The Ultimate Guide to Jamaica Carnival – Bacchanal Jamaica

Jamaica Carnival is the place to go if you want to have the time of your life! It is a high energy, vibrant and colourful celebration. Filled with reggae, calypso and soca music. If you’re planning to attend carnival in the birthplace of Bob Marley and play mas or just planning on being a spectator, this guide has everything you need to know about attending carnival in Jamaica.

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic Jamaica Carnival has been postponed to

October 25th 2020

Days to start

Contents

jamaica carnival

Welcome to Jamrock! Carnival in Jamaica is about one thing… having the time of your life! Jamaica Carnival is the ultimate party. Jamaica Carnival attracts over 100,000 guests and locals to the celebration. Jamaica Carnival is a true expression of the island‚Äôs spirit where people both young and old spend months preparing for the party of the year!

‚Ė∑ What is Carnival in Jamaica?

jamaica carnival

Jamaica is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Caribbean. Famous for its pristine beaches, green jungles, delicious food, friendly locals, laid back vibes and unforgettable music. Many people may be surprised to know that Jamaica also celebrates carnival, known as Bacchanal!

Carnival in Jamaica is relatively new, having only been around two decades. However, it is one of the fastest growing carnivals in the Caribbean, with the costumes and fetes getting bigger and better every year! Jamaica Carnival attracts more than 100,000 people both tourists and locals alike who come out to celebrate. It is now one of the biggest cultural celebrations in Jamaica.

Caribbean carnival is pretty much synonymous with soca music and of course Jamaicans are more known for their love of reggae.

So what is carnival like in the birthplace of reggae music?

Carnival in Jamaica is truly an overriding expression of the Jamaican spirit. Carnival here is all about the people of Jamaica and celebrating the local customs and heritage!

Jamaica hosts an exciting carnival that is similar to the one in Trinidad but with local tastes. A key difference that sets Jamaica Carnival apart from other traditional Caribbean Carnivals like Trinidad is that they occur before the start of Lent. Jamaica Carnival instead takes place at the end of Lent, starting off on Easter Sunday.

The biggest event of Jamaica Carnival is the National Carnival Road March, which is a bright and colourful masquerade parade with competing mas bands. This is one epic parade that can easily compete with Trinidad’s parade! Thousands come together to dance together in the most beautiful and colourful carnival costumes. It is an electric day where the whole island joins together in celebration!

For two months in the lead up to the Jamaica National Carnival Road March there are weekly fun-filled events that occur all over the island. There are beach parties, fetes, J’ouvert, smaller street parades, mas camps, competitions, live music events and weekly soca parties where the locals dance and party the night away.

Carnival in Jamaica is not your average street party! Nothing competes with celebrating carnival on this gorgeous Island nation. This carnival is a bona fide genuine Caribbean fiesta! You don’t want to miss this incredible carnival, where you can spend a week on the beach afterwards to recover!

‚Ė∑ When is Jamaica Carnival?

jamaica carnival kingston

Unlike their neighbours who celebrate carnival in the lead up to Lent. Jamaicans instead celebrate carnival with the arrival of Easter. Although initially the church was resistant to Easter Sunday being when the events began, the outcry has since lessened. The unofficial carnival season however begins in January when lots of parties and events start to take place around the island in the lead up to the big road march.

What date is Jamaica Carnival 2020? And which month is the Jamaica Carnival?

Most of the main events for Jamaica Carnival take place on Easter week. The official 2020 dates for Jamaica Carnival begin on the Thursday 16th April 2020 and end on Monday 20th April 2020. This is when most of the main carnival events take place.

The 2020 Jamaica National Carnival Road March  will take place on April 19th 2020.

‚Ė∑ Where is Jamaica Carnival?

road march

Where is Jamaica Carnival 2020?

While the carnival atmosphere occurs all over the island. Jamaica Carnival occurs mainly in the centres of Kingston, Ocho Rios resort areas and Montego Bay. The four major masquerade bands are based in Kingston and one is based in Ocho Rios. The main road marches take place here as well as special shows featuring international and local musical talent.

Easter weekend in Ocho Rios is legendary with loads of beach fetes and luxurious events that are designed to get you ready for carnival. They even have their own carnival that takes place a week prior to the festivities in Kingston.

‚Ė∑ What is the history of Jamaica Carnival?

Carnival is an important cultural event for Caribbean locals. It is a time to forget about your worries, let loose and be judgement free. People who celebrate carnival in the Caribbean do so with a deep respect and appreciation for the culture of their ancestors. Brought to the many islands in Jamaica in colonial times by the Europeans, it over the years fused together with African traditions.

What are the origins of Jamaica Carnival?

Jamaica Carnival may seem similar to the one that takes place in Trinidad and Tobago, and that’s because the people who founded it were big fans of the annual carnival on the nearby island and modelled Jamaica Carnival after it.

Jamaicans had long been the dominant immigrant tourist group that travelled to Trinidad for their pre-Lenten carnival celebrations. So I was only really a matter of time before they would import this fun filled celebration back to Jamaica and just add a little reggae to the mix.

Bryon Lee, a calypso artist whose soca and calypso songs were big hits at the Trinidad Carnival, would travel every year to the carnival. After their plans to travel to Trinidad Carnival were cancelled two years in a row, first due to Hurricane Gilbert in 1988 and then because of the Jamaican elections in 1989.

They decided to take matters into their own hands and start their very own Carnival in Jamaica, which became an instant hit. For an island famous for its reggae and dancehall music, to embrace soca music and carnival was nothing short of historical!

When did Jamaica start having carnival?

Jamaica Carnival is actually the youngest carnival in the Caribbean and first took place in 1990 and every week since its inception, steel bands along with dancers in colourful costumes hit the streets of Kingston, to celebrate carnival beginning Easter Sunday and ending the following week. The Carnival has continued to grow rapidly and is fast becoming one of the most popular carnivals in the Caribbean.

‚Ė∑¬†How do they celebrate carnival in Jamaica?

jamaica carnival

Well the best way to find out is to come and experience Jamaica Carnival¬†for yourself!¬†Carnival is a worldwide phenomenon but when it hits Jamaica, the fun and energy are taken to a whole new level! Wave goodbye to your inhibitions because you won’t need them at Jamaica Carnival.

Jamaica Carnival is a fusion of incredible food, music, costumes, colour, rum and dance! The main highlight of carnival is the Road March itself that takes place on the Sunday, after Easter Sunday. This is the day when all the Carnival Mas Bands parade through the streets of Kingston in an explosion of colour and energy.

The Carnival Season in Jamaica kicks off with a series of massive fetes which start a couple of months prior to the main event. The main Mas Bands host an open house, so that you are able to go along and see all the beautiful costumes that are going to be worn in the street parade/ road march. So if you see a costume that you love, then all you have to do is purchase on and join in the fun!

Those who love music will be pleased to discover stages set up  where you can watch breathtaking performances from artists from the islands like Barbados and Trinidad. From dancehall to live music there is never a dull moment when Jamaica Carnival is in full swing.

What to expect at Jamaica Carnival?

ou can expect a buzz of feathers, colours and beautiful people wearing beautiful costumes. The streets are all lined with vendors selling the most delicious traditional Jamaican dishes for you to try. There are bands filling up every corner playing anything from traditional Jamaican vibes, to Bob Marley inspired reggae. Everyone has a place to enjoy the music they love. Expect happy faces everywhere, tons of people dancing and just really enjoying themselves.

‚Ė∑ The National Carnival Road March Jamaica, Jump Up Day!

Carnival in Jamaica leads up to and culminates in the Jamaica Carnival Road march which is hosted in the capital city of Kingston. The National Carnival road march sees 5000 revellers partake in the event. All along the parade route are huge crowds of spectators with tents and BBQs out ready to celebrate from the sidelines.

The masquerades are dressed up in the most beautiful, colourful and magnificent costumes lighting up the streets. The costumes are adorned with jewels, feathers, headdresses, wings and come in all colours of the rainbow.

The music pumps out and grows louder as the parade approaches. It is a dance of non-stop music, dancing and rum drinking. The revellers are having the time of their life and the parade is the epitome of people uniting and living in the moment.

This day is all about having fun! Dance, jump up, wave your flag, enjoy yourself! Carnival is the ultimate celebration of happiness and life. And remember what happens on the Road March, stays on the Road March!

‚Ė∑¬†What is playing mas?

When it comes to celebrating carnival in Jamaica you can either just be a spectator and watch the parades, or you can choose to join in and be part of the fun! When you choose to join in it is called playing mas.

For those not familiar with Carnival in the Caribbean if you want to play mas you have to join a masquerade band. It isn’t possible to just show up in a beautiful home-made costume and join the parade. You must select a mas band you want to be part of, wear their costumes and dance through the streets together with your chosen band.

To have the best time at carnival in Jamaica don’t just be a spectator! Absolutely find a mas band that you want to be part of, then sign up and join the party!

‚Ė∑¬†Mas Bands Jamaica Carnival

jamaica carnival

The best way to enjoy carnival in Jamaica is to join in and play mas! There are several carnival bands that each offer their own unique Jamaica carnival experience. Take a look at each band’s website and social media to see what their costumes are and what they offer.

The 2020 Jamaica Carnival Mas Bands are:

‚Ė∑¬†How to choose a Mas Band for Jamaica Carnival?

Well that’s a difficult decision because you have so many good options.  Maybe you will select your band based on their costumes with some groups wearing very sexy costumes, and others being more conservative.

Obviously, money can be a big factor when choosing to play mas and honestly if you are on a tight budget then you probably won’t play mas. But then again it is the ultimate Jamaica Carnival experience.

Each Mas Bands are all inclusive and you will not just get your costumes but also food and drinks, bathrooms, security, medical services, and whatever else you may need for your carnival experience. However some bands have a better offering than others.

The more popular bands sell out early, so reserve as soon as you can.

What are the most popular Mas Bands?

Well the premier Mas Band in Jamaica is Bacchanal Jamaica. Many tourists will choose to play mas with this band. Xaymaca and Xodus are both young carnival bands that are new on the scene. Honestly though it doesn’t matter which band you pick because you are bound to have the time of your life!

It’s important to note that at Jamaica Carnival each Mas Band takes its own routes through the streets and these routes don’t often overlap. So unless you make an effort to find another band then it’s unlikely that you will see them on the road. So make sure that you and your friends select the same band if you want to play mas together, you don’t have to be in the same section, just the same band.

‚Ė∑¬†Mas Band Costumes Jamaica

Jamaica Carnival is all about costumes and the ones that you will see here are hands-down stunning. They are top-notch Caribbean Carnival Costumes with lots of feathers, bling and bright colours. They are elaborate creations that take months of preparation to create. After you’ve chosen your band you then need to select your costume.

Your options range from full frontline costumes to basic backline costumes. A basic backline costume will often just be a bikini, jewelled headpiece and a few other accessories. You can often upgrade by purchasing a feathered headpiece or backpack.

The full frontline costumes usually include a wire bra, giant headpiece, backpack, arm and leg pieces and all the accessories. The frontline costume wearer leads the mas band and are the more expensive and elaborate costumes.

How much do Jamaican Carnival Costumes cost?

Well costume costs vary based on your chosen mas band, your preferred section and any add-ons you might want to include. At Jamaica Carnival,  Frontline Costumes ranging from $500-$1100USD and Back Line Costumes range from $300-$500USD. Men’s costumes usually cost around $300-600USD. Have your deposit ready and lock down your favourite costume before it sells out.

Yes the prices for costumes are expensive but depending on the band there are other things that are included with the cost of purchasing your costume.

What’s included with your costume?

Including everything associated with the band including DJ’s, speakers, trucks, other masquerades. There is also top shelf alcohol which is unlimited, snacks and meals, mobile restrooms, medical aid and security.

While the majority of people play mas in costume, you can also join a band without it. Each carnival band has a t-shirt mas section. This means that they sell a package that gives you a branded t-shirt and wrist band. This is the least expensive option but you will also get the same unlimited access to food and amenities, just minus the feathery costume.

This is an excellent option for people who can’t imagine being half naked on the streets or don‚Äôt want to go broke to play mas. You can get creative with your costume if you wish, and repurpose your t shirt into something more fun. As long as you have your wristband, you have every right to the road. Joining the t-shirt section of the band. will usually cost around $250USD per person.

‚Ė∑ Jamaica Carnival Fetes

jamaica carnival kingston

Every year, the list of fetes at Jamaica Carnival continues to grow. For months prior to the official start of carnival there are lots of weekly fetes which countdown to the big carnival day. Fetes usually give way to the weeklong partying that occurs during the Easter weekend.

Several Trinidadian fete promoters also host big events in Jamaica including Caesar’s Army, DJ Private Rian and Tribe to name a few. There are several different J’ouvert parties that occur for the different bands. Some of the most popular fetes are the sunrise breakfast party, I love Soca & Afloat and Frenchmen events.

How to fete for Jamaica Carnival?

You have so many choices of fetes¬†to choose from and how many you want to attend and how much you spend is totally your choice!¬†We recommend mixing and matching so you can experience a few different types. Attend both a¬†J‚Äôouvert Fete, an¬†all-inclusive fete, a¬†cooler fete¬†and a live performance one etc. Technically you could attend 3 fetes a day but it’s not recommended because you don‚Äôt want to burn out!

Fetes are going to be the highlight of your carnival experience. Luckily the fetes at Jamaica Carnival are much more affordable than the bigger Caribbean Carnivals. Some bands also have a final fete included with their registration, which means that masquerades can attend at no additional cost to them.

Tickets to fetes can range from around $US50 to $125 depending on which ones you attend. The popular parties sell out very quickly so if you want to attend the best ones you need to purchase your tickets quickly!

Highly Recommended Fete – Soca Instinct

A fete that we highly recommend is Soca Instinct! This fete will take place on Thursday, 16th April. Get your friends together for the wettest, wildest and sexiest all-inclusive fete at Jamaica Carnival! This is a wet fete like no other, featuring cannons, mist machines, inflatables and waterslides. Not only that it features performances from some of the top SOCA artists and DJ’s in the world! Do not miss Soca Instinct!

‚Ė∑ J‚Äôouvert Jamaica Carnival

jamaica carnival

What is J’ouvert?

J‚Äôouvert in English translates to ‚Äėbreak of day‚Äô and symbolises the start of¬†carnival¬†each year.¬†J‚Äôouvert¬†takes place in the early hours of¬†the morning¬†before the sun even rises! I know what you‚Äôre thinking‚Ķ before sunrise! Yes, before sunrise! And yes, it is worth getting out of bed for!

J’ouvert is a large street party that sees revellers take to the streets before the parade to dance and jump alongside music trucks that blast intoxicating soca music. J’ouvert is similar to playing mas as revellers join a J’ouvert band which covers the cost of their t-shirt, breakfast, alcohol, music and paint and powder.

There are no pretty costumes to be seen here. If you do get up and attend J’ouvert a little warning is that you must be prepared to get hit with flour, paint, mud, water and maybe even clay. Thousands of partygoers throw paint and mud at each other and there is nothing you can do to avoid it, just get ready to get down and dirty and join in the fun!

J’ouvert actually originated in Trinidad and Tobago and has since spread across the world to numerous other Caribbean Carnivals.

‚Ė∑ Jamaica Carnival Package

When it comes to Caribbean Carnival it can be a major hassle trying to organise all the details like accommodation, transfers, costumes, fetes etc. Booking a package and having someone else take of everything you need and ensure that you have a seamless carnival experience is a god send! 

As well booking a package is awesome if you are travelling by yourself, worried about personal safety or you want the expert service of having someone who knows your destination a little better. Or it’s a great opportunity to mix with other carnival lovers who are travelling on their own. 

We frequently get emailed asking about recommendations for carnival packages. Or asking about companies and services that have good reputations, ones that we know people have had a good experience with. 

For Jamaica Carnival we can highly recommend booking your carnival package with Expressionz Travels. Based in Jamaica they offer the only Jamaica Carnival Package you will ever need. In this package you get to go on the road with the most exquisite band at carnival Xaymaca International! The package also includes: 

  • Roundtrip Airport Transfers
  • Stay at the Knutsford Court Hotel
  • Breakfast Inclusive, Pool, Gym
  • Xaymaca Backline Costume (Can be Upgraded)
  • 5 Fetes (Tribe Ignite, Scorch, Sunrise Breakfast Party, PM Fete, Xaymaca Beach Lyme)
  • Shared Transport to all Fetes
  • Costume Pick Up & Delivery
  • Local Dunns River Falls Tour & Bob Marley Museum can be added

So we highly recommend this company because they have an excellent reputation. If you want a hassle free trip then we highly recommend you checking out their Jamaica Carnival Package!

‚Ė∑¬†Jamaica Carnival Music

Caribbean Carnival and Soca music fit together like peas and rice! Soca music is generally the soundtrack to every Caribbean Carnival, it’s inescapable. But Jamaica is the birthplace of reggae and dancehall which is why at this carnival you will also hear reggae and dancehall music played along with your favourite soca tunes.

This may be a hard pill to swallow for the die-hard soca fans, but the fusion of soca, calypso, dancehall and reggae music is what makes this carnival so unique! The DJs at Jamaica Carnival do an amazing job and blending these genres together so effortlessly. So before you come to carnival make sure you brush up on all the latest soca tunes for the 2020 season!

‚Ė∑¬†Jamaica Carnival Food

It would be a crime to attend Jamaica Carnival and not indulge in some delicious food! Street vendors line the streets during carnival selling all sorts of delicious delicacies. You must sample all manner of culinary delights from Jerk Chicken to ackee and saltfish, there is loads of delicious food to enjoy during your trip. The drink of choice during carnival is Rum!

‚Ė∑ Jamaica Carnival Tentative Budget

road march

How much is Jamaica Carnival?

Unlike Trinidad Carnival, you don’t have to sell an arm and a leg for this experience, however the word has certainly spread about this beloved Carnival, so it is not as affordable (relatively) as it used to be. But it has become better and better with every passing year!

Unlike Trinidad Carnival you do not have to spend a fortune to experience carnival, here is an estimated weekly budget in $USD for Jamaica Carnival:

  • Accommodation can cost anywhere from $120 to $800 depending on your level of comfort and luxury.
  • Flights can cost around $300 from west coast USA up to $1000 from Europe
  • Fete¬†tickets¬†can depend on how many you attend and how popular the¬†fete is but on average can cost you around $200- $600
  • Costumes can set you back from around $400 to $1000 for women and for men the average price is about $500. You always have the cheaper option of joining the T-shirt section of a¬†mas band¬†which will generally cost around $250.
  • Spending Money: Take about $500 for spending money which includes eating and drinking and see some locals sights. Cost of living in Jamaica is low so you don‚Äôt need a big budget for the week.

‚Ė∑ Is Jamaica Carnival Safe?

road march

Recently Jamaica has had a bad reputation when it comes to crime. There are drug trafficking gangs across the country, and in certain parts violence and gun crime are rife. Unfortunately Tourists aren’t exempt however rest assured that security is one of the highest priorities during carnival however, there is a huge police and security presence.

However, the most common crime is petty theft and robberies. 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.

Each band and event or fete organiser is required to ensure that adequate security measures have been established at their events. Jamaica Carnival is a massive tourist draw so safety and security is a key priority.

‚Ė∑ How to get to Jamaica Carnival?

Jamaica is a major tourist destination and has two major airports.

  • Norman Manley International Airport (KIN) in¬†Kingston.
  • Donald Sangster International Airport (MBJ) in¬†Montego Bay.

Both airports receive a large number of international flights daily. As the majority of carnival celebrations take place in Kingston, the best airport to arrive at is the Normal Manley International Airport. An average flight costs around $350 departing from Miami or Fort Lauderdale USA. To get a quote for a flight click here.

‚Ė∑¬†How to get around at Jamaica Carnival?

There are plenty of Taxi and chauffeur services that are available in Jamaica. The best way to get to and from your events is to hire a private car! This is good because it means you are easily able to get to and from events without worrying and the driver is already familiar with the area. Finding a private driver in Jamaica can be challenging if you have no connections. If you do have connections, arrange a set rate for the duration of your stay.

On Time Taxi and Island Rentals offer chauffeur services that charge by the day, with the price depending on the number of people in your party and the type of vehicle  you order. There are overcharges if you use the services beyond the maximum daily hours. So it can be expensive.

Regular taxi services also work, it is recommended that using the same driver and arranging for drop-offs and pickups in advance so that you are not left stranded.

Another option is to rent a car. You are also able to rent an economy car for about $300 a week and may be a worthwhile option if you are with a group. Of course make sure that you feel comfortable driving in foreign countries, particularly in the Caribbean. Get a quote for a rental car here.

‚Ė∑ Where to stay for Jamaica Carnival?

Where should I stay for the Jamaica Carnival?

As Jamaica is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Caribbean, you have plenty of hotel options to choose from that suit all levels of comfort and budgets. Jamaica is also home to some large international resorts if that is more up your alley.

Due to the numerous visitors during carnival and the high demand for accommodation you must book rooms well in advance. Check out some accommodation deals here.

Kingston

As the main events occur in Kingston that is the most convenient place to stay for carnival. There are plenty of hotels to choose from. The best neighbourhoods are New Kingston, Mona, Manor Park, Constant Spring, Cherry Gardens and Norbrook. There are numerous budget and luxurious hotel options. The lavish Eden Gardens Wellness Resort & Spa and the striking Spanish Court Hotel will offer you all the necessary amenities required for having an unforgettable trip. Or stay at the high-end Courtyard by Marriot Kingston which is located right next to Emancipation Park in New Kingston. Some budget friendly options include Belleh23 Kingston Creative Guesthouse, The Liguanea Club or The Knutsford Court Hotel.

Or check out some accommodation deals for Kingston here.

Ocho Rios

Ocho Rios is the second most popular city in Jamaica and is located about an hour drive away from Kingston. Some options here include the deluxe Jamaica Inn and the fancy Hermosa Cove Villa Resorts and Suites. For those on a budget we recommend taking a look at the Wizzy Apartment, Idilio Rooms and The Lion House Jamaica.

Check out some accommodation deals in Ocho Rios here.

Montego Bay

This is one of the most famous towns in Jamaica. Montego Bay is located on the north of the island and is filled with all types of accommodation. It must be noted though that it takes about three hours to get to Kingston from Montego, so it isn’t the most convenient location for carnival. It is home to some of Jamaica’s best accommodations including the 400-acre Half Moon Resort with the 2 mile private white sand beach. There is also the Hyatt Zilara Rose Hall Resort and the all-inclusive Breathless Montego Bay Resort and Spa.  For cheaper options you can try the Hotel Montego, The Retreat @ A Piece Of Paradise and Mobay Kotch.

Check out some accommodation deals in Montego Bay here.

‚Ė∑ What To Do and See in Jamaica?

jamaica carnival kingston

Jamaica has it all!! Stunning beaches, adventure, unforgettable experiences, a lively nightlife, delicious Jamaican cuisine and loads of friendly people. It’s really up to you if you just want to relax on a beach or if you want to have more adventures and go snorkelling or diving.

For more information about tours, things to do, sightseeing tours, day trips and more click here. For a longer vacation check out Tour Radar for some cool trips.

‚Ė∑ What To Do and see in Jamaica?

Jamaica has it all!! Stunning beaches, adventure, unforgettable experiences, a lively nightlife, delicious Jamaican cuisine and loads of friendly people. It’s really up to you if you just want to relax on a beach or if you want to be more adventurous and go snorkelling or diving.

For more information about tours, things to do, sightseeing tours, day trips and more click here. For a longer vacation check out Tour Radar for some cool trips.

Before you go!

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

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