The lure of The Bahamas is hard to resist when you’re craving sunny shores, beautiful beaches, and the best island experiences. You’ll also love these Atlantic islands for the entertainment, especially festivals that show the heart of The Bahamas like the Bahamas Carnival (held annually in May) and Junkanoo (held on Boxing Day and New Year’s Day).
If you’ll soon be traveling to The Bahamas and want to know more about these well-loved festivals, such as when to go, what to expect, the cost and locations of these events, read on as we’ve got it all covered!
Both Bahamas Carnival and Junkanoo are popular festivals held in The Bahamas and are loved by locals and visitors alike. These events have quite a few similarities in that they involve music, costumes, competitions, and showcase the culture of the islands in various ways, but there are also many differences between them.
One of the main differences between these two events is when they are held. Bahamas Carnival is typically held once a year in April/early May while Junkanoo happens twice a year, first in late December and then in early January. There are many other ways to tell these festivals apart too.
For starters, the music associated with the Bahamas Carnival is completely different from the music you will experience at Junkanoo. While Bahamas Carnival has a heavy emphasis on soca, much like island carnivals elsewhere in the Caribbean, Junkanoo focuses on traditional musical styles that are unique to The Bahamas.
Since Junkanoo is part of Bahamian tradition, various aspects of the island’s culture and history are reflected in the music and dancing you’ll see during this festival. Carnival, on the other hand, serves more of an entertainment purpose despite also having some historical and cultural roots in the region.
Bahamas Carnival is a highly entertaining cultural celebration held in the islands of The Bahamas. This four-day festivity typically involves stunning costumes adorned with beads, feathers, jewels, and other embellishments mixed in with lots of dancing, parties, concerts, and street parades. This event is most often held in April/May in The Bahamas, with lots of events happening on both Paradise Island and New Providence.
Much like the other carnivals of the Caribbean, the appeal of the Bahamas Carnival for many people is the entertainment factor, whether that comes from participating with a costumed band or watching from the sidelines. As costumes can be quite pricey, some people save up just to be part of the celebration.
Overall, the Bahamas Carnival is a festival that showcases Caribbean heritage and music, celebrates freedom, and brings people together.
Good to know: Bahamas Carnival was once labeled ‘Bahamas Junkanoo Carnival’. The name was changed to separate the individual identities of these festivals.
Lots of activities take place during the Bahamas Carnival. There are so many events that most people won’t be able to do it all, though some may try. Some of the popular activities include private parties/fetes, live music events featuring local and international talent, and street parades. Even though the main event is the road march/street parade, many people make a point of attending the parties that lead up to the main event as well.
Some of the most popular activities in The Bahamas during carnival time are the soca parties and concerts, and the J’ouvert events. J’ouvert is a daybreak street party held ahead of the big parade. The event is held to usher in a new day of festivities. Some other popular parties held in The Bahamas around carnival time include ‘Insomnia’, ‘Amnesia’, ‘Unleash’, and other ‘last lap’ events held after the street parades.
It is useful to note that while many free carnival events get underway in The Bahamas around carnival time, most of the private parties and fetes, as well as participating with a costumed band, come at a cost.
Good to know: Nassau in The Bahamas tends to have great nightlife and an awesome entertainment scene overall when compared to many other Caribbean islands. Around carnival time, there are many big shows and events you can attend in Nassau, and you’ll be able to enjoy many other things to do in Nassau as well.
You can expect to find vibrant and colorful costumes of all shapes and sizes as part of the spectacle that is the Bahamas Carnival. Depending on the price, costumes can range from simple to more extravagant, many with feathers, beads, and other captivating embellishments. Costumes vary depending on the carnival Mas band, section, and whether they will be worn by men or women as well.
Each Bahamas Carnival band typically has its own theme for the year as well as a number of costumed sections that potential revelers can choose from. Often, the first look at carnival costumes is presented via a band launch party. Most bands have their own costume launch parties, and after the band’s presentation for the year is officially launched, costumes are usually advertised on websites and social media.
When selecting costumes for Bahamas Carnival, one might find themselves going through quite a few bands to find the one that suits them best in terms of price and style. It is well worth taking your time to find the right costume as the event only comes around once a year!
All you’ll need to do to participate in the Bahamas Carnival as a spectator is to make the decision to do so! After that, the rest tends to flow easily enough. If you want to actually experience what it’s like to ‘touch the road’ as a reveler in the Bahamas Carnival, you’ll first need to find a carnival band that you are interested in.
Information about the carnival bands of The Bahamas is usually easy to find online, and once you find one that suits you, you can contact the Mas organizers directly or just sign up online.
Once that’s done, you’ll then need to select the section that features the costume you are interested in. In some instances, various sections have regular and VIP options that participants can choose from, which offer varied experiences. VIP carnival packages tend to cost more and have more inclusions, such as tickets to some of the best carnival events.
If you want to be part of the carnival fun in The Bahamas but don’t necessarily want to play Mas, you can opt to watch from the sidelines and attend a carnival party or two which will really help get you into the rhythm of things.
To come to a conclusion on how much it costs to participate in the Bahamas Carnival, several things need to be factored in. If you will be flying to the islands of The Bahamas from overseas, things like airfare, resort accommodations, costumes, event tickets, food, and drinks must all be considered.
Generally, if you are a visitor looking to participate, you can expect to spend somewhere in the region of $1,500 - $2,000 USD. This price will vary depending on how many parties you’ll be attending (if any) and whether you’ll be participating with a costumed band.
It goes almost without saying that playing Mas (participating in the carnival) costs more than it would to just watch the festivities from the sidelines. Carnival costumes in The Bahamas can range from $300-$600 USD. Popular fete tickets to events like ‘Music Masters’ and the Cultural Village can cost around $50-$150 USD.
When tallying your costs for Bahamas Carnival, you’ll also need to think about how long you’ll be on the island, and how many people you’ll be traveling with.
Junkanoo is a popular, culturally-oriented festival in The Bahamas that happens twice a year. This is an authentically Bahamian celebration, and just like with a carnival, music, and dancing play an important role. Around Junkanoo time in The Bahamas, you can expect to hear lots of traditional Bahamian music and see traditional costumes, most of which are handmade for the grand street parade.
The main Junkanoo parades are held every year on Boxing Day, and again on New Year’s Day, but other associated cultural activities also happen at various times throughout the year. In the summer, there is typically a Junkanoo Festival where you’ll have the chance to experience Bahamian music, cuisine, and crafts in a fun environment. You may also be delighted by live performances from established Junkanoo groups during this festival.
Did you know?: Junkanoo is named after the West African John Canoe Festival. This event, which began as a masquerade, has an interesting history in The Bahamas that dates back to the 17th century. As history tells it, slaves would participate in this masquerade as a part of their Christmas traditions.
While the main bi-annual event is held in Nassau, smaller-scaled events may also take place on other islands of The Bahamas like Grand Bahama, the Exumas, and the Abacos. Junkanoo is held in other countries too! For example, in Miami and Key West, this celebration is observed in October by people with roots in The Bahamas.
Junkanoo has an interesting history and has been celebrated in different ways over the years. While there are many theories around its roots, most agree that the event started as a holiday tradition of slaves in The Bahamas. This is why the festival is said to have dated back to the 17th century, years before slavery was eventually abolished in The Bahamas in 1807.
Junkanoo, as it exists today, has a lot to do with celebrating freedom. Many Bahamians who participate in this event do so in order to celebrate their roots. There is an awareness of the colonial links for most and a recognition that the way they celebrate today was not possible back then. Overall, Junkanoo celebrations over the years have truly evolved into a more solid and consistent event.
Junkanoo is a very precise event and Junkanoo groups typically choose a different theme for each parade. This theme is often related to Junkanoo traditions as they have been carried out over the years. The events, costumes, music, instruments, and other components of this festival continue to resonate loudly with anyone lucky enough to witness it.
In terms of events, the main activity for Junkanoo is a large road parade held in Downtown Nassau along Bay Street on Boxing Day and New Year’s Day. The parades usually start at odd hours – like 2 a.m. Even with such an early start, the Junkanoo parade usually continues for hours, going on until about 10 a.m.
Much like the Bahamas Carnival, Junkanoo groups each have their own theme for the parade. Some of the groups that usually participate are ‘Valley Boys’, ‘One Family’, ‘The Prodigal Sons’, ‘Roots’, ‘The Music Makers’, and ‘Saxons’. Within each group, there are usually dancers, musicians, and those that show off the larger costume pieces.
The musicians in the group play traditional instruments like goatskin drums, cowbells, horns, and whistles, as well as brass and wood instruments. All of the participants wear beautifully designed costumes. As freeing as Junkanoo is, it is also highly competitive and these groups vie for the ‘Best Junkanoo Group’ title, as well as cash prizes.
Good to know: If you’re not able to make it to the Junkanoo Festival in December or January, it is possible to get a taste of this Bahamian tradition in the summer on select Friday and Saturday nights in Nassau!
Junkanoo costumes are typically handmade by revelers in the weeks and months leading up to the big event. These costumes are usually inspired by the theme of the various Junkanoo bands and range from classic and simple to truly extraordinary.
Often, Junkanoo costumes are made out of cardboard with crepe paper strategically placed in the most intricate manner. Fringe and movement are pluses for the overall look of Junkanoo costumes. Some craftsmen use materials like aluminum rods and contact cement to add structure to a design. While simpler costumes don’t cost much, the more extravagant ones can cost thousands of dollars to put together.
In addition to the typical Junkanoo costumes, you can also expect to see parade floats at the Junkanoo festival. These are usually made out of the same kinds of materials as the costumes and are most commonly pushed or carried through the streets, which adds more vibrancy and excitement to the overall event.
The location you watch the Junkanoo parade from while you’re in The Bahamas will determine the sort of experience you’ll have and also how much you’ll see. Some of the places where you’ll be able to get the best views of the Junkanoo parade include:
Bay Street is where the main events of the Junkanoo Festival get underway in The Bahamas. Bleachers are set up along this street, and they make a great place to take in the festivities. If you choose to view the parade from this vantage point and get there early enough, you’ll be able to find a comfortable seat to take in the spectacle that is Junkanoo. Or, you can get an up-close view by standing on the sidelines of the parade to watch!
If you’d prefer a fancier option, there are a number of restaurants along Bay Street with balconies that offer great views of the Junkanoo Parade. These establishments normally offer tickets to watch the parade at a cost. This can be a very attractive option since there is less of a crowd, and the view of the parade from higher up is truly spectacular. Plus, if you do choose to pay for a balcony ticket and watch from the restaurant, you’ll have quick and easy access to food and drinks when you need them!
If you want to get the best view of the Junkanoo Parade, you’ll need to get to your preferred location early. Early (in Junkanoo spectator terms) is around 12 AM – 1 AM. The festivities usually get underway at 2 AM!
If you’ll be staying at an all-inclusive resort in Nassau, you can make transportation arrangements through your resort to get to a good viewing location and back once the parade is over. Resort staff can also give you tips on the best places to watch!
If you want to participate in Junkanoo, you can also get information from your resort on how best to go about this. The concierge at Sandals resorts in The Bahamas is great at helping guests make arrangements to attend local events!
The price that a visitor to The Bahamas can expect to pay to attend Junkanoo is similar to the cost one would pay to travel to the islands to participate in the Bahamas Carnival. If things like airfare, accommodations, event tickets, food, and drinks are factored in, the cost to attend Junkanoo can be around $1,500 USD. This price varies depending on how involved you want to be in the festivities, how long you’ll be on the island, and how many people will be traveling with you.
If you’re planning to attend Junkanoo or Bahamas Carnival, the best place to stay in The Bahamas would be areas where you’ll have easy access to the parade route and be close to the hottest events. The best place to stay overall is Nassau in New Providence, where there are lots of resorts and other accommodation to choose from.
You can still find other things to do in The Bahamas outside of Nassau. In fact, you can also celebrate the Bahamas Carnival and Junkanoo in Grand Bahama, in the Exumas, and also in the Abacos. If you will be going to Grand Bahama, keep in mind that the main events happen in Freeport. In the Exumas, you’ll be able to stay at an all-inclusive resort in Great Exuma and check out the festival activities in Georgetown. In the Abacos, you’ll need to go to Marsh Harbour to participate in carnival or Junkanoo events.
Picture: Sandals Royal Bahamian is a great place to stay if you want to be close to Junkanoo and Bahamas Carnival parade routes. Have the time of your life at the festival! We’ll be waiting to make the rest of your stay even more spectacular.
Festivals in The Bahamas are always exciting and fun, especially if you choose to stay in Nassau where many of the cultural festivals in The Bahamas are held. You’ll love the color and sparkle of the costumes and the thumping of the music at Junkanoo. Plus, the exuberant camaraderie you’ll find with your fellow Bahamas Carnival enthusiasts will be unlike anything you’ve ever experienced. You’ll laugh, you’ll dance, you’ll rush through the streets of Nassau. Anything is possible at Junkanoo and Bahamas Carnival!
Staying at Sandals all-inclusive resort in Nassau will be as stress-free as the carnival itself and you’ll be near the epicenters for both Bahamas Carnival and Junkanoo. Staff at this resort are usually helpful in pointing out the best festival activities and will happily steer you in the right direction. While enjoying the Bahamian festivities, whether carnival or Junkanoo, you’ll also be able to indulge in quality inclusions like gourmet dining, premium drinks, multiple bars including swim-up bars, luxury accommodation, and everything you’ll need to relax once you’re all partied out!
Expert tip: Want to experience more Caribbean carnivals? Check out our Caribbean Carnival Calendar to see what’s happening on which island and when (includes dates and info for Jamaica Carnival and Spicemas in Grenada!).