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Top 10: The Best Caribbean Carnivals

Planning a 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. 

10. Crucian Christmas Festival, St. Croix

In my home island of St. Croix, Christmas time is also Carnival time, a tradition that dates all the way back to the slave days. Calypso competitions, jouvert, children’s and adult parades, elaborate costumes and the typical trampin’, grindin’, and winin’ you’d expect from Trinidad Carnival, Vincy Mas and other top Caribbean fetes are all part of the Holiday Season here. The party lasts for the better part of December and the first week in January, though the main events really start on Christmas Day. 


9. Carriacou Carnival

This uncommon little island in the Grenadines offers a Carnival experience that’s truly unique. The timing coincides with the normal pre-Lenten period and traditional Carnival elements — j’ouvert, colorful costumes, parades, calypso competitions, etc. — are all part of the fun too. The big difference here is Shakespeare Mas, a theatrical, lightly competitive fete in which actors called Peirrots test themselves by reciting Shakespearean verse.


8. Vincy Mas, St. Vincent

Vincentians will tell you their Carnival, better known as Vincy Mas, is the hottest around. They might be right. Like Spicemas in Grenada, Vincy Mas is a mid-summer fete that was originally celebrated during the pre-Lenten period. And like Martinique Carnival, Vincy Mas embodies the “Don’t Stop the Carnival” aesthetic, stretching over the better part of three months beginning in May. The six straight days of mas, jouvert, street jump-up and outright revelry that culminate the event set it apart, though — a marathon of mirth and merriment for the fittest! 


7. Mas Dominik, Dominica

Dominica’s carnival, also known as Real Mas, may not be as large as Trinidad’s by a long shot, but it more than makes up for its small size with its big heart. This is a welcoming, downhome event, with long-preserved traditions. (It’s also underway as we speak.) It’s impossible to stand on the sidelines. If you’re in Roseau, you’re a part of it. 


6. Martinique Carnival

When they say “Don’t Stop the Carnival” in Martinique, they mean it! Here, the action doesn’t end in time for Ash Wednesday as it does in Trinidad and most everywhere else. Instead of rest and reflection, Ash Wednesday here brings La Fête des Diablesses, or the Day of the She-Devils, the symbolic burning of Vaval, King Carnival, and the climax of the Carnival season. The Martinique Carnival motto — Rejoice Today, Repent Tomorrow — is richly deserved. 


5. Kanaval, Haiti

Kanaval in Haiti takes place across the country leading up to Mardi Gras. Musically, it’s less soca and more of a konpa, zouk and rap creyol-sountracked affair. The weekend before the national carnival (typically held in Port-Au-Prince), a smaller carnival, with its own unique traditions, is also held in Jacmel, the Southern port city that is Haiti’s cultural capital. To get a feel for Kanaval as celebrated in Jacmel, check Étienne Côté-Paluck’s many videos and photos of the affair.


4. Junkanoo, Bahamas

Junkanoo parades, typified by their intricate costumes and distinctive drum patterns, happen across the Bahamas around the winter holidays and in the summertime. But the largest and most spectacular version of the 200-year-old Bahamian tradition takes place in the capital city of Nassau, on Boxing Day (Dec. 26) and again on New Year’s Day. —Jesse Serwer


3. Spicemas, Grenada

Spicemas is hot. Real hot, and not just because it’s held in the middle of summer. The good folks in Grenada moved their Carnival from the pre-Lenten period to mid-summer years ago to avoid competing with the much bigger annual bashment in Trinidad. Spicemas holds its own nicely, however, especially when you consider Grenada’s lopsided female-to-male population ratio. The women outnumber the men here 12-to-1, I’m told. Yeah, that’s hot. 


2. Crop Over, Barbados

Call it a comeback. Crop Over, a nearly summer-long celebration which culminates on the first Monday in August, is one of the oldest carnival traditions in the Caribbean, dating all of the way back to the 1600s, when it signaled the end of the annual sugar harvest (hence Crop Over). But it was discontinued in the mid 20th century, before being revived in the ’70s and growing into the epic, Trinidad-like festival of today, the second largest carnival in the region. 


1. Trinidad Carnival

An explosion of colour, music, revelry, and creativity, Trinidad's Carnival has spawned similar celebrations around the world; but nothing on earth can rival the abandon, euphoria and stunning spectacle of our festival.

With its massive masquerade bands, spectacular costumes, pulsating music and unparalleled stamina for partying, Trinidad's Carnival is often described as the greatest show on earth. It is a time for release and everyone is invited to join the party.

To learn more about Trinidad and Tobago's Carnival and find information on shows, music, activities and events, see the links below.

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