With festivals of culture, food, music and yachting, there’s always something being celebrated in the Caribbean. Gary Noakes shares what’s on and when
Montserrat St Patrick’s Festival
Montserrat is the only country outside Ireland where St Patrick’s Day is a public holiday. Its connection with Ireland goes back to the 17th century, when Catholics exiled by Cromwell and persecuted on other islands sought refuge there. A 1678 census showed more than half Montserrat’s population were of Irish origin and ten days of festivities celebrate this each year.
Mercury Fest, St Lucia
Described as the ultimate beach party, this is one of St Lucia’s most anticipated events of the summer, taking place in August. Thousands arrive from sister islands Martinique and Guadeloupe, and from further afield, for a two-day beach party at Pigeon Island National Landmark – think sun, sea, sand and live music.
Although technically only two days, the build-up to the event in February starts around Christmas, such is the frenzy that surrounds this most vibrant of carnivals. Taking place in Port of Spain, the advice is to familiarise yourself with soca music before booking, as there is little else played and it’s not to everyone’s taste. Real enthusiasts can pre-book to join one of the bands (marching groups) and take part in the parade and fetes – live DJ sets and music – that accompany it.
Saint Lucia Jazz Festival
The Saint Lucia Jazz & Arts Festival is held every year in spring. The 2020 Jazz Festival, produced in collaboration with Jazz at Lincoln Center (pictured below right) is yet to announce the line-up, but this year it included the likes of Gregory Porter, Dianne Reeves and Catherine Russell.
Cayman Islands Restaurant Month
Throughout October, the three islands raise their profile among foodies with fixed-price menus in a range of restaurants. Three-course dinners range from around £23 to £43, and lunch is from about £15.
Ocho Rios Jazz Festival, Jamaica
Although more associated with reggae than jazz, this week-long festival has become a fixture in Jamaica’s calendar each June, and is coming up to its 30th anniversary. The festival attracts the best Caribbean artists plus key names from the US and elsewhere.
Grenada Chocolate Festival
This week-long series of events in May embraces everything from Aztec chocolate-making techniques to a themed cruise, organic farm visits and yoga and meditation combined with chocolate-tasting. A pre-bookable Cocoa Pass includes most of the activities on offer.
Many islands celebrate Junkanoo, said to originate from slaves celebrating time off over Christmas, but it has been most appropriated by the Bahamas, where it is marked on Boxing Day, New Year’s Day and again in summer. Junkanoo parades take place overnight in Nassau and other islands, with dance troupes in carnival attire and competitions for best music, costumes and groups. The costumes, dance and music are inspired by a different theme each time.
Antigua Sailing Week
Taking place over six days at the end of April, this major sailing festival marked its 50th anniversary in 2018. It caters for everything from windsurfers to superyachts, with daily prize-giving and celebrations that carry on into the night. Races take place along the south coast where trade winds blow, with well over 100 yachts participating, ranging from 24 to 100 feet in length.