The Ultimate Guide to Guadeloupe Carnival

The Guadeloupe Carnival is a two-month carnival celebration that occurs before Lent. It is a colourful spectacle full of parades, costumes and tradition.

Wednesday 1st January 2020

Wednesday 26th February 2020

Days to start

What is Guadeloupe Carnival?

guadeloupe carnival

Guadeloupe Carnival is an incredibly rich carnival celebration that embraces centuries worth of tradition and heritage. Guadeloupe Carnival is a crazy season of celebrating that is filled with music, dance, costumes, decorations, food, drink, parades, parties and sharing beignets a delicious French donut.

The Guadeloupe Carnival is one of the most important festivals on the island. This event is not just popular with locals but also attracts lots of tourists to this gorgeous Caribbean island to celebrate carnival.

When is Carnival in Guadeloupe?

guadeloupe carnival

Guadeloupe Carnival festivities are loosely tied to the Christian Lent celebrations and start each year in early winter and officially ends on Ash Wednesday which is the official start of Lent.

What is the date of the Guadeloupe Carnival?

The 2020 Guadeloupe Carnival dates are it officially begins on the 1st January and ends on Ash Wednesday the 26th February 2020.

Where is Guadeloupe?

Guadeloupe is a gorgeous Caribbean island with year-round sun, pristine beaches and where a laid-back vibe fuses with French suaveness. Guadeloupe is a French island in the Antilles archipelago of the Caribbean.

It comprises of five main islands located in the Caribbean Sea in between Antigua and Dominica. The capital is Basse Terre where most of the carnival activities occur.

History of Guadeloupe Carnival?

guadeloupe carnival

The origins of Guadeloupean carnival began back when the early European settlers introduced carnival to the island back in the 17th century. The original carnival celebrations were private parties and masquerade balls that were held before the onset of Lent.

These early carnival celebrations did not allow for slaves and in fact the slaves were not even allowed to assemble together, a law that was in place in 1685 by the French King.

When slavery was abolished in 1848 the freed people seized this celebration and began to organise their own carnival celebrations called Negro Balls or bals Nègres, these carnival celebrations grew so large and eventually spilled onto the streets becoming public carnival celebrations.

The carnival evolved and began to embrace more Caribbean culture and become uniquely Guadeloupean with some minor European traditions.

How is the Guadeloupean Carnival celebrated?

guadeloupe carnival

Today the Guadeloupean carnival is celebrated through many different events. There are song and dance contests, costumed parades, street parties, the popular crowning of the queen, live music performances and lots of feasting and drinking!

However, it is the three parades that occur between Shrove Sunday and Ash Wednesday which are the peak of Guadeloupean Carnival and occur on the three biggest days of celebration and jubilation.

Groupes à peau

Guadeloupean Carnival officially begins on the 1st January with a parade called “groupes à peau,” which is all about the participants bringing offerings to the sea. This is a tradition that is about leaving the past year and all its issues behind you and attempting for better luck in the new year.

Guadeloupean carnival groups

guadeloupe carnival

The Guadeloupean carnival groups spend months of hard work planning for the Guadeloupean Carnival parades. The planning that goes into selecting a carnival theme and then creating intricate dance routines, elaborate floats and beautiful colourful carnival costumes is intense.

The Guadeloupean carnival groups compete in the Guadeloupe Carnival Parades for prestige and cash prizes. The groups are judged on who has the best music, the best float, best costumes, best décor and the main prize on who is the overall best Guadeloupean Carnival Group.

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Dimanche Gras – Fat Sunday

Dimanche Gras is a parade that is held on Shrove Sunday in Guadeloupe’s largest city, Pointe-à-Pitre. The Dimanche Gras features a large procession with over fifty different carnival groups from all over the island performing in the parade.

More than 100,000 people come out to witness this parade. It is a majestic parade with incredibly colourful costumes and perfectly orchestrated dance routines and music. The parade starts in the afternoon and runs till late evening.

The streets are full of excited revellers who don masks and costumes themselves and roam around with lots of festive spirit. This parade is when the Carnival Queen and Vaval makes an appearance.

Lundi Gras – Fat Monday

guadeloupe carnival

On Fat Monday first thing in the morning is a pyjama parade that is held across Guadeloupe in the early morning that unlike the previous parade is a spontaneous procession. Anyone who wants to can participate they are just required to wear their pyjamas, dance and have fun!

Rose Monday also sees two amazing evening parades in Guadeloupe’s capital city Basse-Terre and Saint-François. These are two incredible evening parades that are light parades. Every costume and float has been created to light up the night.

Lundi Gras is also the day of burlesque weddings. Today is when you will see many couples crossdress in each other’s clothing. So, don’t be surprised to see men walking around in dresses.

Mardi Gras – Fat Tuesday

Mardi Gras which is held on Fat Tuesday also known as Shrove Tuesday is the biggest day of partying and celebrations. The biggest parade is held in Guadeloupe’s capital city Basse-Terre. It is also when the famous Red Devils accompany the floats.

What is vaval?

Vaval is the Guadeloupean Carnival King. He is actually a satirical mannequin that generally represents a public figure. He is featured in all the parades. The Carnival Queen is a real woman who is selected from various villages and is always seated beside Vaval in the parades.

Burning the Carnival King

guadeloupe carnival

What makes Guadeloupe carnival super unique is the Ash Wednesday celebrations. On Ash Wednesday the revellers are all dressed up in black and white clothing as a sign of mourning. This is a stark contrast to the previous Guadeloupean Carnival Celebrations which saw an explosion of colour.

All the Guadeloupe Carnival celebrations end on Ash Wednesday after the funeral for Vaval the Guadeloupean Carnival King. Vaval is burnt at the end of the funeral while everybody sings in Creole Vaval ka kité nou” which translates to “Vaval leaves us”, some of the audience pretend to cry and carnival is officially over.

Mid-Lent Thursday

After the Guadeloupean Carnival everything on the island gets pretty calm and quiet until Easter with one exception. There is one day in between called Mid-Lent Thursday which falls halfway between Ash Wednesday and Easter (20 days after the beginning of Lent).

Mid-Lent Thursday is a public holiday in Guadeloupe and allows all the people who have been ‘good for Lent’ to revive the Guadeloupean Carnival Spirit but only for one day and there is little twist as revellers must depict themselves as devils and dress up in red and black costumes.

How to get to Guadeloupe?

guadeloupe carnival

Flying is the best way to reach Guadeloupe. Pointe-a-Pitre International Airport is serviced by many major airlines. It is also possible to reach Guadeloupe by boat from some of the other close by Caribbean islands.

Once you’re on the island there are many ways to get around boat, bus, car, and even domestic flights to the other islands.

Where to stay in Guadeloupe?

Most accommodation are small hotels and guest houses that are locally owned and operated. Whether you want a stunning beach front location nestled amid the palm trees, or a private villa or some ecotourism there are plenty of places to suit all accommodation requirements. Check out some great options and deals here.

What is there to do in Guadeloupe?

There is lots to do and see in Guadeloupe! Guadeloupe is filled with activities and attractions. All of Guadeloupe’s main five islands have gorgeous colonial homes and forts. The markets are bursting with shops, colour and activity.

The islands are blessed with lush tropical forests and waterfalls protected in a national park. You can go butterfly watching. Of course, the beaches in Guadeloupe are pristine white sand beaches with beautiful coral reefs that are perfect for swimming, snorkelling, scuba diving.

For more information about tours, things to do, sightseeing tours, day trips and more click here. If you are lucky enough to have a longer vacation then check out some awesome tours on Tour Radar here. 

Is Guadeloupe safe?

The main tourist areas of Guadeloupe are pretty safe these include the centre of Pointe-à-Pitre, Le Gosier, St. Anne, St. Felix. At night you need to exercise more caution and avoid walking around alone and leaving the main areas.

Do be aware of your belongings because large crowds during carnival mean that some pickpocketing may occur.

So be aware of your valuables at all times or even leave them back at your hotel and only bring some cash with you. Or check out Amazon and invest in one of these travel safety accessories, like a fanny pack hidden under your clothing to store your essentials in. If you have to take your phone out with you, don’t have it on show for long

Before you go!

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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