The Bahamas Carnival is quickly becoming an essential Caribbean cultural experience for tourists and for good reason. Recently held from May 18-21, the exciting series of events offers travelers a unique opportunity to immerse themselves in the best of two worlds – a fantastic, year-round weather escape to the tropics and a celebration of history and heritage that dates back hundreds of years to the trans-Atlantic slave trade. With 700 coral islands, 16 of which are inhabited, and thousands of cays that total close to 4,000 square miles, the Commonwealth of the Bahamas is a shining gem in the crown of the West Indian community. Nestled in the Lucayan Archipelago in the North Atlantic, the island country has been long touted as an unmatched destination of non-stop adventure, leisure and pleasure. The crystal-clear beaches, white and pink sands, and all-inclusive resort hotels all rival the best on the international tourism landscape. And now, the country’s Carnival experience provides an added layer of excitement and splendor for visitors and residents alike.
Usually hosted in the month of May, Bahamas Carnival is a four-day observance that takes place on the streets of the nation’s capital, Nassau. It involves a costumed street parade and a series of night-time parties with live Caribbean music entertainment, known as “fêtes.” First established in 2013, Bahamian government officials saw the hosting of the Carnival experience as an opportunity to join the existing regional ecosystem and to spark creative and cultural entrepreneurship in the country during traditionally slower periods of tourism activity for the nation. Today, Bahamas Carnival is now a private sector-led annual festival that encourages cultural exchange while bringing a wealth of visitors and dollars to the Commonwealth. The Bahamas Carnival experience is not to be confused with Junkanoo, which is a traditional event that takes place during the latter half of December. Known to many as the “heart and soul of Bahamian culture,” visitors can expect to witness elaborate dance routines and ornate costume designs at this showcase that is accompanied by the infectious beat of goatskin drums, cowbells and horns in the wee hours of Boxing Day and New Year’s Day.
For many Bahamians living “in the 242” such as notable creative industries strategist and PhD candidate Arianne Richardson, the recently concluded Bahamas Carnival is an important tourism boost for the island’s economic ecosystem, especially as citizens continue to recover from the profound effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. “Even in its infancy stages, Carnival presents us with an untapped opportunity for Bahamian creativity to further develop and flourish,” she explains to ESSENCE – noting that a number of professionals across industries benefit from the staging of the experience, including sound engineers, costume designers and entertainers. “We see promoters, Carnival band owners, and our indigenous culture on full display during that time. Many people see it as an amalgamation of different African festivals – a reminder of our origins, our home and our culture,” says the passionate founder of A.Rich Culture.
If you’ve seen the photos and videos and are thinking of heading to The Bahamas for Carnival next year, your planning should begin now. Here are some tips and tricks based on my own experience to help you navigate the island country and participate in Bahamas Carnival like a pro.
Get your costumes sooner than later
The Bahamas’ band launch season, which is the period when costumes are presented to the general public, takes place in February. With that in mind, be prepared to book your costumes early. Bahamas Masqueraders is the most popular band on the island, so get ready to secure your costume of choice with a deposit as they usually sell out fairly quickly. Similarly, tickets for the hottest Soca events are available online and can be purchased ahead of travel.
Find flights early
Direct flights are about an hour’s commute from Florida, whether from Miami or Fort Lauderdale. Caribbean travelers may actually have a lengthier route, with most intra-regional flights making a pit stop in Kingston, Jamaica.
Book your beauty
If you want to be on top of your beauty game, make sure to secure makeup appointments early. Popular makeup artists such as Lisa Wallace are booked at least two months in advance of parade day in May.
Go all in with all-inclusive accommodations
All-inclusive resorts are an easy and convenient way to stay while in Nassau. If you’re making a Carnival group trip, check out Goldwynn Resorts or Breezes Bahamas to vacation in style and without the hassle. Taxis for hire are conveniently located near the hotels’ lobby for guests’ convenience day or night.
Try the best in local food
For food lovers, check out the Fish Fry on Friday nights at Cable Beach where you can purchase a generous serving of your favorite local dishes, including cracked conch, lobster or tropical conch salad – as presented by food blogger EverytingSimSimma – as well as Bahamian “sky juice,” which is a refreshing blend of coconut water, condensed milk, gin, nutmeg and cinnamon. Or, for the ultimate fine dining experience with the girls, head over to OIA restaurant for a Mediterranean-Asian culinary adventure. Your tastebuds will delight in exceptional menu options and thank you later.
A wardrobe tip
Walk with comfortable shoes for every occasion. Masqueraders in costume usually wear boots or sneakers for the parade known as Road March, while partygoers opt for flats or wedges for night-time concerts. Expect to party into the early hours of the morning at events such as Amnesia and Insomnia with stage acts like Soca superstar Kes the Band and Reggae legend Buju Banton. Bahamians definitely know how to have a good time!
Beachwear is a must
There’s always a beach nearby, so swimwear stays in style. Spend the day at Junkanoo Beach for a day of post-Carnival relaxation and head over to Open Water Tours for a clear kayak photoshoot experience complete with a drone. Follow in Carnival chaser queen Bahamianista’s footsteps and make it a feathered affair on the water.
Post-Carnival fun with flamingos
If you’re looking for another luxurious island activity, visit the Flamingo Sanctuary for a yoga session among the exotic birds. According to popular blogger Global Carnivalist, visiting the sanctuary is a Bahamian bucket list item that you won’t ever forget.
Prepare yourself for fun in the sun
The sun is out in its full glory in May in the Bahamas, so in preparation for the parade, make sure to wear your sunscreen and stay hydrated.
Have flexible funds
Plan smart and always make space in your budget for the unexpected – because everything always costs more than you think!
Tenille Clarke is an avid storyteller, seasoned publicist and cultural enthusiast from Trinidad and Tobago who often pens about her ongoing love affair with travel, entertainment and culture through a Caribbean lens. Follow her digital journey @tenilleclarke1 on Instagram and Twitter.