There’s something about sunny weather and blue skies that makes us think of sequined costumes, steel drums and floats which are integral to Caribbean carnival celebrations. Whether you’re at the West Indian Day Parade in New York or St. Lucia’s carnival, it’s impossible to feel down in such a festive environment. The music and the atmosphere reel you in and don’t let go, whether you’re a local or a tourist. The creativity, patience and time needed to coordinate these events successfully are next level.
While many of the carnivals have Caribbean origins, not all of them do. Condé Nast Traveler notes that “behind the debauchery, there’s also a rich history to many of these festivals, from masks that allowed people of lower classes in Italy to party freely among the rich, to costumes believed to rid bad spirits in Africa.” If you go to the Rio Carnival in Brazil or the Mazatlán Carnival in Mexico, you’ll see a lot of similarities with the Caribbean carnivals.
Check out any of these destinations for a fantastic carnival experience. And if the dates already passed, there’s always next year!
Our neighbors to the north really know how to rock when it comes to carnival. Caribana Toronto, which started in 1967, is the largest Caribbean carnival in North America.
There are five days of festivities, including the actual parade at Lakeshore Boulevard on July 30. The parade itself is free, but there is a fee for the other events.
Check here for information on passes and hotel packages.
The West Indian Day Parade closes out summer in New York with a bang on September 5.
Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn surges to life with mas bands, stilt walkers and lively dancers.
People watch on and cheer, while some peruse the booths selling food, drink and merchandise.
The party presses on whether rain or shine.
Check out our feature on the history of this parade here.
Before the pandemic put a temporary stop on the fun, the St. Lucian parade was all the rage in the Caribbean.
Each year, it sets the bar higher, and no doubt 2022 will be among the best ever.
Book a trip to St. Lucia over the Carnival period, which is July 7-19. Whether you stay in a hotel or an Air B n B- the sooner you secure accommodations and transport the better.
According to the St. Lucia Tourism Board website, “this is a very special celebration of Caribbean history, culture and creativity. Saint Lucia Carnival is recognized as one of the top Carnivals in the Caribbean and becomes a more vibrant and creative event each year.”
The Notting Hill Carnival in London was made possible by a Trinidadian woman named Claudia Jones, who worked tirelessly to advance rights for Caribbean people living in England.
The parade itself has undergone significant changes since its debut in 1959. Back then, it was confined to a hall before taking over the streets of Notting Hill.
This district used to be populated with many Caribbean immigrants prior to gentrification.
The fun takes place the last weekend of August, as well as the Bank Holiday that Monday.
Read about the history of the Notting Hill Carnival here.
The Guyanese carnival was May 20-27 in the capital of Georgetown.
According to Carnivaland, “the carnival is sometimes referred to as Guyana Independence Carnival because the country celebrates independence on May 26.”
The only English-speaking country in South America has a history of hosting colorful and fun carnivals.
Learn more about the gorgeous mountain ranges, savannahs and coastline of Guyana on the tourism page.
Brazilians know how to party, and they never disappoint during the carnival season.
The Atlantic reported in April that “Carnival celebrations took place again in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro; attracting thousands of spectators.”
If you go next year, you’ll be overwhelmed (in a good way) by floats, samba dancing, feathers, sequins and high-energy that doesn’t let up for a moment.
The Mazatlán Carnival in Mexico “is the third biggest carnival in the world with over six million people celebrating for six days before Lent,” according to Carnivaland.
It ran from February 24 to March 1 and is noted for its brass bands and Tambora music.
This carnival tends to be more family centered. Carnivaland says “you will see grandparents out with children, teenagers and adults of all ages.”
The Mazatlán Carnival dates back to around 1898, when it became “an official week-long, multi-event celebration.”
The Crop Over Festival of Barbados is spread over July and August, but pre-gaming starts in May and even earlier.
Bridgetown hosts many markets selling food, crafts and jewelry. Themed beach parties are offered. There are friendly contests for the kids. And it all concludes with the Grand Koodoment music parade in August.
Maybe Rihanna, who has appeared in the past, will take her son when he’s of age, since she’s chosen to raise him in Barbados.
Learn more about Crop Over history here.