The Ultimate Guide to Every Caribbean Carnival Party

From Anguilla to the U.S. Virgin Islands, here are the celebrations you need to plan for this year.

Carnival
February is already an ideal time to visit Aruba, but Carnival makes it even more thrilling. Visit Aruba

The islands of the Caribbean are known for their vivid turquoise water, champagne-hued beaches, and verdant green landscapes, but once a year these two-dozen-plus isles reveal even more vibrant personas with the day-to-night Technicolor partying and pageantry that takes place during annual Carnival celebrations. 

Amid the feathers, sequins, steelpan drumbeats, and dance moves, these islands’ history and culture are celebrated with passionate revelry—whether to coincide with pre-Lenten traditions or to mark important historic dates (the abolition of slavery in the British territories, for example) or nature-centric time periods. 

Here’s a guide to when and how each island gets festive, and why you’ll want to experience it all.

Anguilla

Name: Anguilla Summer Festival

When: Late July–Early August

This small island known for its extraordinary beaches and excellent restaurants hosts its annual Caribbean carnival-style celebration, known as the Anguilla Summer Festival, from the end of July through the first week of August to commemorate the emancipation from slavery in the British Caribbean on August 1, 1834. 

Anguilla’s festival features music, dancing, food, pageants, parades, beach parties, calypso competitions, fireworks, and boat races, with an event held almost every night (some are free and others charge a fee).

Antigua and Barbuda

Name: Antigua Carnival

When: Late July–Early August

Waves of music and locals dancing in colorful feathered costumes during high-spirited parades and street parties mark Antigua’s vibrant 13-day Carnival celebration, which takes place from late July through early August on Antigua. Timed to celebrate emancipation from slavery in the British Caribbean, Carnival in Antigua offers a calendar of events that include musical competitions, pageants, food fairs, calypso contests, and cultural shows, with the most important event being J’ouvert (on Emancipation Day), during which brass and steel-drum bands perform.

Aruba

Name: Aruba Carnival

When: February

The Dutch-Caribbean island of Aruba has a month-long Carnival celebration, centered in Oranjestad and San Nicholas, incorporating dozens of lively events, including Torch Light Parades through the streets at night, musical performances, colorful floats, lavishly costumed celebrants, electrifying Jump Ups and multiple parades culminating with the Grand Parade. 

Finally, the Burning of King Momo marks the end of Carnival Season, after which the entire island goes on hiatus, known as Carnival Monday (an official day of rest).

Bahamas

Name: Junkanoo

When: Dec. 26–Jan. 1 

The islands of the Bahamas are widely known for Junkanoo, an annual Carnival-style festival held between Boxing Day (Dec. 26) and New Year’s Day (Jan. 1) that celebrates Bahamian history and culture with street parties and vibrant parades of elaborately costumed revelers. 

The biggest take place on Bay Street in downtown Nassau, but Junkanoo can be enjoyed on all 16 islands. 

Barbados

Name: Crop Over Festival

When: Late July–Early August 

Carnival on Barbados is known as the Crop Over Festival, which last for three months (June through August) and culminates in early August to mark the end of the sugar cane crop season. This uniquely Barbadian festival, which owes its roots to the island’s colonial past when sugar cane was king, is known for its musical concerts, art exhibitions, calypso competitions, and revelry at Foreday Morning Jam. 

The celebration climaxes during Grand Kadooment when costumed bands and masqueraders parade through the streets in St. Michael with a party that continues late into the night with music, food and fireworks.  

Bonaire

Name: Karnaval

When: February (pre-Lenten)

With activities split between the Dutch-Caribbean island’s two main towns, Kralendijk and Rincon, Bonaire’s Carnival celebration, called Karnaval, features week-long revelry with all the usual festive events—musical performances, parades with costumed dancers, and colorful floats and fireworks—that culminates on Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras) in advance of Ash Wednesday.

British Virgin Islands

Name: BVI Emancipation Festival

When: Late July-Early August

With its heritage and ongoing status as a British Overseas Territory, the British Virgin Islands times its annual Carnival festivities to Emancipation Day (August 1)—in fact, the first Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday in the BVI are public holidays. The BVI Emancipation Festival is a two-week celebration featuring food fairs, Jam Band music, and J’ouvert parades with floats and costumed revelers with the largest events held on the island of Tortola.

Cayman Islands

Name: Cayman Carnival Batabano

When: May 

The Cayman Islands holds its national Carnival, known as the Cayman Carnival Batabano, annually in May at the start of the turtle nesting season; the festival’s name is derived from the word batabano, a Caymanian term that refers to the tracks left in the sand by egg-laying turtles. 

Carnival on Grand Cayman is a cultural melting pot (Caymanians comprise more than 100 nationalities) of music, dance, and pageantry. There are both Adult Batabano and Junior Batabano parades, held on separate weekends.

Curaçao

Name: Curaçao Carnival

When: February (pre-Lenten)

This Dutch-Caribbean island celebrates Curaçao Carnival every year in sync with Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday) and holds a series of festive parades (for children, teens, and adults) in its capital, Willemstad, over the 10 days leading up to the final nighttime Grand Farewell Carnival Parade in the hours before Ash Wednesday. The celebration on Curacao encompasses music, dancing, floats, and beauty pageants.

Dominica 

Name: Mas Domnik

When: February (pre-Lenten)

The small Caribbean island of Dominica celebrates its French and African traditions during its annual Carnival celebration known as Mas Domnik, held to coincide with Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday) and featuring calypso music, competitions, and two days of exciting street “jump-up.” 

Dominican Republic

Name: Dominican Carnival (Carnaval Dominicano)

When: February and early March 

Every Sunday during February, parades of brightly costumed and masked revelers fill the streets in cities all around the Dominican Republic, including Santiago, La Vega, Santo Domingo, Puerto Plata, and Barahona, for Dominican Carnival (aka Carnaval Dominicano). 

Carnival season culminates on Feb. 27 with the island’s Independence Day celebration and then with the National Carnival Parade on the first Sunday in March along the waterfront in Santo Domingo.

Grenada

Name: Spice Mas 

When: Late July and early August

While colorful Soca and calypso competitions are staged throughout the month of July, Carnival partying on the island of Grenada reaches its climax during the first week or second week of August in St. George’s with the marathon two-day celebration known as Spice Mas

Over its 48 hours, lavishly costumed locals dance through the streets, party on flotillas of boats and participate in the pre-dawn J’ouvert (also known in Grenada as Jab), which features chanting, dancing, and defiant symbolism, including the wearing of black body paint and oil to honor their African heritage and the carrying of broken chains to show a breaking away from slavery. 

The culmination is Monday Night Mas and Tuesday’s hours-long Parade of the Bands.

Guadeloupe Islands

Name: Carnival

When: January to March (pre-Lenten)

This French Caribbean paradise begins its annual Carnival celebrations on Jan. 6 (Feast of the Epiphany) and ends on Fat Tuesday (aka Shrove Tuesday), with the major events, such as the Grand Parade on the Sunday before, taking place in its final few days. 

This is a major cultural event throughout the Guadeloupe islands, but especially in Basse-Terre, which hosts the main parades of costumed dancers and musicians. On Ash Wednesday, King Vaval, the symbol of the Carnival, is burned.

Haiti

Name: Carnaval (Kanaval in Creole)

When: February (pre-Lenten)

Haiti’s Carnaval, or Kanaval in Creole, is an annual three-day celebration in February during which the streets of its capital, Port-au-Prince, where the National Carnival is held, and beachside Jacmel are filled with festively costumed locals. Jacmel is particularly known for the over-sized papier-mâché masks depicting animals and demons. Voodoo and historic slavery references comingle with heart-pounding street music and traditional dance performances. 

Jamaica

Name: Carnival

When: April

In Jamaica, a series of Carnival events in early April leads to a week of dozens of festive events in Kingston, Ocho Rios, and Montego Bay featuring colorfully costumed bands and dancers, capped off by the grand finale: Carnival Sunday with its Road March–Parade of the Bands in Kingston featuring large trucks blasting music and bands competing for best music and best costumes.

Martinique

Name: Carnival

When: February (pre-Lenten)

In the week leading up to Shrove Tuesday (aka Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras), the French-Caribbean island of Martinique celebrates its own unique Carnival. On Fat Sunday, parades feature locals carrying fantastically dressed puppets known as bwa bwa as well as nègres-gros-sirop (revelers with bodies covered in coal tar and sugarcane syrup). 

On Fat Monday, islanders enjoy burlesque-like “mock weddings” featuring men dressed as brides and women suited up as bridegrooms. Fat Tuesday is Red Devils Day with parades of costumed red devils of all ages, while Ash Wednesday is The Day of She-Devils as revelers wear black and white to close out Carnival.

Montserrat

Name: Carnival (or Year-End Festival)

When: Dec. 26–Jan. 1

The island of Montserrat is one of several Caribbean island nations that celebrates Carnival to close out one year and welcome in the next. While events begin in early December, the main festivities (for Soca Monarch and Calypso Monarch) begin on Boxing Day (Dec. 26) and the celebrations culminate on New Year’s Eve with Festival Day featuring a gala and New Year’s Day with a Street Parade to mark the closing of Carnival.

Puerto Rico

Name: Carnaval Ponceño

When: February (pre-Lenten)

Timed for the week leading up to Ash Wednesday, the Ponce Carnival (known to locals as the Carnaval Ponceño) attracts up to 100,000 revelers to the historic city of Ponce, located on Puerto Rico’s southern coast. In addition to a masquerade ball and street parades, a highlight of the Ponce carnival is the “vejigantes,” papier-mâché-masked folkloric creatures in colorful costumes and multiple horns that represent the Devil and taunt the crowd. 

Participants also enjoy the appearance of King Momo, the crowning of Carnival Queen the ritual Burial of the Sardine to signify the start of Lent.

Saba

Name: Carnival

When: July 

For a week in late July, the small Dutch-Caribbean island of Saba celebrates with a festive Carnival Village and events that include live musical performances, food stalls, and colorful dance troupes.

St. Barth

Name: Carnival St. Barths

When: February (pre-Lenten)

The tiny French-Caribbean island of St. Barth has a two-day Carnival St. Barth festival with a colorful Mardi Gras parade in the streets of its capital, Gustavia, and a nighttime party. The celebration ends on Ash Wednesday with the burning of Vaval on Shell Beach just outside of town. 

St. Eustatius

Name: Statia Carnival

When: Late July–early August 

Home to the smallest capital city in the world, Oranjestad, the Dutch-Caribbean island of St. Eustatius holds its annual Statia Carnival in late July and early August with vibrant Carnival March parades, musical performances, Youth Night, and more—and Carnival Monday is an island-wide holiday.

St. Kitts and Nevis

Name: Sugar Mas (aka St. Kitts & Nevis National Carnival)

When: December–early January

While events on the two-island nation of St. Kitts and Nevis actually begin in November with pageants, Soca competitions, and more, the main festivities of the St. Kitts and Nevis National Carnival (aka Sugar Mas) kick into high gear just before Christmas with the Festival of Lights Glowfest and continue from Dec. 26 through early January with J’ouvert morning, the National Carnival Queen competition, Calypso Finals, and the Carnival Grand Parade.

St. Lucia

Name: St. Lucia Carnival

When: June–July

There’s a continuous calendar of Carnival events throughout June and July on St. Lucia—including steel-pan and calypso competitions, parties, and parades—but the festivities culminate in July with a two-day street celebration focused on Caribbean history and culture and featuring costumed revelers, bands, DJ music, and more.

St. Maarten/St. Martin

Name: St. Martin Carnival and St. Maarten Carnival

When: February (pre-Lenten) in St. Martin and April in St. Maarten

The dual-nationality island of St. Maarten (a Dutch territory) and St. Martin (a French territory) celebrates Carnival twice, with each side holding their parades and parties in a different month. 

The French side gets things started in February with pre-Lenten jump-ups and colorful parades featuring zouk and reggae music on the streets of Marigot and Grand-Case, while the Dutch side holds a bigger extravaganza that lasts more than two weeks in April. It features Technicolor parades of calypso dancers in Philipsburg and a Carnival Village just outside of the capital featuring booths serving Caribbean culinary favorites.

St. Vincent and the Grenadines

Name: Vincy Mas

When: June-July 

Preparation for St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ annual Carnival celebration, known as Vincy Mas, spans two months, but its biggest events begin on the last Friday of June and run for 12 days. These include the Miss SVG Competition, colorful Parade of the Bands, Calypso Monarch, and King and Queen of Carnival competition. 

Trinidad and Tobago

Name: Carnival

When: February (pre-Lenten)

Famous for its music and pageantry, the Trinidad and Tobago Carnival is celebrated annually on the Monday and Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, although some festivities begin right after Christmas. Carnival Monday on multicultural Trinidad starts before sunrise with J’ouvert as Carnival-goers parade through the streets covered in paint, grease, and mud and party until sunrise. 

Later that day and all day on Carnival Tuesday the streets fill with costumed revelers, energetic dancers and bands playing Soco, steelpan, and calypso. 

Turks and Caicos

Name: Maskanoo and Junkanoo

When: Dec. 26  and Dec. 31

The day after Christmas in Grace Bay on the Turks and Caicos main resort island of Providenciales, locals celebrate the island nation’s West African and Caribbean heritage with Maskanoo (in homage to the 19th century slaves who would celebrate Christmas by mocking their owners’ elaborate masked balls), which features street parties, music, food, and fireworks. 

Then on New Year’s Eve, it’s time for Junkanoo parades featuring glittering masks and costumes and revelers who dance to drumbeat rhythms until dawn.

U.S. Virgin Islands

Name: VI Carnival, St. John Festival and Crucian Christmas Festival

When: April (St. Thomas), July (St. John) and December–early January (St. Croix)

The three islands of the U.S. Virgin Islands all hold Carnival celebrations—they just do them at different times of the year. To experience it on St. Thomas, you’ll need to visit in late April-early May for VI Carnival, the largest celebration with steel pan bands, lavishly costumed dancers, calypso shows, and more. 

The St. John Festival celebrates the spirit of freedom—July 3, 1848, marks Emancipation Day for slaves who lived in the USVI—and the festivities begin in late June on St. John’s Day and culminate on July 4 in Cruz Bay with parades, parties, and fireworks. 

St. Croix’s Carnival period is known as the Crucian Christmas Festival, with festivities in late December and early January spread between its two cities, Christiansted and Frederiksted.

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