are many more places you can visit if you want to experience the magic of Carnival, we encourage you to check out the full list before making your vacation plans.


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About Jake Johnson 247 Articles
Jake Johnson is a full-time travel bum, who prefers warm climates where the women wear less clothing. We've tried to teach him things like manners and diplomacy, but we've given up and simply rely on our editors to remove the most offensive bits from his articles. We take no responsibility for his inane ramblings opinions - they are his own.
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