Date: the week after easter
Budget: $900 for the road march and J’óuvert
Are you ready to experience a Caribbean carnival’s vibrant and lively atmosphere? As someone who has fallen in love with the Caribbean and Jamaica, I can attest that their carnival is like no other. The music, dancing, and colorful costumes reflect the rich and diverse Caribbean culture. Even if this is your first time experiencing a Caribbean carnival, fear not – the friendly and welcoming atmosphere of the Jamaican carnival will make you feel right at home. So jump with a Jamaican band and see what makes this carnival experience so special.
The costumes for 2024 are out now!
Get ready to jump the carnival in Kingston
I have long been in love with Jamaica and genuinely do believe that Jamaica is now of the most unique travel destinations I have ever visited. This year I came back to “jump” with the Kingstonians as I was celebrating my first-ever carnival in Jamaica. It has been by far one of my most memorable lifetime experiences which I can only recommend everybody to join at least once in a lifetime!
If you are ready for your once-in-a-lifetime carnival experience, check out my insider tips on how to carnival in Jamaica:
About Kingston's carnival
Jamaica’s carnival celebrations are a beautiful reflection of Caribbean culture that has been thriving since the 1990s, all thanks to the vision of a true musical legend – Byron Lee. This musician had the brilliant idea of introducing some of Trinidad’s famous carnival celebrations to Jamaica. This was the start of a spectacular carnival ride that has been joyfully celebrated on the tropical island ever since. Byron Lee and his band, ‘Byron Lee and the Dragonaires,’ played a crucial role in raising the profile of ska, calypso, and soca music in Jamaica, thereby making carnival celebrations a permanent fixture on the Jamaican calendar.
Soca vs. dancehall
Carnival is an essential part of Caribbean culture, and Jamaica is no exception. While soca music is undoubtedly prevalent during this festive season, it’s just not enough for a true Jamaican party. You’ll find some hardcore Soca trucks on the road, but the music doesn’t stop there. Dancehall and Afrobeats are also crucial genres that keep the party going.
Carnival season in the Caribbean is an unparalleled celebration of the region’s diverse cultures. But did you know that the carnival in Jamaica is a hidden gem, not as well-known amongst locals compared to other countries in the region? This makes the carnival here a more intimate affair, creating the ultimate cozy carnival experience. In fact, the smaller crowds mean that you get to bond with your fellow revelers more closely. And don’t miss out on the wild pre-parties that take place before the main event – the perfect opportunity to immerse yourself in Caribbean culture and meet like-minded people.
Kingston’s carnival bands
It’s time to choose your band and your costume! What makes the Jamaican carnival so unique is, without a doubt, its diversity. Each band has its unique members, vibe, and music. What all of the bands have in common is that the costumes come at a higher price.
Choose a carnival band
So you can jump the streets in April, you must join a band and wear a costume. Costumes are typically launched in November/December with fancy costume reveal events. After the official launch, you can see the costumes in the bands’ showrooms in Kingston.
The most popular costumes and sizes sell out quickly, so sign up early!
Xodus is supposedly Jamaica’s biggest carnival band. Since its inception in 2017, Xodus has been dominating the streets of Kingston and wowing crowds with its unmatched energy and excitement. Joining Xodus this year was a no-brainer for me, as all my friends planned to do the same. What truly sets Xodus apart is the mix of people, music, and vibes that make up this incredible carnival band.
I got to see their costumes for 2024 when visiting their showroom. They are truly stunning. My current favorite is Holloywood Glam!
After being prevented from attending Trinidad Carnival due to the forces of Mother Nature, they teamed up with other carnival enthusiasts to form Bacchanal Jamaica in 2000. Bacchanal Jamaica has become one of the top carnival experiences for adults of all ages.
Proudly carrying on the legacy of its Miami counterpart, GenX Carnival, this band brings diversity and inclusivity to the forefront. Regardless of your religious or political beliefs, ethnicity, age, education, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, or location, GenXS welcomes you to join in on the fun.
As a lover of Caribbean culture, I was thrilled to hear about the newest addition to Jamaica’s carnival scene: Yard Mas. This carnival band is 100% Jamaican-owned and boasts a seamless collaboration between some of the island’s top entertainment and lifestyle brands. I recently saw their costumes on the road, and I was blown away by the intricate details and vibrant colors. But Yard Mas isn’t just about the visuals – their road march experience includes a goodie bag, a mug, complimentary stockings for female masqueraders, and delicious meals throughout the day.
What to bring for a carnival in Jamaica
With your costumes, you’ll get a fun goodie bag filled with many small things to make your day on the road more comfortable. It includes everything from deodorant to gums, snacks, and even a vanity bag. However, to be fully prepared, bring the following:
1. Comfortable and sturdy footwear. It’s a lot of dancing, walking, and wildness going on!
2. Sweat-resistant sunscreen. Kingston’s sun is relentless! Bring a small, travel-size one on the road.
3. Hair and make-up: if you don’t have a friend who knows how to do proper carnival make-up, do yourself a favor and book an appointment for hair and make-up! You are already spending so much on the carnival experience, so treat yourself all the way!
4. Nipple pasties: Bring comfortable and good sticking nipple pasties to be on the safe side.
5. Body powder or glitter
Things to know about the road march
1. Costume Pick-up: At best, it is a fun experience. At its worst, it takes hours of waiting and coming back to the pickup location. To make the process easier on yourself, prepare yourself properly:
- Prepare yourself to spend a day collecting your costume
- Eat and drink before so you don’t turn into a hangry you
2. Road Marches are all-inclusive events. So do not worry about drinks or snacks. Accompanying drink trucks keep you hydrated!
3. You can watch the road march from the sideline without joining a band.
4. The road march is not the end! All carnival bands join forces for WI fete one day after the carnival to present the hottest soca artists and hits of the years to the Jamaican crowd.
Parties and events during the carnival season
There are tons of carnival-related fetes and events going on during the year. So, even if you are not in Jamaica for the road march, you can still feel the spirit. Costume reveals usually take place from October- November. There is even a mini road march remedy in December. In March soca parties and carnival-related events pick up.
J’óuvert - my favorite party
Do NOT miss out on J’óuvert (and come prepared): J’ouverts are incredible and usually take place two nights before the road march. To learn more about the magical dust-to-dawn parties and come well prepared!
Prepare yourself for J’óuvert
First, to prevent the color from entering your pores and staining your sheets for days, rub yourself in baby oil before you go to any J’óuvert! The baby oil will keep the color from entering your pores, making washing off easier after the party.
Secondly: wear sneakers! The water and paint make J’óuvert a slippery affair. Plus, the dancing is wild!
Thirdly, the above-recommended sneakers will never have the same color again. So J’óuvert, bring shoes which you are ready to say goodbye to.
Practical travel tips for Kingston & Jamaica
Which language is spoken in Jamaica?
The official language is English, but you'll also hear Jamaican Patois spoken throughout the country. It's a colorful and vibrant mix of English, West African languages, and Spanish influences. Don't be afraid to interact with locals and try out some basic phrases in Patois - they'll appreciate the effort and you may even learn a thing or two.
What is the offical currency in Jamaica?
The Jamaican dollar is the official currency and is accepted everywhere on the island. However, US dollars are widely accepted as well, so it's always a good idea to have some cash in both currencies. You can easily exchange your money at banks or ATMs throughout the city. Just be aware that the exchange rate may vary, so it's best to check before making a transaction. Also, don't forget to tip - it's customary in Jamaica and greatly appreciated by service industry workers. So make sure you have some small bills on hand for tipping at restaurants, bars, and hotels.
What is the best time to visit Kingston?
The climate stays pleasant all year round. It might rain a bit more during hurricane season from June to September, but you still won't get bored on rainy days!
Kingston is home to many festival and events, so if you want to check them out, plan your dates accordingly.
Is Kingston safe for travelers?
Downtown Kingston is not the place to just stroll around without knowing anybody. Uptown Kingston is much safer and easier to move around. Generally speaking, Kingston is not the place for walking anywhere after dark, and its best to move around with a driver you know.
Public Transport in Kingston, Jamaica
Route Taxis are the way to move around Jamaica. Official route taxis have a red license plate. In MoBay, you'll see the route they are catering to written on the doors. Route taxis are the cheapest and most flexible way to move around. Just be careful to enter/exit on the route. Otherwise, you'll be charged as a charter taxi. In Kingston, the Route Taxis are not as obvious, but they drive the most prominent streets and honk to let you know they are available.
Public Bus: The stop for buses to leave from downtown. I couldn't find a schedule. They seem to go more frequently than the Knutsford.
Knutsford: Leaving from from the downtown station, Jamaica's luxury bus connects more significant destinations. Be aware that the time stated refers to calculated driving time and not the actual time to reach a destination. Adding to the driving time are stops and bus switches which are not apparent when buying the ticket. Due to Covid, there are fewer buses than usual, so buying the ticket online is better.
Can I drink tap water in Jamaica?
Even though Jamaica is considered a third-world country, it provides the best water quality in the region. You are, therefore, safe to drink tap water. This is especially true in the cities. However, if it makes you feel uneasy, bring a water purifier.
What's the biggest challenge for the conscious traveler?
Tourism leakage: Jamaica is a tropical paradise that's adored by tourists worldwide, but it has a problem that's hidden from sight - tourism leakage. This phenomenon refers to the loss of revenue that occurs when international hotel chains capture a large chunk of tourist dollars, leaving very little money behind to benefit the local economy. If you're among the millions of visitors who flock to Jamaica every year, there's a simple way to help mitigate the effects of tourism leakage: support Jamaican-owned hotels, shops, and restaurants. By doing so, you can put your money where your heart is - and give the people of Jamaica a chance to thrive. So don't be shy about seeking out local businesses on your next vacation. Your decision to keep tourism dollars within Jamaica could make a world of difference.
While Jamaica is known for its beautiful beaches, there have been some issues with access to these public spaces. In recent years, many resorts and private properties have restricted access to certain parts of the beach, making it incredibly difficult for locals to maintain their life and right to the sea. Support public beaches and say no to all-inclusive tourism!
Make sure to bring a foldable food container and cutlery with you! The amount of waste caused by food sold on the street is incredible.
Make sure to protect Jamaica's marine life and bring reef-friendly sunscreen!
Packing List Jamaica
As you see, there are plenty of things to experience in Jamaica. To come fully prepared, check out my packing list for Jamaica, which includes everything from eco-friendly toiletries to sustainable fashion and even the coolest travel gadgets!
Things to do in Jamaica
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Date: March/April 2024 Budget: about $1000 for the road march and J’óuvert Stay: Rocksteady, ROK Hotel Kingston,...
Listening to and appreciating Jamaican Patois is about understanding the words and embracing the unique culture and history it represents. Learning a few key phrases can enhance your interactions with locals and deepen your connection to the Jamaican experience.