You’ll always find positive vibes in the Caribbean, but the celebratory mood is nothing short of infectious during big hooplas like Carnival. If the crowds scare you, though, we have good news: There are a handful of lesser-known but just as amazing festivals across the islands. While most happen over summer, there’s one coming up in the not-so-distant future this fall.
1. Crop Over in Barbados (May-August)
Gaining popularity in recent years due to the attendance of Barbados’ most recognizable celebrity, Rihanna, Crop Over is this nation’s months-long celebration to honor the end of sugar harvest. Originating in the 1700s, this festival began when the tiny nation was the world’s largest producer of sugar. It waned over the years, but picked up steam again in the mid-1970s, thanks to revival efforts to bring back national pride. We love how extensive the celebration is — all summer visitors have the chance to partake.
Crop Over begins with the classic Caribbean sounds of steel drums and a Ceremonial Delivery of the Last Canes, which includes crowning of the festival’s king and queen. Throughout the celebration, you’ll have an opportunity to see local artists, participate in contests, and taste local eats. In the end, the festival goes out with a lively bang with a Grand Kadooment, in which large bands dressed in elaborate costumes jam with attendees in the street for hours. Fun fact: Designers begin preparing the parade costumes the year before and compete for a coveted Designer of the Year award.
What Else to Do: When you’re in the Caribbean, Oistins Fish Fry is the place to eat fried fish. The market operates on a massive scale on Friday nights, complete with calypso, dancing, and vendors.
Where to Stay: Tamarind by Elegant Hotels is conveniently located near all the action with well-appointed rooms and a great breakfast. Ask for a room on the top floor, facing the beach. Rates are from $401 per night.
2. Pirate Week Festival, Cayman Islands (November)
This 10-day festival takes place on beautiful Grand Cayman in mid-November and is the only event of its kind in the Caribbean. Pirates Week starts off with a mock pirate invasion and includes parades, food, and music — all the while celebrating pirate history of the island. Vintage pirate ships dock off-island, while on and around shore you’ll enjoy an underwater treasure hunt, fireworks, concerts, and plenty of island-y food. This year’s dates are November 12-22.
What Else to Do: The Caymans are a beloved haven for scuba divers. If you happen to dive, complement your Pirate Week experience with one (or more) of the many shipwrecks around the islands. We especially like Captain Keith Tibbett’s Wreck near Cayman Brac, great for beginner and intermediate divers.
Where to Stay: If you’re looking for affordable luxury Grand Cayman Beach Suites is where to find it. The all-suite resort is located on Seven Mile Beach on Grand Cayman, so you’ll be front-and-center for any action that happens on-island. Nightly rates are from $230.
3. Portland Jerk Festival, Jamaica (July)
For food lovers, there’s no better island for eating in the Caribbean than Jamaica. The country’s Portland Jerk Festival is held in Port Antonio every July and celebrates the cooking art of jerk, the spice made from scotch bonnet peppers, which are native to the island. It’s going into its 15th year in 2016, and you’ll be able to sample jerk lobster, vegetables, and many other island favorites, such as breadfruit and festival.
What Else to Do: YS Falls, near Port Antonio is a serene swimming spot, perfect for cooling off in nature. You can hike the falls, participate in tubing, or simply sit in the beautiful crystal clear waters on a hot day.
Where to Stay: Sandals Ochi Beach Resort is an all-inclusive that gives you everything you need without the fuss. Enjoy beach parties if you want to frolic with friends — or, if you prefer quiet luxury, the villas allow you to relax away from the action. From around $420 per night.
4. Goombay Festival, Bahamas (July)
This culturally minded roundup happens near the end of the popular Junkanoo Festival in the Bahamas, emphasizing food, art, and music to balance out Junkanoo’s electricity. (It has its own share of costumes and calypso music, though, so don’t worry about missing out on the festivities!) Many cities in the U.S. have their own Goombay festivals to celebrate Caribbean heritage of the locals, so it’s only fitting that while you’re in the Bahamas that you check out the original.
What Else to Do: When in Nassau, visit the Straw Market, this iconic Caribbean market features authentic wares from local vendors where you can purchase anything from bags to hats.
Where to Stay: Graycliff Hotel – Home of the famous Graycliff Cigar, this historic property is located in Downtown Nassau, within walking distance of all the amazing sights of the festivals and great food. The restaurant at the hotel features some of the best on the island and also has it’s own chocolate factory downstairs. Rates are from $350 per night.