Beginner guide to Carnival in Jamaica
Posted by Dorry | Oct 25, 2019 | caribbean islands, Culture, Experience, Jamaica, Music | 0
If I tell you Jamaica?
Oh, I know. You think heavenly pristine beaches, you think Bob Marley, you think reggae.
Who could have imagined that the island of reggae / dancehall culture would house one of the most flourishing carnivals in the Caribbean?
And yet … In the past few years, during the Easter period, more and more carnivaliers have invaded the streets of Kingston.
In 2018, I was part of it.
In 2019, I did it again!
Are you tempted? This short guide should be able to help you out.
Depending on the options of accommodation, costumes, parties and the number of participants in the trip, a budget of between $1800 to $2800 (excluding airline ticket) seems reasonable.
The Jamaica Carnival takes place on the weekend following Easter. So, according to my calculations, in 2020, the grand parade should take place on Sunday, April 19th.
I’m sure you won’t be able to hold back on the desire to visit the rest of the island. So, a stay of about a week seems like a good option.
The best way to maximize accommodation choices, and find reasonably priced airline tickets is to start getting organized 6 to 8 months before!
How to get there
Everything depends of course on your place of departure. I am from Martinique, so there is no direct line from the French caribean islands but there are plenty of direct flights from the US and the UK. Alternatively several routes are possible (via St. Martin, Barbados or Miami).
(If you are from Europe, Think of your ETSA if you choose to go through Miami!
Be careful, there are several airports in Jamaica, make sure to land in Kingston! Other foreigners might need to check out your visa requirements)
Where to stay
The parade and most events take place in the capital city, so it’s best to stay in the area. The New Kingston neighborhood is known to be safe and packed with hotels.
- The Jamaican Pegasus
- Spanish Court Hotel
- Courtyard Kingston
- Altamont Court
- Four seasons
- Knutsford runs
- Terra Nova
- Courtleigh Hotel
If like me your budget is tight, airbnb and booking are alternatives but let me still tell you my misadventure.
In 2018, everything went perfectly well.
In 2019, however … The homeowner sent us a message about a king or queen size bed. As this did not seem to us of capital importance, we were a little slow to answer. BIG Mistake! She assumed that we would not come anymore, and ended up renting the apartment to someone else (without notifying us).
To avoid finding yourself in the same situation, do not hesitate to harass confirm and reconfirm your reservation and its terms.
How to get around
Car or taxi?
Driving in Jamaica ?! A whole adventure !!!! First thing first, be aware that: People drive on the “wrong” side of the road. If you are from the US, Europe like me and most countries in the world, that may come as a surprise! You will need time to adjust driving on that side. For us it was quite an experience we took the first roundabout on the opposite direction which brought a lot of emotions !!
Driving in the city is hmm, well “entertaining” to say the least. Jamaicans generously make use their horns. Taxis are very lively and tend to change lanes and / or pull up without warning. This can drives you nuts…
If Waze and Google Maps work very well, make sure you follow the street signs. A person I know well (me!) took a one way street the wrong way… Right in front of a police officer… Please Do not do that! 😉
Most international rental companies have a branch in Jamaica (Hertz, Budget, Avis, etc) but again, be aware, the amount of people during carnival period can sometimes be annoying and play bad tricks.
In 2018, everything went perfectly well.
In 2019, however … Upon arrival and despite our online reservation confirmed weeks in advance we were greeted with a “no car” sign. It only took a delay in the logistics of rental returns, to find ourselves without a vehicle (and to make matters worse, all the cars of the other agencies were already rented out).
For those who do not feel like trying the adventure behind the wheel, you can always rent a taxi by the day or have a driver with whom you organize (departure times, return hours, etc.) throughout the duration of your. stay.
Even if you rent a vehicle, do not hesitate to use a taxi if you plan on drinking. Drink or drive, you already know …
How to party
Breakfast fetes (parties), cool fetes, pool parties, cruises, concerts!
There is a plethora of fetes, parties and events! Most events are announced as time goes by, but you always need to be ready as despite the hefty prices (between $30 to … $150), they are sold out within minutes sometimes for the most popular ones!
I strongly advise you to subscribe to the social networks of Trinidad Carnival Diary, French Soca Lovers and LehWeGo not to miss anything. You can get discounts and “early birds” tickets and stay tuned with the calendar of fetes and parties.
Events take place at any time of the day or night, so it is very easy to get carried away by your enthusiasm. Dear readers, it is ESSENTIAL to make a schedule to avoid ending up with overlapping parties and especially, to allow time for rest.
Another indispensable element? Prepare yourself physically. Try to remember your last very good evening. Now imagine that you live it 10 times in the space of 7 days. You have body aches just thinking about it? It’s normal. And that’s what might happen if you’re not physically ready. So you need to start the cardio training 3 months before departure and don’t forget the little vitamin cure.
How to parade
Soca music blasting in the speakers! The feathered bikini! Rhinestone makeup! The Kingston sun burning your shoulders !! Can you imagine a carnival without a parade ?! (Well, hmm maybe Yes, but it’s definitely not for me ..!)
To parade in costume, you must register with a group and buy its outfit.
Red, blue, yellow, green, black … whatever your favorite color, you will find the costume you need.
Group registration allows you to benefit from packages including the costume, of course but also meals (often breakfast, lunch and dinner), unlimited drinks, snacks on the road and services specific to each group. (For example, I had a massage during the lunch break.)
In Jamaica, there are several groups including:
- Bacchanal Jamaica
Once you have chosen your group and your suit, just select your outfit, the options (Bikini? Monokini?) And the meal of your choice, and head to the website’s payment section.
For those who do not fancy or do not dare being “half naked” ;), the groups offer the possibility of parading in Tshirt at a cheaper cost.
Attention, there is only one day of parade!
The issue of safety is always important when traveling. It is even more so in Jamaica, where the figures for violence and lack of security are above average.
Having said that, during our 2 stays, we never felt in danger and did not witness any violent scenes. Our interactions with Jamaicans have all been marked with kindness and friendship. We have always been approached with respect and have never encountered situations where guys tried to hit on us or were insisting to such a point that it became uncomfortable.
Events related to carnival festivities are usually held in secure environments, safe locations and are supervised by police and / or security agents.
In addition to the basic security principles (do not move alone, keep an eye on your credit card, etc.) Obviously there are areas you might want to avoid such as Grand Kingston (Trench town, Spanish town, Mountain view, etc.). Beware of certain neighborhoods of Montego Bay too.
Now that you have all the info, You just need to pick a few friends, create your whatsapp group …
Welcome to Jamrock! Make sure you have plenty of FUN, sweat, laughs, dance, wine like there is no tomorrow! And memories!