A First-Timers Guide to Jamaican Carnival
Updated: Jan 26
You've seen it all over Instagram the fishnet stockings, large feathers, Caribbean beats, and never-ending alcohol. And you've finally decided that you want to take part in the most popular festival in the Caribbean.
In the spring of 2018, I had the opportunity to enjoy this festival and I can definitely say it was one for the books.
If your anything like me then all you know is that you want to whine with large blue feathers on your back and post for the gram. But before you can, there are some steps that you need to familiarize yourself with to ensure you have a care-free time.
In this post, I will be explaining everything I know about the Jamaican carnival and what it took to get there. Hopefully, this post will help you plan your first trip.
1. What is Carnival?
Carnival is an annual festival in the Caribbean. This festival attracts persons from every corner of the globe, to take part in a cultural celebration of music, dance, and national pride.
This festival began as a celebration among the enslaved Africans in the Caribbean. Due to their skin color, most were excluded from celebrations held by European settlers. It is said that the celebration originated in Trinidad and Tobago.
(Trinidad holds the crown for the best carnival celebration).
Read more about the history of Carnival here.
In Jamaica, carnival takes place during the week of April 15th - 20th, 2020 in the capital Kingston. The road march will take place April 19th, 2020.
now let's talk about ...
Book your rooms in advance.
Carnival is a large festival and rooms sell out quickly. Like quick, quick.
It'd be a shame to have everything prepared and no place to lay your head or leave your things.
WHERE SHOULD I BOOK MY HOTEL?
The most convenient location would be in Kingston. That's where a majority of the events will be held. During my stay, I was at the Terra Nova Hotel. Most of the reputable hotels are in a section of Kingston called New Kingston. Consider checking out these hotels if you need somewhere to stay:
If you'd like more specific booking options or ideas, Carnival Jamaica has a detailed list of places you can stay in Kingston.
HOW DO I FIND A GOOD DEAL ON FLIGHTS?
At the time, my favorite attribute on Hopper was the color coding of dates. For example, If I booked my flight in October, the dates for April 16-21st were colored green. The closer it gets to the dates, the more the color turns to red, indicating a higher ticket price.
It makes booking flights easier because you automatically know the best time to purchase a ticket.
I've heard sights like Kayak make booking easier but honestly, I get confused. So, I just tend to stay away from sites like that. If it works for you, by all means, use it. Maybe you can show me how to properly use it.
WHERE SHOULD I FLY INTO?
There are three international airports in Jamaica:
Sangster International in Montego Bay
Norman Manley International in Kingston (pst... choose this one)
Ian Fleming International in Ocho Rios
... if you read between the lines, then you'll know to pick Norman Manley International to fly into.
HOW AM I GOING TO GET AROUND?
While I was in Kingston, I noticed the main form of transportation was by taxi.
Before you arrive at the Norman Manley airport, I suggest contacting your hotel prior, to see if they can have someone pick you up.
...unless you are staying with a friend who is native to the country and they've committed to being your ride.
You don't want to be caught scrambling for a ride.
If you end up without a ride there will be plenty of taxis willing to take you wherever you want to go.
If you have time, look up some reputable taxi companies and plan a ride with them.
HOW MUCH SHOULD I BUDGET FOR TAXIS?
This will depend on a few variables. Like, traveling solo or with friends? The number of fetes you'll be attending? and how far away you are from the city?
During my stay, I went to two fetes before the road march. Each taxi trip was $5 -$7. I quickly saved his number and anytime we needed to go somewhere he was the guy we called.
Your trip from the airport could cost anywhere between $20-$40. This is a trip that you will need to take twice, so plan accordingly.
now for the good stuff.
3. Parties and Masquerades
Playing Mas simply means dressing up in costume. Jamaica has three main carnival bands each offering their own unique carnival experience.
Each band has its own unique carnival experience. If you go to the websites, you will see that they have their own costume themes for the year.
When I went, I played mas with Xaymaca.
When you purchase a costume, there will be goodies included in a complimentary duffel bag like:
- a wrist band with meal tickets. (Please don't lose this or you will be hungry for the entire day).
- your own personal cup. ( You will need this to get drinks while on the road march)
- seasonings (Idk why but I got some and it has been put to good use)
and other cute trinket items to take back with you.
From breakfast parties, soca cruises, cooler fetes, and Road March on Carnival Day expect to be parting all week long.
Jamaica Carnival offers some heavyweight parties like Soca Brainwash, Caesar's Army, and Sunrise Soca.
A 2020 Fete list will be released in February 2020. To keep up-to-date follow your band on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter.
4. List of What You Need
Now that we've got the large and important stuff out the way. I've created a list of items that you'll need for your trip. This is nowhere near exhaustive but it should get you headed in the right direction.
-comfortable shoes (I can't stress this enough. I clocked 8 miles while on da road. comfortable shoes are a must)
- stockings/fishnet stockings (checkout @vbandstockings on IG)
- fanny pack ( to carry your items in)
- portable charger
- extra camera battery
- your own personal cup (should be provided in your duffel bag)
- meal wrist band ( you want to eat that day)
- cash for your taxi ride/rides
- anything else you may want to have on you.
I wasn't able to stay the full week but my four-day trip was one for the books. Carnival is all about having a good time and I definitely did that. 10/10 would recommend.
Thanks for reading,