Antigua Carnival is the highlight of the summer season and, much like Carnival around the world, is a colorful and fun way to jump into local culture. Vacations during Carnival in Antigua and Barbuda still give you time to enjoy the beaches, restaurants, and the other experiences of a tropical getaway with added excitement of joining in the revelry of a grand celebration. While many places celebrate Carnival around the Lent season, some Caribbean islands launch celebrations at different times of the year and for various reasons.
To understand the Antigua Carnival, it's helpful to know more about the people and history of the island. Many of today's residents are descended from African slaves who were brought to the Caribbean, especially to work the sugar plantations. In 1834, the British ended slavery in the entire empire, including the far-away islands of Antigua and Barbuda. In some places, there was a four-year transition period, but not in Antigua—the slaves were immediately emancipated. Over time, the island residents began to honor emancipation through song, pageantry, and celebration.
For many years, the celebration took place at Christmas. The Carnival in Antigua and Barbuda was moved to the summer, becoming one of the most popular events of the year. As the years went, more and more vacationers decided to visit during the time of colorful Antigua Carnival costumes, live music, and joyful celebration.
The festival kicks off at the end of July and continues ten days into August, although plenty of events are planned outside of the regular calendar of events. During the Antigua Carnival, you'll have the chance to join in the fun, watching talent shows, beauty pageants, and colorful costumes as bright as Mardi Gras parades in New Orleans and the revelry in Brazil. Events take place around the island, though the majority of events occur in St. John, the capital city.
You're likely to see colorful Antigua Carnival costumes during J'ouvert, a street party filled with energetic music and much revelry. This tradition in the Caribbean is also celebrated in Trinidad, Jamaica, and many other islands, as well as cities around the world with large ex-pat communities. The celebration kicks off before dawn as the musicians gather together and start jamming. People are invited to join in and follow the parade from the beaches in the capital city into town. Some revelers even adorn themselves with blue and brown paint.
While J'ouvert is one of the coolest things to do during Carnival in Antigua and Barbuda, it's just the beginning of the fun. Concert, talent shows, and impromptu jam sessions pop up all the time, showcasing several types of Caribbean music-improvised Calypso, steel drums, and Soca that combines soul music with the upbeat tones of Calypso. The Panorama steel band competition and Parade of Bands are some of the best ways to soak in the sounds of Antigua and the fun of the festival.
The calendar also includes the Miss Antigua Pageant, the competition of Party Monarch, and the crowing of the Antigua Carnival Queen. Visitors are invited to watch the festivities, experience the local culture, and meet some of the people of the island.
Beyond the Antigua Carnival costumes, music, and major events, the celebration features many smaller events both those official part of the festival and others not so formal. You'll have to chance to sample the local dining scene at the food fairs, and soak in the culture was small parades and cultural pageants. Of course the white-sand beaches are always open, too.
If you're planning on visiting Antigua and Barbuda during Carnival season, it's best to make your reservations well in advance. The hotels fill up quickly with people who want to join in the fun.