Summer vacation is in full swing and the best places to travel in July include festivals celebrating everything from flying kites to reggae to scuba diving. Oh, and dozens of Ernest Hemingway look-alikes running through in Key West.
Movie buffs looking for an excuse to visit the Caribbean should plan to attend the annual CayFilm Cayman International Film Festival. The four-day event, held at the Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman, was started to promote the Cayman Islands as a filming location. The schedule includes daily film screenings, Q&A sessions with filmmakers and panel discussions. The festival will also host a 48-Hour Film Project competition challenging local filmmakers to make a short film in just two days. The winning film will be announced at the festival’s award ceremony and will compete against other films at Filmapalooza 2018 for the grand prize and the opportunity to be screened at the Cannes Film Festival in 2018.
One the island where reggae was invented, it only makes sense there would be an annual festival to celebrate it. Every July in Montego Bay, the Reggae Sumfest honors the homegrown music style with a weeklong festival. Headliners have included Jamaican artists like Damian “Junior Gong” Marley and Stephen Marley, Toots & the Maytals and The Mighty Diamonds, along with international artists like Sean Paul, Rihanna, Usher and 50 Cent. Can’t make it in person? Watch the live stream, crank up the volume and have your own irie dance party.
It’s windy season in Bali and the Balinese celebrate in style — with elaborate kites. See hundreds in the air at the annual Bali Kite Festival, held on Padang Galak Beach. These aren’t your average kites from Mary Poppins: think 30-feet creations of dragons, octopuses, sharks, and even a gladiator in a horse-drawn carriage. Local villages spend months designing and building the kites, and the event is highly competitive. In Bali, kite-flying is believed to be a way to speak to the gods, and the festival started as a way to thank them for plentiful harvests and fertility.
Hosted by the Dominica Watersports Association, Dive Fest is one of the longest-running scuba diving festivals in the Caribbean. Discounts are offered for reef diving and free in-pool training sessions, so all levels of divers can participate. The event is family-oriented, with kid-friendly activities like whale watching and a snorkel treasure hunt at Champagne Reef. Don’t miss the Kubuli Canoe Race, where a team of four competes in traditional fishing boats.
If you’ve been to Fiji, you’ve probably heard a heartfelt “Bula!” greeting from a local. Similar to the Hawaiian aloha, bula can mean hello, goodbye, welcome and love. It also means life, which is why the annual Bula Festival celebrates Fijian culture. The weeklong event is held in both Koroivolu Park and Prince Charles Park in Nadi. Indulge in traditional Fijian food and enjoy parades, live music, a Pacific dance contest, a Bollywood-themed night commemorating the island’s Indo-Fijian population and the crowning of Miss Bula.
Extreme wind sports are popular in Aruba, thanks to the island’s ever-present trade winds. At the Hi-Winds Tournament, amateur windsurfers and kite boarders from around the world get the chance to show off their top tricks. Competitors face off in slalom races, freestyle competitions and long-distance races. Catch all the action from Hadicurari Beach.
Ernest Hemingway left his mark on Key West, and the island throws him a birthday every year. Hemingway Days is a weeklong festival to honor the author, with readings, book signings and a short story competition directed by Hemingway’s granddaughter and author, Lorian Hemingway. One of the main events is a Hemingway look-alike contest, and the white-bearded “Papa” doppelgangers also take part in a mock running with the bulls, a nod to The Sun Also Rises. The Key West Marlin Tournament is also part of the festivities in memory of Hemingway’s love for the sport.
What does the movie Footloose have in common with Tahiti? In the early 1800s, dancing was forbidden in the country — Christian missionaries viewed Tahitians’ cultural dancing as vulgar. In the late 1800s, the locals gained back their right to dance when France incorporated the territory. This history, and the love for the artistic form of expression, is celebrated at Heiva I Tahiti, an annual festival held in Papeete. During the event, traditional Tahitian culture takes center stage with dance performances, sporting competitions (outrigger canoe races, a javelin-throwing contest), and an a cappella singing competition.
Bastille Day in the U.S. Virgin Islands? St. Thomas is home to a large community of French descendants who came to the island from St. Barths. The island celebrates the holiday with a number of celebrations, including the popular Bastille Day Kingfish Tournament. Between 50 and 100 boats compete from 5 a.m. to 12 p.m. for a chance to win up to $13,000 in prizes. Afterward, everyone heads to the beachside party and awards ceremony at Hull Bay Hideaway with performances by local bands.
Each year, the mountain town of Aibonito (about a 1½-hour drive from San Juan) hosts the largest plant show on the island. Known locally as the Festival de las Flores, the Aibonito Flower Festival pays homage to all things flora with rows of vendors selling plants and flowers: Anthophiles can browse orchids, heliconias, hibiscus, fruit trees and vegetable plants, to name a few. Grab an empanada from a food stall and listen to live music provided by local musicians.