Vacation With the Islanders: Caribbean Festivals

Cold winters send many travelers to the Caribbean for a break from the snow and ice, but even when the weather's warm at home, there are plenty of reasons to visit the Caribbean. No matter what your interests are, you're sure to find something to do in the islands year-round, especially when you consider the many delightful festivals to take in.

Carnival Events

The best-known Caribbean festival [http://caribbean-guide.info/what_to_see_and_do/events_and_festivals.jsp] is Carnival, which is sometimes spelled "Carnaval." On many islands, this event takes place just before Ash Wednesday, but the dates vary from island to island. This event is generally an island-wide party, so while some parents with younger children may not consider Carnival the most appropriate festival, those interested in experiencing a genuine slice of island culture will usually enjoy this event.

Traditional Carnival dates are followed throughout much of the Dutch and French Antilles: Aruba, Bonaire, Curaçao, Guadeloupe, Martinique, St. Barthelemy, and Saint Martin – but not Sint Maarten. The Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Dominica, Montserrat, and Trinidad and Tobago also share these Carnival dates.

In Sint Maarten, the Cayman Islands, Haiti, and Jamaica, Carnival falls directly during Easter week, and those in Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico continue their celebrations from the week before onto Easter itself. At the end of April, vacationers can enjoy Carnival on St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands.

July is another month when vacationers can experience the festivities of a Caribbean Carnival, with Sint Eustatius (also known as Statia), St. Lucia, and Antigua and Barbuda celebrating. Grenada's Carnival falls in August while St. Kitts' is celebrated for a week beginning on Christmas Eve.

Although each island has its own style of celebration, one thing you're certain to find is a distinct expression of a region's culture. Each island's culture comes out in force during these festivals, which are filled with colorful characters from island lore. Often, a king and queen are named for the event. All Carnival celebrations include music, and on some islands, musicians vie for competitive titles. If you're looking for a sure way to see and hear the best the islands have to offer, Carnival is one cultural event you should not miss.

Mass Music

While music is a necessity during Carnival celebrations, it is also something islanders take particular pride in. Islands often host annual festivals featuring the cream of the crop in reggae, jazz, soca, and more. With so many music festivals in the region, it's easy to find one year-round.

The Barbados Jazz Festival is one of the Caribbean's most popular jazz festivals. Called "Paint it Jazz," the event is generally held early in the year, around the middle of January, which is the same month a different type of crowd converges on the US Virgin Islands for the St. Croix Blues and Heritage Festival. In February, travelers can enjoy Jamaican styles at the Negril Music Festival.

In May, Curaçao and St. Lucia each host jazz events. Curaçao's KLM Jazz Festival happens early in the month, but mid-month the St. Lucia International Jazz Festival opens its doors. At the end of May, those who like jazz can also stop in at the Jazz Festival on Antigua or visit Puerto Rico for the Heineken Jazz Festival.

In June, travelers can sample something different at the St. Kitts Music Festival, but the month opens with Jamaica's Ocho Rios Jazz Festival, and those who enjoy reggae may also want to be on the island in late July or early August for the Reggae Sumfest. Latin dance fans also have something to look forward to in July, when the Dominican Republic hosts the Merengue Festival.

Curaçao invites travelers to experience jazz again at the Curaçao Jazz Festival in early October, but those who would like to stop in the Dominican Republic can also enjoy the Annual Jazz Festival early in the month. While Jamaica kicks things off in November with the Air Jamaica Jazz and Blues Festival, Trinidad is host to the Pan Jazz Festival mid-month.

Those who like music, particularly jazz, will always find it in the Caribbean, but a music festival in these islands is a unique experience. Enjoy these events year-round across the islands.

Local Socials

Every island has its own local festivals. While many include Independence Day or the celebration of a ruler's birth, there are some traditional festivals that differ among the islands. Of course, most islands host plenty of local festivals, but some of the most famous parties include the following:

  • Reggae Sunsplash coincides with the Bob Marley Birthday Bash on Jamaica. These celebrations pay respect to Bob Marley, and the musical form he made popular around the globe. Fans of the genre may want to plan to spend some time on Jamaica around January 6th.
  • Puerto Rico enjoys a Coffee Harvest Festival for its popular mountain brew. Take a taste of their local blend in mid-February.
  • Pirates Week is a popular time to enjoy the Cayman Islands, especially for the young at heart. This celebration of pirates and the seafaring past takes place during the last week of October.
  • Sailors can enjoy Antigua Sailing Week at the end of April. This popular celebration has included as many as 1,500 participants, with 5,000 onlookers watching some of the world's top sailors.
  • On the island of Barbados, the field workers celebrated the end of the growing season in July or early August, and this tradition has carried forward in the form of the Crop Over Festival, one of the best-known Caribbean events.

No matter when you're planning a trip to the islands, you're sure to encounter a culture with a cause for celebration. On some islands, towns each have their own local festivals and events, while on others you may find commonly celebrated Caribbean pastimes. Either way, celebrations are a fun way to round out any trip to the Caribbean.

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