The Caribbean beckons travelers with pristine beaches, lush rainforests and plentiful all-inclusive resorts, but this region is also home to rich cultures that have spread around the world. Festivalgoers will have the chance to blend revelry with history at any of the Caribbean festivals on this list.
Enjoy festivities throughout the year showcasing elaborate masquerade costumes, riveting steel pan music and each host country’s cultural heritage. If music draws you to the Caribbean, be sure to check out the best of local and international artists in St. Kitts and Nevis or Jamaica. Or, set your course for the Caymans and join fellow buccaneers in pirate-themed merriment.
Whether you head right to the source or visit one of the global Caribbean communities that have developed over the years, these incredible Caribbean festivals are worth the trip in 2023.
St. Kitts Music Festival in St. Kitts & Nevis: June 22-24, 2023
If you’re looking to sample all that Caribbean music has to offer, head to St. Kitts and Nevis. The St. Kitts Music Festival is the gold standard for Caribbean music festivals. This melodic extravaganza takes place annually in late June and offers a medley of soul, calypso, soca, jazz, R&B, meringue, zouk, cadence, dancehall, reggae, gospel and blues. Enjoy live music by Kittitian performers at lunchtime concerts or listen to world-renowned favorites during the evening in larger concert venues. Thousands of fans travel from around the world to experience the diverse roster offered by St. Kitts Music Festival, which has transformed the Caribbean music fest scene during the last couple decades. Even with other festivals diversifying their lineup, it’s hard to find anything quite as unique as St Kitts.
A trip to St. Kitts for the festival offers so much more than fantastic concerts and A-list artists. Travelers will also have the opportunity to explore the many wonders of the small two-island nation of St. Kitts and Nevis. You can venture out to explore the islands’ rainforest, hike up to one of the tallest peaks in the Caribbean to experience a dormant volcanic crater, or discover the thriving underwater world just beyond St. Kitts’ pristine beaches. Whatever you do, be sure to follow it up with a taste of the delicious and innovative Caribbean cuisine found around the islands.
After you enjoy a day of exploration and concerts, head to one of the all-night parties for more revelry or retire to one of St. Kitts’ luxury resorts, hotels and retreats. A top option is the Park Hyatt St. Kitts Christophe Harbour hotel. Festivalgoers should look out for enticing hotel packages and deals offering free festival tickets or round-trip transportation to the festival.
Trinidad and Tobago Carnival in Trinidad & Tobago: Feb. 15-23, 2023
Trinidad and Tobago’s Carnival week is a spectacular show of Caribbean history and culture in Port of Spain, the capital city. Carnival has deep roots in this island nation, which was colonized by the French in the 18th century. While elements of Caribbean Carnival are routed in the grandiose French masquerade balls — also known as fetes — the African slaves developed their own Carnival celebrations as a rebellion against the extravagance of their captors. Today, Carnival in Trinidad and Tobago is a thriving celebration of freedom and Caribbean culture officially marked on the Monday and Tuesday before Ash Wednesday in February or March every year, though festivities and competitions start just after Christmas. To get a taste of Carnival’s history during your visit, check out the reenactment of the Canboulay Riots, held on Carnival Friday.
If you want to get the most out of this festival in Trinidad and Tobago, plan to visit in the week leading up to Carnival Monday and Tuesday. During this time, you’ll be able to enjoy some of the best fetes this celebration has to offer, as well as the finals of the biggest cultural competitions at Carnival. On Saturday, move from panyard to panyard as you enjoy the unique sounds of the National Pan Event (often referred to as Panorama), a percussive competition between steel pan bands. On Sunday, head out to Dimanche Gras to soak in the elaborate costumes at the finals for two of the biggest competitions at Carnival: the Calypso Monarch and the King and Queen of Carnival. But don’t stay out too late on Sunday; you’ll want to save your energy for J’Ouvert, a messy and colorful early morning celebration that symbolizes the start of Carnival.
Of course, the perfect accommodations will make partying at all hours much easier. Port of Spain is at the heart of this Trinidad and Tobago festival, but lodging tends to fill up several months ahead of time so plan accordingly. Book a stay at one of the familiar hotel chains or check into a smaller boutique hotel. If you’re part of a large group, you’ll find the most success splitting one of the island nation’s many vacation rentals, which range from apartments to villas.
Reggae Sumfest in Jamaica: July 16-22, 2023
For around 30 years, Jamaica’s Montego Bay has played host to the largest music festival in the Caribbean: Reggae Sumfest. This summer festival takes place in mid-July each year. While the festival may have started as a three-day celebration of local and international acts, it has transformed over the years into a weeklong event with two main concert nights that attract music fans of all ages from around the world. Sumfest has a history of bringing in international artists, but recent years have seen the focus shift to a strictly Jamaican lineup, so you’ll get an authentic Caribbean experience at the festival.
If you make the trip for the whole week, you’ll have the chance to participate in music industry seminars and workshops, beach parties, and other events. You can also spend some of your days exploring the caverns and rivers around Montego Bay — but make sure to leave Friday and Saturday free for concert attendance. As the two main days of the festival, these impressive outdoor concerts last until daybreak and highlight the best Jamaican reggae and dancehall artists. Dancehall fans can party the night away on Friday, which is typically dominated by the dancehall artists, while reggae fans will likely be more intrigued by Saturday’s lineup.
Like many festivals in the Caribbean, Jamaica’s Reggae Sumfest is a thriving event on a small island, so lodging fills up quickly. Booking in advance will give you a broader selection and allow you to take advantage of the many hotel packages on offer for Sumfest attendees. For an all-inclusive stay, check out the Holiday Inn Resort Montego Bay All-Inclusive.
Junkanoo in the Bahamas: Dec. 26, 2022, and Jan. 1, 2023
Junkanoo is a colorful celebration of Bahamian culture that takes place annually on Boxing Day (the day after Christmas Day) and on New Year’s Day. You’ll find the main event on Bay Street in Nassau, the capital of the Bahamas. Though Junkanoo started as a street festival, it has transformed over the years into a grand parade filled with incredible artistry and energetic music. Locals spend months preparing elaborate costumes, dances and skits to compete on Boxing Day for the title (and the prizes to match) of Best Junkanoo Group. These groups consist of up to 1,000 musicians, dancers and costumers.
If you’re particularly adventurous, you can be more than just a bystander during the festivities. Visitors are encouraged to coordinate participation through your accommodation, but anyone joining in must abide by the rules of the National Junkanoo Association. Competition is fierce and groups are plentiful, so the crowds at Junkanoo are large, exuberant and swirling with colors as fans pack the streets along the parade route. If you do decide to participate, get ready to dance to the percussive beat of whistles, cowbells, horns and goatskin drums from the wee hours of the morning. The revelry starts just after midnight and ends around late morning to avoid the brunt of the Bahamian sun, so you won’t get too hot amid the crowds.
Travelers can find convenient lodging in Nassau and nearby Paradise Island. This part of the Bahamas is brimming with luxury hotels and all-inclusive resorts. Villas, condos and guesthouses round out the offerings to suit any budget. When you’re choosing a place, keep in mind that most Paradise Island lodging is a fairly substantial walk from the heart of Junkanoo, so visitors often take a taxi to the festivities. For a unique stay just a few blocks from Bay Street, check out the Graycliff Hotel, an 18th-century colonial mansion with 20 antique-filled rooms.
Crop Over Festival and Kadooment in Barbados: Aug. 7-14, 2023
Barbados is home to one of the Caribbean’s most exciting festivals: Crop Over. This three-month-long festival celebrates Barbadian music, arts, food and culture. Celebrations can start as early as May, but the official start is marked by the Ceremonial Delivery of the Last Canes, a tradition started more than 200 years ago to mark the culmination of another successful sugar cane harvest. Out-of-towners looking to join the festivities will find most events take place throughout July and early August, including favorites like Cohobblopot (a carnival showcasing members of the Kadooment bands in costume) and Calypso, when musical groups organized into “tents” compete for prizes and titles. The highlight of Crop Over is its finale, known as Grand Kadooment Day.
Considered the grand showpiece of Crop Over with approximately 15,000 revelers in attendance, Kadooment Day takes place on the last day of the festival. Mas (masquerade) bands and festivalgoers pack the streets of St. Michael with colors, textures and sounds galore. You’ll see thousands of costumes covered in sequins, colorful feathers, jewels and bright accents all depicting themes connected to historic and modern Barbados. Masqueraders are accompanied by music trucks and moving bars. This must-do Caribbean event features cultural traditions, elaborate costumes, authentic food and infectious music.
Like many Caribbean islands, Barbados offers an abundance of lodging options, ranging from all-inclusive resorts to guesthouses. The best hotels in Barbados include The House by Elegant Hotels and Sandy Lane.
Saint Lucia Carnival in Saint Lucia: July 12-19, 2023
In St. Lucia, Carnival has similar Afro-European origins to other nations in the region, but you won’t find it around Ash Wednesday or the typical August marker for independence. In 1999, the festival moved its celebrations away from the start of Lent to avoid competing with Trinidad and Tobago’s Carnival. Since then, the summer festival has run from June through mid-late July.
Even though it’s a bit smaller than some of its counterparts, the St. Lucia Carnival is one of the most anticipated Caribbean events of the year. Fetes and Carnival events start several weeks before the main festival, but travelers will find the most exciting experience in the week before the Parade of the Bands, a two-day Carnival staple showcasing costumed mas bands and Caribbean music. Leading up to the parade, you can enjoy one of the many fetes and street parties including festival-favorite Color Me Red, a public street party where everyone wears red. Wake up before dawn for J’Ouvert — the official start to Carnival — where you’ll get covered in mud, body paint, powder or foam as you dance to the bumping rhythm of local St. Lucian musicians.
To enjoy the full week of colorful costumes, steel band competitions, nonstop dancing, mouthwatering street food and energetic entertainment, make sure your stay is just as extravagant as the Carnival. Jade Mountain Resort, Cap Maison or any one of St. Lucia’s other top hotels are sure to do the trick. When booking, keep in mind that most of Carnival takes place in the island’s capital, Castries.
La Campechada in Puerto Rico: Feb. 18-19, 2023
La Campechada is a young and unique Caribbean festival showcasing the rich culture and arts of Puerto Rico. Started in 2011, this art festival is hosted by a different city in Puerto Rico each year, with Bayamón set to host in February 2023. Though La Campechada doesn’t offer the same never-ending fetes and extravagant parades of Carnival, you’ll still find plenty of passion and excitement at this festival.
Travelers come from near and far to experience this multiday celebration, which honors a prominent Puerto Rican artist each year. Festivalgoers have an abundance of educational and engaging activities at their fingertips. Conferences and workshops, guided walks, and theatrical performances offer a variety of opportunities to engage with and learn about Puerto Rican culture. You can take a stroll through artisan, book and art fairs to see new works, live drawing, body art, puppetry and more. Performances of music, theater and dance fill the days and evenings with festivities. While you may not be surrounded by Carnival-esque costumes, you will have the chance to see innovative Caribbean clothing, as fashion design is a regular part of the festival.
The best lodging options vary based on which city is hosting La Campechada. For an unbeatable luxury getaway in Puerto Rico, stay at the Dorado Beach, A Ritz-Carlton Reserve. Or, if you’re interested in exploring more of the island during your trip, consider one of the island’s glamping options or escape the bustle of the city at one of the small, family-owned paradores.
Antigua Carnival in Antigua & Barbuda: Aug. 1-8, 2023
Branded as the Caribbean’s Greatest Summer Festival, Carnival in Antigua and Barbuda is a festival you won’t soon forget. The main part of the festival is almost two weeks leading up to the Parade of Bands finale, which typically takes place on the first Monday and Tuesday of August to commemorate Antiguan emancipation. Like other Carnival celebrations, the Parade of Bands — opened by J’Ouvert — is the highlight of Carnival and consists of thousands of locals and tourists parading down the streets of St. John’s in elaborate costumes representing their mas bands. You can even visit Mas Camp ahead of this parade to watch the bands work on their complex and colorful costumes. While the parading mas bands may be wearing detailed costumes, spectators are encouraged to come in comfortable clothes so you can enjoy the revelry into the early morning hours. The parade takes place in Antigua’s hot season, so be prepared for marchers to spray down the crowd with water to help cool things off.
Before the big parade, visitors can enjoy some of the many other Carnival events Antigua has to offer. Head to one of the food fairs or festival villages to enjoy delicious local foods and tempting libations, or stop by one of the steel band, soca and calypso music competitions. Cultural shows are another great way to spend your time leading up to the grand finale. Antigua has thousands of tourists travel in for Carnival, so make sure to grab tickets to your must-sees well in advance.
The two-island nation of Antigua and Barbuda has numerous accommodations to choose between. Peruse everything from unique boutique properties to luxury villas to some of the best hotels in the Caribbean — including the Galley Bay Resort & Spa, an adults-only property boasting a spa, multiple fine dining restaurants and close proximity to the festival. Carnival takes place in the capital city of St. John’s, which is located on Antigua, so travelers should look for lodging on that island.
Pirates Fest in the Cayman Islands: Mid-October to late November 2023
For a truly unique Caribbean festival, plan a trip to the Cayman Islands for Pirates Fest. Formerly known as Pirates Week, this fall festival has transformed into a two-month celebration of Cayman pirate legends and cultural heritage. Events take place across all three Cayman Islands — Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac and Little Cayman — but the “Pirates Week” portion of the fest takes place on the largest island, Grand Cayman. Travelers can expect large crowds as this fest draws some 35,000 patrons, making it the country’s largest celebration. The crowds are worth it for the spectacular Pirates Landing (a staged pirate invasion from the sea), parade complete with pirate-themed floats and firework send-off.
Festivities start with an exciting Pirate Kick-Off Party and a happy hour for booze-loving buccaneers. Head to the waterfront to witness the infamous Trial of the Pyrates or dive into the waters at Governor’s Beach for the 5K sea swim. You can experience a bit of Caribbean culture that extends beyond Pirates Fest by catching the sounds of the steel pans at Pan in de City. The food festival offers attendees a taste of Caribbean gastronomy, with the islands’ cuisine on full display. Street parties, costume contests and more create an atmosphere of buoyant celebration and energy that would give any Caribbean festival a run for its money.
Pirates Fest is the perfect way for travelers and locals both young and old to celebrate the Caymans’ maritime heritage and learn how pirates, buccaneers, corsairs and privateers shaped the culture of these incredible islands. The best lodging in the Cayman Islands — like the Kimpton Seafire Resort + Spa, a romantic hotel option — can be found on Grand Cayman, but accommodation on any island goes quickly for this festival, so book your stay early.
Caribana in Toronto, Canada: Aug. 3-7, 2023
Caribana is a massive weekslong Caribbean festival held annually in July in Toronto. While Canada may not be your first thought for Caribbean culture, this festival serves more than a million tourists annually and is not one you want to miss. As the largest cultural festival in North America, Caribana has a rich history of entertaining patrons from all backgrounds with cultural celebrations, music events and parades. Caribana culminates in an extravagant four-day weekend celebration at the end of July. Before and during this long weekend, you can enjoy Caribbean costumes, music and culture at some of the biggest events of the festival.
Be sure to grab tickets to the King and Queen Showcase for a spectacular display of elaborate themed costumes as leaders of the mas bands compete to be crowned king and queen of the parade. To experience traditional Caribbean music, visitors can spend an evening watching live steel pan performances at the OSA Pan-Alive Showcase, run by the Ontario Steel Pan Association. The gem of Toronto’s summer festival and a must-see on any traveler’s list is the Grande Parade, which was first gifted to Canada by the Caribbean Community during Canada’s centennial celebrations more than half a century ago. This daylong event features 10,000-plus masqueraders parading and dancing down Lake Shore Boulevard in elaborate costumes accompanied by mas bands. This extravagant event is sure to impress festival newbies and regulars alike.
If the thriving nightlife of a Caribbean festival is what attracts you, Toronto is an excellent place to go. With a variety of nightlife events happening during the final weekend of the festival, Caribana will keep you entertained into the wee hours of the morning. Purchase one of the exclusive hotel packages offered each year to get access to a larger number of these events, including special music festivals and pool parties. The packages at The Fairmont Royal York, for example, are a great option at a top-ranked hotel in Toronto.
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10 Caribbean Festivals Worth Traveling For in 2023 originally appeared on usnews.com