Antigua Carnival 2015 – a fun and frenzied festival, not for the feint hearted

carnival queen
A carnival queen, parade 2015

The streets are awash with people. The cortège can barely pass in between the spectators. The music is shaking the ground. Street vendors have set up mini bars.

Carnival has been on for more than a week now. There are events every day, with the culmination on the first Monday and Tuesday in August. These days are public holidays for everyone in Antigua.

There is even a cruise ship that has timed its arrival in St. John’s so that the passengers can come and watch carnival for the first time.

The final parade on Tuesday sees the participants or ‘mas bands’ grouping together from 10am for judging – there are winners and prizes. On Monday they met at 3am for J’ouvert meaning ‘daybreak’.

‘Ask a local’ is one of Antigua’s taglines. In this case, be careful who you ask, as the conflicting advice left me baffled.

We arrive into ‘town’ as St John’s is fondly called, at 3pm on Tuesday and the roads are already blocked off. An insider tip tells us to park by Premier Beverages and walk just around the corner. It is a perfect spot. The shady side of the street is full with onlookers.

We only have to wait minutes before the bands and dancers are right in front of us. They file past in their hundreds. From about 4 years old and up, dance troupes, steel bands, calypso bands, horses, buggys, trucks and trailers.

Sounds systems at Antigua carnival
Sound systems at Antigua carnival
Steel band, carnival Antigua
Steel band on a trailer, Antigua carnival 2015

I am quickly shocked by the ‘booty shaking’ from all ages up. Then there is the body image awareness – nobody cares here, big or small, although probably the bigger the better. I have never felt so small and European before.

The flamboyant display of gaudiness and feathers is fun and slightly PG-rated (some churches on the island recommend to their parish that they must not go to carnival). I can actually see why. My husband wants to partake next year …..

When the sun starts to dip in the sky, I realise we have been there for more than 3 hours. “The best mas groups are yet to come!” someone tells me. Sure enough at about 7pm, there is a huge group of revellers in feathers and bikinis – they have their own bar truck mixing drinks to fuel them on and a security team. This is myst mas band.

Finally we duck through the crowds to escape – it is dark and we have watched more than 4 hours of parade, and it is still going on. I am culture shocked but it was fun too. A shower and a good night’s sleep are in order. Take me home to my marshmallow like bed, and perhaps I can avoid dreams cued by revellers and boom boxes. That is to say, when my eardrums stop reverberating and the numbness leaves my brain. Carnival will be back next year ….. bigger and better than ever, they say.

Horseback troupe
Horseback troupe
Wild dancers from Guadeloupe
Wild dancers from neighbouring Guadeloupe
Ladies with attitude on parade in bikinis
Ladies with attitude on parade in bikinis
Rasta man
Rasta man
The dazzling colours of the parade
The dazzling colours of the parade

Maybe see you there next year?


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