A first timers guide to Carnival in Jamaica
An Xodus masquerader enjoying herself during the Road March last year. Photo courtesy Xodus
Jamaica Carnival is one of the Carnivals in the region enjoying major popularity at the moment. Perfectly positioned during the Easter holidays, the Carnival is fast-becoming a major tourism draw for the island attracting Carnival lovers from around the world. If you're heading to Jamaica this year for your first Carnival experience, we've compiled a list of things we think you ought to know before you take the plunge.
Where to stay
New Kingston is where the major Carnival parade takes place so it is the ideal place to be at Carnival time. You can choose from a number of established hotels such as the Pegasus, Courtleigh Inn, Spanish Court, Knutsford Court and Altamont Court. There are also quite a few Airbnb options in the area with prices ranging from US$40 to US$150.
Moving around Jamaica can be quite a challenge if you aren’t familiar with the place. If you are staying at a hotel you could book one of the taxi services affiliated to their establishments or make your own arrangements with a taxi driver to shuttle you around. If you think you could handle Jamaica’s roads and drivers on your own, renting a car is a good option.
Every year the Carnival fete calendar expands with a mixture of party brands from Trinidad such as Caesar’s Army BR Road and AM Bush, Private Ryan’s Soca Brainwash and Scorch’s UCK Work and Jamaica such as the uber-popular Sunrise Breakfast Party and Frenchmen Blocko Street Party. This year will also see soca star Kees Dieffenthaller stage his Tuesday on the Rocks concert for the first time. Due to Jamaica’s size, these parties tend to be scattered all over Kingston and its environs so you or your driver may definitely need Google maps or Waze to find your way around.
If you want to play mas in what is known as the Road March, you have a choice of three bands to choose from: Xaymaca, Bacchanal Jamaica and Xodus. Unlike most regional Carnivals, these bands operate like their own separate Carnival with their own routes, usually in the same general area. The bands are all-inclusive, which means you will have access to food and unlimited drinks. Be sure to wear your assigned ID bands because band security is pretty strict in Jamaica.
Get familiar with the music
Soca is the soundtrack to any West Indian carnival and with T&T’s Carnival just before Jamaica, there will, of course, be a plethora of music from there. If you don’t know any, make YouTube your friend and get familiar with the 2019 hits. Also, look out for some new releases just in time for Jamaica Carnival from Travis World and Jonny Blaze featuring dancehall artists Beenie Man and Munga Honorable. Of course, what would any kind of party in Jamaica be like without some dancehall and reggae? This is what makes Jamaica Carnival unique.
If you are only there to watch
You don’t have to be a masquerader to enjoy Jamaica’s Carnival. There are some fun options for spectators as well. During the Road March, you can wait for the parade along the routes or if you got a hookup, you can enjoy yourself at one of several private all-inclusive viewing parties along the ‘Hip Strip’ as Knutsford Boulevard is called. There are also after-parties when the parade is finished.
There is more than one Carnival
Jamaica’s Carnival parade is one day but did you know Carnival in Jamaica actually begins on Easter weekend in Ocho Rios? No better way than to spend Easter weekend in a beautiful and scenic place while also partying. Ocho Rios Carnival features five bands that parade on Easter Sunday and there are numerous parties happening all weekend long.