A Guide to Aruba Carnival – Carnival in the Happiest Island on Earth

Carnival in Aruba is the most anticipated event of the year! It is a whole month of celebrating with parades, parties and live music. You haven’t lived until you have experienced the Aruba Carnival spirit!

1st January 2020

25th February 2020

Days to start

What is carnival in Aruba?

aruba carnival

Carnival in Aruba is one big tropical Caribbean party. Carnival in Aruba is a month-long pre-Lenten celebration that is the most anticipated event of the year. Carnival in Aruba is all about tradition and the community coming together and celebrating life. Everyone celebrates carnival, people of all ages coming together to have fun and party.

What is carnival? Unless you experience the excitement of carnival in Aruba you haven’t lived! Carnival spirit takes over the whole island, spirit that rivals that passion only seen in a world cup!

When is Aruba Carnival?

The 2020 Aruba Carnival dates officially begin on the 1st January and finish on the 25th February, 2020. It is however the week prior to Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent when the main carnival events occur. The Grand Parade is held on Shrove Sunday which is the 23rd February, 2020.

Where is Aruba located?

Aruba is located in the Southern Caribbean Sea. It is only a few kilometres off the coast of Venezuela. It belongs to the Lesser Antilles which are a group of islands that extend in an arc from Puerto Rico to South America.

How do they celebrate carnival in Aruba?

aruba carnival

Aruba has been named the happiest island in the world and if you come during carnival you’ll easily understand why. The entire island is filled with catchy music, colourful costumes, lively street parties, parades and plenty of merry making. Aruba’s Carnival is one that continually stands out in the Caribbean.

Aruba’s Carnival is a unique one of a kind experience. It is a vibrant and colourful party where you’re not just a spectator but also part of the celebrations. In the lead up to the Grand Parade there are weeks of musical competitions and Carnival Queen Contests.

The Aruba carnival season is weeks of celebration with pageants, parades, coronations, street parties which are called jump ups, live music, music competitions, J’ouvert, children’s carnival and parties which all culminates in the Grand Parade.

What is the history of carnival in Aruba?

aruba carnival

The origins of carnival in Aruba started in 1954 and was originally just a small series of street festivals. Aruba’s oldest social club the Tivoli Club was the first to have pre-Lenten celebrations which they first threw back in 1944 to commemorate the allied victory of WW2. Shortly after several steel and brass bands began to feature in small parades.

Prior to 1900 many Dutch Colonists held pre-Lenten celebrations privately in their homes. But it wasn’t really something that kicked off until many Trinidadian immigrants came to Aruba in the 1940s to work in Aruba’s oil refinery.

By 1955 the first Carnival Queen had been elected and by 1957 the first Grand Parade was organised. The carnival continued to grow in popularity over the decades and more official events were added to it like the Lighting Parade in 1981.

Steel bands were introduced to Aruba by Trinidadian immigrants who worked in the oil refinery. Unhappy with the lack of entertainment on the island they began to experiment with this music and created the first ever steel band called the Aruba All Star Boys. They started to add in elements of samba, rumba and more musical styles.

As their popularity grew more and more musicians joined in and eventually the several steel bands had over forty musicians. This led to the first ever steel band competition, which was held in 1964.

Aruba Carnival Schedule for 2020 – 66th Edition

aruba carnival

For the entire month of January and February, the entire island of Aruba lives and breathes carnival! Here are the dates for some of the key events of the 2020 Aruba Carnival.

  • Legends Festival: Monday Nov 11th 2019, 7-9pm @ Carnival Village San Nicolas
  • Carnival Costume Show AMICE: Friday Nov 29th 2019, 6-9pm @ Oranjestad
  • Torch Parade: Jan 4th 2020, Saturday 8pm – 2am @ Oranjestad
  • Prins & Pancho Elections: Friday Jan 10th 2020, 7pm-2am @ Carnival Village – San Nicolas
  • Children & Youth Calypso & Roadmarch Contest: Saturday Jan 11th 2020, @ Carnival Village – San Nicolas
  • Paradera Queen Elections: Sunday Jan 12th 2020, 6-9pm @ Club Caiquetio – Paradera
  • EPI Queen Elections: Monday Jan 13th 2020, 7-10pm @ Club Caiquetio – Paradera
  • Children & Youth Queen Elections: Jan 17th 7pm-1am @ Carnival Village – San Nicolas
  • Aruba’s 66 Carnival Queen & Mrs. Carnival Elections: Saturday, Jan 18th 2020, 8pm-2am @ Carnival Village – San Nicolas
  • Parada di Blaas San Nicolas: Sunday Jan 19th, 1 -6pm @ San Nicolas
  • Tumberito Festival: Friday Jan 24th, 2020 7pm-12am @ Carnival Village – San Nicolas
  • Pre- Final Caiso & Soca Monarch: Monday Jan 27, 2020 8pm-1am @ Carnival Village – San Nicolas
  • Pre- Final Caiso & Soca Monarch: Tuesday Jan 28th, 2020, 8pm-1am @ Carnival Village – San Nicolas
  • Pre- Final Caiso & Soca Monarch: Wednesday Jan 29th 2020, 8pm-1am @ Carnival Village – San Nicolas
  • Finals Caiso Monarch: Friday Jan 31st 2020, 8pm-3am @ Carnival Village – San Nicolas
  • Reina di Scola: Saturday Feb 1st 2020, 10:am-1pm @ Club Caiquetio – Paradera
  • Super Saturday Soca Finals: Saturday Feb 1st 2020, 8pm-3am @ Carnival Village – San Nicolas
  • La Ora Loca Jump Up: Wednesday February 5th 2020, 8pm-12am @ Santa Cruz
  • Grand Tumba Contest: Friday February 7th 2020, 8m-2am @ Carnival Village – San Nicolas
  • Children’s Parade Noord: Saturday February 8th 2020, 2pm-6pm @ Noord
  • Unity Flag Fest: Saturday Feb 8th 2020, 8pm – 2am @ Carnival Village – San Nicolas
  • Transfer of Command: Sunday Feb 9th 2020, 10am-11am @ Bestuurskantoor – Oranjestad
  • Grand Children’s Parade San Nicolas: Sunday Feb 9th 2020, 2-6pm @ San Nicolas
  • Sunset Parade: Wednesday February 12th 2020, 6pm-1am @ Noord
  • Welcome to J’ouvert: Friday February 14th 2020, 8pm-2am @ San Nicolas
  • J’ouvert Morning: Saturday Feb 15th 2020, 4-10am @ San Nicolas
  • Lighting Parade: Saturday Feb 15th 2020, 8pm -1am @ Oranjestad
  • Grand Children’s Parade: Sunday Feb 16th 2020, 2-6m @ Oranjestad
  • Burning of Momito: Sunday February 16th 2020 1-9pm @ APA
  • Jump Up Escolar: Wednesday Feb 19th 2020 1-3pm @ Dakota
  • Jump Up Escolar: Wednesday Feb 19th 2020 8-10pm @ Dakota
  • Parada di Luz: Thursday Feb 20th 2020, 8pm-2am @ San Nicolas
  • Hebbe Hebbe: Friday Feb 21st 2020, 8pm-1am @ TBA
  • Kiwanis Masquerade Ball: Friday 21st 2020, 9:30pm -2:30am @ Renaissance Convention Center
  • San Nicolas Grand Parade: Saturday 22nd February 2020, 11am-6pm @ San Nicolas
  • Aruba’s 66th Grand Parade: Sunday 23rd February 2020, 11am-6pm @ Oranjestad
  • Burn Out Monday (Carnival Monday): Feb 24th 2020, 2pm-6pm @ Baby Beach
  • Old Mask Parade & Burning of Momo: Tuesday Feb 25th 2020, 7pm-12am @ San Nicolas

banner booking carnivals

Apart from the official Aruba Carnival schedule there are lots of unofficial carnival events. Nightclubs, resorts and bars all over the island feature carnival dance groups and bands performances. There are also lots of costume parties to get you ready for the main celebrations.

The Most Popular Aruba Carnival Events

  • Fakkel Optocht or the Torch Parade
  • Grand Lighting Parade
  • Oranjestad
  • Grand Parade San Nicolas
  • Carnival Children’s Parade Noord
  • Pajama Party – J’ouvert Morning
  • Carnival Queen & Mrs. Carnival Elections 
  • Calypso and Soca Monarch
  • Calypso and Road March Contest
  • Grand Tumba Contest
  • Grand Carnival Parade
  • Burning of King Momo

Aruba Carnival Music

aruba carnival

It wouldn’t be Carnival in Aruba if there was no music! All year long the locals wait with anticipation for carnival. For when the catchy calypso and soca tunes dominate the island. Music is a key part of carnival in Aruba! At Aruba Carnival you can find Calypso music Antillean Tumba music, steel bands, reggae, soca, Latin salsa and even a little Dutch oom-pa-pa!

Tumba is a style that is uniquely Aruban! It was brought by the African Slaves and combined with the Dutch Antillean music to create a unique sound that is now a key part of Aruba’s cultural identity. Tumba is written and performed during carnival to serve the same function as calypso.

There are many brass bands that feature in Aruba Carnival that play a unique rhythm called Aruban Asambeho, which combines salsa, marching bands and calypso music. It creates a catchy rhythmic beat that is perfect for dancing in the Aruban Carnival parades.

While steel bands were originally an important part of Aruba carnival, today they are almost a lost art. Only one or two steel bands now exist.

Coronation and Contests

aruba carnival

In addition to all the carnival parades, the Aruban Carnival hosts a range of exciting elections & contests. First there is the Carnival Queen Election and Coronation in which they choose that years’ Carnival Queen. The Carnival Queen is a central figure in carnival. She must lead all the street parades and promote carnival. They also elect a Youth Carnival Queen.

The Prince and Pancho are two other central figures in Aruba’s carnival tradition. The Prince’s main role is to accompany the Queen wherever she appears. Pancho is the personal assistant of the Prince and he is essentially a jester. He must accompany the Prince and tell jokes. This due is chosen for their comedy, personality and audience popularity.

Roach March Contest & Calypso & Soca Monarchy

aruba carnival

There are several music concerts held during Aruba Carnival. There is a Tumba music contest as well as the most popular music contest, the Calypso and Soca Monarchy. This sees several late nights of competitions in the lead up to carnival.

The most important competition is the Road March Contest.  This is where they select original music for the carnival road march theme. The lead singer of the band becomes the island reigning Carnival King.

Aruba Street Parties – Jump Offs

At Aruba Carnival the street parties are called Jump Offs. They are spectacular parades and creative contests held in various districts throughout the month. They often feature brass or steel bands and there is always a lot of consumption of rum. They are lots of fun and open for anyone who wants to join in.

aruba carnival

Fakkel Optocht – Aruba’s Lighting Parade

 Aruba’s Lighting Parade which is held in Oranjestad is one of the highlights of Aruba Carnival. The official opening of Carnival is ignited by a Torch Parade, which is similar to the Olympic torch. It is a twinkling night-time extravaganza, the darkness of night is the perfect backdrop for the thousands of sparkling lights in the parade

The Lighting Parade is a unique parade where people’s costumes and the floats are decorated in gorgeous lights. For miles and miles all you can see is sparkling lights up and down the parade route. The costumes are extravagant and stunning! Tiny lights are sewn into the costumes to create a magical effect and it’s a tribute to how are a tribute to how splendid Aruba Carnival is.

The beauty of the Lightning Parade is that anyone is able to join in and participate by joining up with a carnival group. Each carnival group chooses their own Fakkel theme that is different to the themes in other parades. There are no limits on where the costume can go.

The best place to watch the Lightning Parade is in front of Café Chaos on L.G. Smith Boulevard. That way you have the convenience of the bathrooms and bar, there is also a great ambience. Other good places to see the parade is the Talk of the Town area of L.G. Smith Blvd or along the Vondellaan. Oranjestad pretty much shuts down for the parade, so get downtown early to find a great parking space.

Pajama Party – J’ouvert Morning

The pajama party also known as J’ouvert morning, kicks of the last week of Aruban Carnival Celebrations! This is a thrilling street party that begins after midnight at 3am and lasts until dawn. It takes place on the night prior to Aruba’s Grand Lightening Parade. The streets of San Nicolas fill up with the islands most popular musicians and huge crowds of partygoers dance the night away.

It is an incredible sight to see and definitely worth waking up at 3am for! You will join several thousands other revellers who all have a rum or beer in their hand, shuffle behind the brass bands, drums and blaring speakers.  The partygoers then head back home to try and get a few good hours sleep before they hit the streets again for the Grand Lightening Parade.

Pajama Party – Jouvert Morning Parade Route

jouvert pajama party

Grand Carnival Parade in San Nicolas

The Grand Parades are the last hurrah of Aruban Carnival season. The first is the San Nicolas Grand Carnival Parade and the second is Oranjestad Grand Carnival Parade. The Grand Carnival Parade is truly a joy to experience and see. We definitely recommend bringing some folded chairs to enjoy the live entertainment and thousands of colourful costumes.

San Nicolas Grand Carnival Parade Route 

san nicolas grand carnival

The Grand Carnival Parade in Oranjestad

The highlight of carnival is the Grand Parade which is held in Oranjestad on the Saturday prior to Ash Wednesday. The Grand Parade starts at midday and runs late into the evening. It is the longest parade with the biggest number or participants marching and the largest crowd of spectators.

The parade is a lively and colourful event with thousands of musicians and dancers. The costumes are colourful and covered in sequins and feathers. There are elaborately decorated floats and many live music groups full of drums and brass instruments pumping out the hip shaking tunes. The rum flows freely and everyone in the parade and crowd is having the time of their lives.

Oranjestad Grand Carnival Parade Route 

oranjestad grand carnival

Aruba Carnival for Kids

To ensure the tradition of carnival is kept alive for future generations even the kids have their own parades and activities to look forward to during Aruba Carnival. There are Children and Youth Queen Elections, the Children & Youth Calypso & Road march Contest in San Nicolas and in Noord there is the Children’s Parade

The midnight burning of King Momo

Who is King Momo? If you are not from Latin America than maybe you haven’t heard who King Momo is. Momus is an entity from Greek Mythology who is notorious for his mischievous behaviour, criticism and mockery. King Momo represents the spirit of carnival! He symbolises exaggeration, fun, freedom and satire – all the things that carnival embodies.

Just like Brazil, Aruba also has King Momo in Aruba Carnival. However, King Momo is a giant puppet who after the Grand Parade is thrown into a bonfire and burnt at midnight. This officially signals the end of Aruba Carnival for another year and the transition into Lent. Don’t worry though King Momo is resurrected for next year’s carnival.

How to get to Aruba?

aruba carnival

There are over 150 flights to Aruba every week. These flights are mainly from the USA, Canada, The Netherlands, England as well as a few South American countries and other Caribbean islands. The flight from Miami is about 3 hours and from Amsterdam it is about 10.5 hours. There are also numerous cruise ships that arrive weekly on the island. Check out some flight quotes here.

Where to stay in Aruba for Carnival?

Finding accommodation in Aruba is not going to be a problem. The majority of the accommodation is located on a 10-mile stretch of beach located between Palm beach and the capital city of Oranjestad. If you want to stay close to the parade in Oranjestad there is one touristy hotel which is good – The Renaissance Aruba as well as Ocean Suites and Marina Hotel in the main street.

Palm Beach is home to some of the island’s most luxurious resorts including the Marriott, Hilton and Hyatt Regency. These five star hotels may set you back $1000US a night. Of course, there are many cheaper options and hotels for all budgets.

​Check out some great accommodation deals for hotels in Palm Beach here. For accomodation deals in Oranjestad check here.

How to get around Aruba?

Aruba actually has a pretty great bus system that connects all the main beaches of the island. There is no Uber but there are plenty of government regulated taxis so it’s very easy to flag one down. If you like walking, it is possible to walk around, but of course it is hot so wear adequate sun protection. Or get a quote for a rental car here

What to do and see in Aruba?

This tiny little Caribbean Island packs a lot of fun and of course happiness into its 70 square miles. It has year-round perfect weather, and endless streets of beautiful beaches and crystal-clear warm water. You can scuba dive, snorkel explore shipwrecks. There is also an excellent nightlife, shopping, shows and fun things to do. Aruba also has a sprawling desert you can explore by Jeep.

For loads of cool sightseeing tours, day trips, cooking adventures, sailing adventures and so much more check out Viator for all the cool Aruba activities! Or check out Tour Radar for some cool tour itineraries around Aruba and the rest of the Caribbean!

How safe is Aruba?

For the most part, Aruba is considered to be very safe. In fact it’s actually considered one of the safest islands of all the Caribbean islands. Having said that, there is still a bit of petty crime so we suggest when you head out leave your valuables back in your hotel, or check out Amazon and invest in one of these travel safety accessories, like a fanny pack or something that you can hide under your clothes. 

Before you go!

Some countries require a Visa to enter Aruba, others just require a valid passport, for more information about entry requirements please go here.

There are several vaccines recommended for Travellers including Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Typhoid, Yellow Fever and Rabies for more information check here and consult with your doctor.

We can’t stress enough the importance of travel insurance. Being protected on your travels gives you an irreplaceable peace of mind. Don’t learn the hard way about the importance of travel insurance. Never travel without coverage. Get a quote through our recommended insurance provider, World Nomads.

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