Jamaica’s capital city Kingston — a UNESCO City of Music — comes to life in an extra special way for Reggae Month each February, with music lovers celebrating reggae’s roots and evolution. The artform was inscribed on UNESCO’s intangible cultural heritage list in 2018, and the annual festivities provide superb opportunities to enjoy live entertainment, films, workshops and public discussions, along with tributes to icons who’ve so richly contributed to the genre. Keep an eye out for up-and-coming talent, too — you’ll remember the experience for a lifetime!
Following the paths of the Maroons at Jamaica’s Accompong Maroon Festival (6 January), visitors can visualise the extraordinary history of these freedom fighters as their descendants commemorate the signing of the Peace Treaty with the British and honour the famous Captain Cudjoe. The day ends with a sound system party continuing to daybreak.
St Lucia’s Nobel Laureate Festival (8–31 January) celebrates national excellence, while paying homage to the country’s two Nobel Laureates — Sir Derek Walcott and Sir Arthur Lewis — with a diverse programme of literary arts, lectures, workshops, and performances.
In Grand Cayman, enjoy a variety of events like cooking demonstrations, wine tastings and creative gastronomic activities at the Cayman Cookout (9–15 January). Meanwhile in Miami, Art Deco Weekend (13–15 January) is a magnet for architecture lovers relishing the city’s vibrant buildings and beautiful façades.
With a large community of Chinese heritage, Suriname vibrantly celebrates the lunar Chinese New Year (22 January), including parades to welcome the Year of the Rabbit.
The action is on the water for the Spice Island Billfish Tournament (23–27 January) and Grenada Sailing Week (29 January–3 February), while music lovers flock to the Bequia Music Festival (25–29 January). A range of local and international entertainment will be on offer … as well the island’s laidback charm.
Overlooking the Havana harbour, the old Spanish fortification San Carlos de la Cabaña is transformed into a book extravaganza at Cuba’s Havana International Book Fair (3–10 February) — complete with book vendors, poetry readings, children’s activities, art exhibitions, and concerts.
And at the Barbados Holetown Festival (12–19 February), celebrants observe the arrival of the first settlers in Holetown. Enjoy showcases of cultural traditions like folk singing and dancing, sports and games, street parades, markets, and food stalls offering traditional Barbadian cuisine.
Across the Caribbean and diaspora at this time of year, distinctive carnivals — both pre-Lenten ones, and festivities centred around other cultural observances — abound.
Junkanoo, The Bahamas
1 & 2 January
Revellers dance to the rhythms of brass music, horns, whistles, cowbells, and drums fashioned from goatskins and oil barrels.
Mardi Gras, New Orleans (USA)
6 January–21 February
Spectators vie for “throws” (trinkets like beads and toys) flung into the crowds by revellers riding on decorated floats, while “tribes” of Mardi Gras Indians in costumes inspired by Native American traditions perform traditional dances and songs.
Encarnacion Carnival, Paraguay
28 January–25 February
The Sambadrome and streets are filled for five consecutive Saturday nights in January and February, as five groups and four floats parade in impressive spectacles to batucada rhythms.
Carnival of Oruro, Bolivia
Banned by Spanish colonisers in the 17th century, this annual festival was preserved by Indigenous locals under the guise of a Catholic ceremony on the feast of Candlemas. Today, the procession still features elements dating back to medieval mystery plays. Dancers walk the two-mile route and repeat the journey for 20 hours non-stop.
Shakespeare Mas, Carriacou
One of the highlights of Carriacou Carnival (Kayak Mas) is the Shakespeare Mas on Shrove Tuesday, where participants recite lines from the Bard’s plays. But be warned: a mistake warrants a tap from your opponent’s stick! The overall winner becomes the King of Carnival.
Rio de Janeiro Carnival, Brazil
The centre of attention is the Sambadrome and its parade route lined with spectators watching the energetically choreographed procession of samba schools.
Barranquilla Carnival, Colombia
A special four-day holiday infused with a combination of various African, Spanish, and American traditions in dance and music.
The signature sound of Curaçao’s carnival is tumba. The main instrument is the drum accompanied by an agan, rattlers, cowbells, and flutes.
El Callao Carnival, Venezuela
A sea of dancing madamas in African headscarves and traditional wear parade through the streets of El Callao in a fusion of West Indian and French Antilles traditions.
Trinidad & Tobago Carnival
After months of partying, and a range of cultural shows, Carnival devotees let loose for two days of street parades — from J’Ouvert to Last Lap, in “dutty mas”, traditional mas, and “pretty mas”. It’s the climax of the “mother of all carnivals” — powered by soca, calypso, pan…and joy!
Traditional Ecuadorian Carnival “games” like throwing flour, water, and spraying foam attract traditional enthusiasts to the small town of Amaguaña, a rural community outside Quito.
The word Mashramani (Guyana’s Republic Day carnival) comes from an Indigenous word meaning “the celebration of a job well done” and features a unique street parade combining patriotic messages with revelry.