Time to Explore? Have Fun at Caribbean Festivals
By Jennifer Smith
The Caribbean is best-known for its role as wintertime haven from the snow and ice, but the islands' year-round warmth island the only reason to visit. Though it's always easy to find something to do on these islands, festivals can be a great way to explore island culture.
The most widespread Caribbean festival is Carnival, which is sometimes spelled "Carnaval." Though most islands celebrate this annual event just before Ash Wednesday, the dates do vary from island to island. This event is often described as an island-wide party, so parents with younger children may not choose Carnival as the most appropriate festival, those interested in experiencing a genuine slice of island culture will usually enjoy this event.
These traditional Carnival dates are followed throughout much of the French and Dutch Antilles: Guadeloupe, Martinique, St. Barthelemy, Saint Martin - but not Sint Maarten; Aruba, Bonaire, and Cura"ao. The Dominican Republic, Dominica, Montserrat, Puerto Rico, Cuba, and Trinidad and Tobago also share these Carnival dates.
In Sint Maarten, the Cayman Islands, Haiti, and Jamaica, Carnival falls directly during Easter week, while those in Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico continue their celebrations through from the week before to Easter itself. Visitors to the U.S. Virgin Islands can can enjoy Carnival on St. Thomas toward the end of April.
With Sint Eustatius (sometimes called Statia), St. Lucia, and Antigua and Barbuda travelers can take part in the festivities of a Caribbean Carnival in July. Grenada's Carnival falls in August while St. Kitts' year-ending Carnival festival is celebrated for a week beginning on Christmas Eve.
Every island celebrates differently, and one thing you can be sure to find is a colorful expression of an island's culture. Carnival is particularly known for its festivities filled with traditional characters from island lore. Often, a king and queen are named for the event and, though all Carnival celebrations include music, 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 shouldn't miss.
While music may be required for Carnival celebrations, but 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.
One of the many popular jazz festivals in the Caribbean, the Barbados Jazz Festival is 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 comes to the U.S. Virgin Islands for the St. Croix Blues and Heritage Festival. Travelers can enjoy Jamaican styles at the Negril Music Festival the following month.
In May, the sounds of jazz are easy to find. Cura"ao's KLM Jazz Festival happens early in the month, and the St. Lucia International Jazz Festival opens its doors mid-month. At the end of May, those who like jazz can also stop in at the Heineken Jazz Festival on Puerto Rico or visit Antigua for their Jazz Festival.
Sample something different in June at the Ocho Rios Jazz Festival in Jamaica, or enjoy a variety of musical styles at the St. Kitts Music Festival. Those who enjoy reggae may also want to be on Jamaica in late July or early August for the Reggae Sumfest. Meanwhile Latin dance fans have something to look forward to in July, when the Dominican Republic hosts the Merengue Festival.
Cura"ao invites travelers back in early October to experience jazz again at the Cura"ao Jazz Festival, but those who would like to stop in the Dominican Republic can also enjoy the Annual Jazz Festival early in the month. Jamaica kicks things off in November with the Air Jamaica Jazz and Blues Festival, and Trinidad is host to the Pan Jazz Festival mid-month.
Those who like music will always find it in the Caribbean, but a music festival in the islands can be a uniquely cultural experience, and can be found throughout the year. The Caribbean you'll find these and plenty more musical festivals to enjoy each year.
While some festivals, like Carnival, are shared throughout the Caribbean region, each island has its own unique festivals as well. These many include their own Independence Day, or the celebration of a ruler's birth, but there are also 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:
*Puerto Rico celebrates its agriculture with a Coffee Harvest Festival for its popular mountain brew. You can celebrate alongside the locals in mid-February.
*Reggae lovers will find plenty to enjoy on the island of Jamaica around January 6th, when Reggae Sunsplash coincides with the Bob Marley Birthday Bash.
*Pirates Week is a popular time to enjoy the Cayman Islands, especially for the young at heart, while the islands celebrate their history. Pirates come to the spotlight alongside the islands' seafaring past during the last week of October.
*Historically, Barbadian field workers celebrated the end of the growing season in July or early August, and this tradition has carried forward in the form of Barbados' Crop Over Festival, one of the best-known Caribbean events.
*The nautically inclined can also 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.
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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