Top Ten Caribbean Festivals

Colorful, crazy, and Caribbean—that about sums up these ten island festivals, where you'll want to get on your feet and party like a local.
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Trinidad Carnival
BIRDS OF A FEATHER: Extravagant costumes abound during Trinidad’s Carnival celebrations  (courtesy, Trinidad and Tobago Tourism)

Though beach bumming, museum visits, and playing in the bright blue seas are a given when you visit the Caribbean, the region's festivals really show off the soulful vibe of these islands—and they provide a great way for travelers to meet and engage with locals. While resorts, tours, and even beaches are often segregated along "foreign vacationer" and "local resident" lines, festivals help break down those barriers and bring people together with music, parades, dancing, and food (and, yes, in many cases, alcohol). Here we give you ten of the Caribbean's top festivals, chosen in part for their cultural significance but also because they're simply a great way to kick back and have some fun.

10. Aruba Hi Winds in Aruba (July)
Aruba has long been a mecca for windsurfers (and, more recently, kiteboarders), and many of both sports' top competitors hail from the ABC islands (Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao). So it's fitting that the island's top competition would also be, well, quite a party. Aruba Hi Winds has morphed over the years—switching from pro to amateur, adding freestyle and kiteboarding events—but it remains one of Aruba's most anticipated gatherings, with a social calendar that requires almost as much stamina as the sporting events. The fun starts on the beach, when fans gather to watch the high-speed/high-flying events, and continues well past dark, often migrating to local watering holes.
Aruba Beach Travel Guide

9. Tumba Festival in Curaçao (Mid-January)
Tumba music gets its name from tambor, meaning "drum" in Spanish, and just a few bars of the driving rhythm is all that's needed to understand why. Curaçao kicks off its extra long Carnival celebration with the Tumba Festival, a four-day music extravaganza held as early as mid-January. The event features the island's top tumba bands competing for the honor of playing that year's official Carnival Road March song. The bands typically feature a dozen or more musicians, plus costumed dancers and elaborate stagecraft. Add in the music's infectious rhythm, and you can plan on spending precious little time in your seat. The Tumba Festival can feel over-commercialized, with corporate logos displayed everywhere—including on a jumbo screen directly behind the performers, but that hasn't dimmed the enthusiasm of islanders for the event or the music, with performances and after-parties lasting long into the night.
Curacao Beach Travel Guide

8. Fiesta de Santiago de Apóstol in Loiza Aldea, Puerto Rico (Late July)
Nowhere is Puerto Rico's rich West African heritage more pronounced—and celebrated—than in the coastal town of Loiza Aldea, just east of the capital San Juan. Every July 25th, the town hosts a blow-out celebration of its patron saint, Santiago de Apóstol (St. James the Apostle), one of several Catholic saints believed to be incarnations of ancient African deities. The festival includes street parties, open-air plena and bomba concerts, and Carnival-like parades. The festival's most famous figures are the vejigantes, who nominally symbolize the Moors who James famously battled and defeated, but have evolved into mythical monsters with elaborate horned masks and flowing winged outfits. The masks are also Loiza Aldea's best known folk art and make a great souvenir; the finest examples are truly stunning.
Puerto Rico Beach Travel Guide

7. Festival de Merengue in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic (Late July)
Few things are more quintessentially Dominican than merengue, and its musical cousin, bachatá. You can hear their urgent upbeat rhythm just about anywhere you go in the DR, from supermarkets to public buses, from the capital to the countryside, and it seems Dominican children learn to dance merengue almost as soon as they can walk. The annual Merengue Festival lasts less than a week and isn't even the DR's largest music festival—that'd be October's Latin Jazz Festival—but only Carnival makes for a bigger and more ebullient street party. Santo Domingo's long oceanfront drive, or malecón, sprouts a string of open-air stages and massive sound systems, and thousands of ever-moving fans gather in knots around each one to hear their favorite band or DJ play (sometimes simultaneously).
Dominican Republic Beach Travel Guide

6. St. Patrick's Day in Montserrat (Mid-March)
The Irish aren't the only ones who know how to throw a St. Patrick's Day party. Though you wouldn't think it, the tiny island of Montserrat, battered by hurricanes and half-buried in volcanic ash, celebrates March 17 as a national holiday with a terrific week-long festival. St. Patrick's Day has dual importance in Montserrat: It has long been celebrated by the island's large Irish Catholic population, who first settled there in the 1630s to escape religious persecution, and it also marks the day, in 1798, that enslaved Africans launched a major uprising. Fittingly, St. Patrick's Day in Montserrat has a unique blend of Afro-Irish flair: Think Calypso bands dressed in emerald green. For all the carousing, the festival has a surprisingly intellectual side too, including guest lectures and historical walking tours.
Montserrat Travel Guide

Published: 24 Nov 2008 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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