It's not hard to see the appeal of carnival in the Caribbean, with its promises of dancing in the streets basked in sunshine, adorning shiny, beautiful costumes, and enjoying the best food and drinks. There are many islands where you can have an authentic carnival experience, including the world-famous carnival country, Trinidad & Tobago. While Trinidad is the ultimate Caribbean carnival hub, there are plenty of other destinations where you can have a unique and fun carnival experience. Curaçao is among the best!
Much like carnivals elsewhere in the Caribbean, Curaçao’s carnival is a huge celebration of culture, music, and color. Carnival in Curaçao typically involves grand parades, catchy beats, lots of traditional elements, and exciting events that highlight the cultural and entertainment scene on this island. If you want to know more about the carnival in Curaçao, read on as we explore some of the key events, traditions, and everything else you need to know!
Curaçao Carnival, also known as Nos Karnaval, is usually held between January and February annually in the weeks leading up to Lent. The entire festival spans a period of around six weeks, during which time various events including parties, shows, competitions, and parades get underway on the island. The exact dates of carnival events in Curaçao vary on an annual basis, but the festival itself is always held at the same time of year.
The Curaçao Carnival 2024 dates have not been announced yet, but the 2024 carnival season is expected to take place from January 6, 2024 to February 24, 2024. The main carnival events in Curaçao will likely take place between February 9 and February 13, with the biggest parade likely falling on February 11.
Knowing the history of celebrations like carnivals can certainly help you to appreciate them a bit more. Carnival on the island of Curaçao dates back to the early 1900s. Venezuelans who visited Curaçao are said to have been the first people to have a celebration of this kind on the island. They held their festivities at a private, exclusive club in the year 1901. Word spread over time of the successes of this event and thus, things caught on quickly.
Carnival would soon reach the streets of Curaçao with the first celebration taking place in 1947. This was said to have been quite a modest occasion, with a simple procession. However, the simplicity would be short-lived. People loved this event and it soon transformed into one with more creativity at the center. Today, you’ll find a far evolved Curaçao carnival where creativity continues to thrive and cultural traditions remain a central focus. In its current form, Nos Karnaval continues to draw hundreds of people from around the globe annually to experience the authentic and extraordinary traditions of this island.
Expert tip: The best time to visit Curaçao is generally between the months of December and mid-April. Not only is carnival held during these months but it is a great time to check out some of the best restaurants in Curaçao and the best beaches in Curaçao.
If you’ll be attending Curaçao Carnival, there are lots of festivities and events that you can take part in. These events take place mainly in Willemstad (the capital) over a period of several weeks. Here are some of the most exciting events at Nos Karnaval that you can look forward to:
The Horse Parade is a unique event that is included on the Curaçao Carnival calendar. This event most often happens in February. It takes place in downtown Willemstad and involves riders on horseback parading through the city. Many people look forward to this event as it is the first parade of the carnival season. Once you see the horses being led through the city with usually costumed riders, then you can be sure that the carnival is around the corner!
There are a few events that one must include in their Curaçao Carnival calendar, and one of these is the Tumba Festival. This event is at the heart of the carnival as it is one that revolves around tumba music. Tumba is a fusion of African, Latin, and Caribbean influences, and it is quite a distinctive sound. In Curaçao, there are competitions between the artists, specifically one where talented musicians vie for the title of Rei di Tumba (Tumba King or Queen). While enjoying Curaçao Carnival, this event is not to be missed if you really want a true taste of the festival.
The Grand Carnival Parade (also known as Gran Marcha) in Curaçao is quite electrifying. This is the main event of the Curaçao Carnival and it is certainly quite the spectacle. Attending Gran Marcha can be fun whether you’re participating in the revelry or just a spectator. Gran Marcha usually starts at around 10 am. During this event, about 25-30 groups showcase their costumes as they parade through the streets. Each band has its own elaborate floats and music trucks that lead the revelers down the parade route.
The adult parade for Curaçao Carnival tends to start at Franklin D. Rooseveltweg and Jan Noorduynweg in the St. Maria neighborhood and end at Brionplein in Otrobanda. There’s also a children’s and teen’s parade that takes place during the carnival season in the lead-up to the main parade. Whether or not you choose to participate in the parades during the carnival in Curaçao, you’ll still be able to watch the festivities. Some of the best places to watch include along the main roads (through Marchena and Habaai). When selecting a spot to watch the parade, it’s a good idea to look for areas that offer paid parking and toilets.
The Grand Farewell Carnival Parade is an exuberant spectacle that often leaves a lasting impression of the vibrant spirit of Curaçao. This event is known as The Marcha di Despedida and it takes place on the eve of Ash Wednesday. The Marcha di Despedida marks the culmination of the carnival season. As this is a wind-down event, people enthusiastically immerse themselves in the festivities, making it a memorable experience for all. There is one final event following the Farewell Parade, the Closing Celebration of Carnival Season, which takes place at the Carnival Festival Center. If you still have some energy left, it’s definitely worth attending to bid farewell to the Carnival season in style!
Much like some of the other Caribbean islands, Curaçao has some major pageants that are part of its carnival celebrations. This includes the Election Teen Carnival King & Queen event, the Election Carnival Queen, Prince & Pancho, and the Election Youth Carnival Queen, Prince & Pancho. These pageants usually take place in the month of January at the Curaçao Festival Center. The winners of these competitions are largely seen as some of the most popular faces for the carnival season. With their win, they are not only publicly crowned but also receive lots of other prizes. The winners of the carnival pageants in Curaçao hold their titles for a year, until the subsequent carnival festivities.
Expert tip: There are many awesome things Curaçao is known for apart from its exciting carnival celebrations. On the more romantic side, Curacao weddings are quite popular. If you stay at Sandals' all-inclusive resorts on this island, you’ll have amazing options for wedding venues and even a free wedding (special conditions apply!).
Carnival can bring with it feelings of pure euphoria, particularly when you really get into the events and traditions that come with the season. Curaçao Carnival boasts numerous authentic traditions, setting it apart from many other carnivals worldwide. These customs contribute to the uniqueness and allure of the celebration and many have been passed down through the generation. All of this adds to the depth and authenticity of the festival.
Among the traditions that highlight the island’s cultural heritage, the jump-ups are undoubtedly a spectacle you won't want to miss. These are street parties that seem to pop up all over the place around carnival time. Some of these will seem spontaneous, but if you keep an ear to the ground you’ll be able to find out what’s happening, and when. Carnival jump-ups in Curaçao and elsewhere are all about revelry, dancing, and enjoying sweet carnival music.
Another one of the popular traditions that come with Curaçao Carnival is the Burning of King Momo. Some people consider this to be quite a euphoric event. This particular element of Curaçao Carnival takes place towards the end of the festivities and symbolically signifies the conclusion of the revelries. Once this happens, then you know it’s time to hang up your costume! The good news is you can look forward to more Curaçao Carnival as this is an annual event.
If you’re planning to participate in Curaçao Carnival or any other carnival event in the islands, it’s essential to come prepared. If you want to join a costumed band, you should do this well in advance of your arrival on the island. The costumes in some bands tend to sell out quickly, so once you’ve spotted something you like (on the internet or elsewhere), then go ahead and make the provisions to reserve it. Most bands will require a down payment for your costume. You’ll need to pay the full price before you can get your costume in hand.
If you won’t be jumping with a band but still want to watch, there are some things to keep in mind as well. Wear light and comfortable clothing, suitable for the warm weather and all the dancing. Whether you decide to join a band or not, don’t forget to pack sunscreen, a hat or sunglasses, some cash for food, drinks, and other expenses, and a water bottle to stay hydrated and ensure you can fully enjoy the festivities! Some carnival bands may provide water bottles and other carnival memorabilia, but it’s always a good idea to check beforehand. Another option is purchasing reusable carnival cups (these help with littering). These cups can be found at various locations on the island, including Sambil, Bugs Bunny Snèk, Dutch Treat Pietermaai, 24 Uur Uit de Muur, and Pompstation Barber.
Expert tip: Carnival is an exciting time to visit Curaçao, but there are lots of amazing things you can get up to on this island no matter what time of year you go. Here are some of the most incredible things to do in Curaçao.
While Curaçao is a stunning and captivating island all year round, one of the most exceptional times to visit is during carnival season. Curaçao Carnival is all about fostering a lively and colorful ambiance, allowing both locals and visitors to immerse themselves in the island’s culture and traditions while creating unforgettable memories.
If you’re not sure where to stay for your carnival adventure, the all-inclusive resorts in Curaçao are best for a touch of luxury and fun. Resorts like Sandals Royal Curaçao have so many quality, couples-centric inclusions guests will love. After all the excitement and fun, returning to this resort for relaxation will feel like a dream come true. So, celebrate, rejuvenate, and cherish the joyful moments during your carnival-included Curaçao getaway!