There is no public celebration or community event quite like Carnival. Across the Caribbean, Carnival is a wild, riotous, chaotic expression of pure joy and excitement, a vibrant, colorful, musical exaltation, and one of the best parties you are ever likely to attend!
Carnival offers the opportunity to experience the best of Caribbean culture. A magnificent combination of European Catholic traditions with African culture, all topped off with the special energy that is unique to the West Indies. And while it might seem like a homogenous celebration, Carnival traditions and celebrations differ quite significantly from island to island. No two Carnivals are alike, so if you are taking a Caribbean cruise next year during carnival season, here are some of the best places to catch Carnival in the Caribbean.
Trinidad & Tobago
Carnival in the Caribbean was born in Trinidad and Tobago, and this is still the number one place to experience this remarkable event. Carnival takes place on the Monday and Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, and the highlight is the huge parade, where the costumes are bright, the music is loud, and the party goes on all day and all night.
Martinique is one of the smaller Caribbean islands, but its Carnival celebrations are some of the grandest. Bringing a touch of French culture to the traditional Caribbean Carnival celebrations, it includes fascinating elements like the Carnival King or Vaval, a figure built from reeds or wood that takes pride of place in the parades (alongside a chosen Carnival Queen). The Vaval is ceremoniously set on fire to mark the end of the celebrations, which can be quite a sight!
Diverging from the traditional Carnival calendar, Grenada has its own ‘Spice Mas’ celebration in August rather than during Lent, and the parades, pageants, and festivities are distinct from most of the rest of the West Indies. From the ShortKnee masquerade to the Vieux Corp carnival gowns it’s a fascinating melange of French colonial and African cultures, topped off by the somewhat terrifying ‘Jab Jab’ parade, where revelers dress in black oil, horned helmets and chains!
Probably the most unusual Carnival celebrations in the Caribbean, the Dominican Republic casts aside the classic calypso sounds for more Latin flavors of bachata and merengue. There’s a far stronger strain of indigenous Taino traditions here too, as well as some elements that are unique to this country, like the ‘hen robber’ and the Diablos, participants in horned masks with pointed teeth.
Carnival in the Caribbean is an extraordinary, joyful, exciting experience, and something all travelers should try to experience at least once!