With less than a month to go, the countdown to Antigua Carnival 2014 has begun - and the sweeping wave of island-wide anticipation is palpable. With its famous 365 palm-scattered beaches, Antigua offers a truly resplendent setting in which to experience the ultimate Caribbean party that sees a dazzling rainbow array of streamers, sequins, feathers, explosive confetti, glittery garlands, ticker tape, coloured beads and pompoms garnish every street. Irrepressible Caribbean rhythms pulsate throughout every community on the island, from the towers of stack speakers and boom boxes in Antigua's rural towns and villages to the main event - Antigua Carnival in capital city St John's - with crowd-stopping processions, pounding drums, ritzy outfits, world-class live bands and an incredible array of free summer events.
This year, dubbed "the Caribbean’s Greatest Summer Festival" the 57th Antiguan Carnival is poised to dominate the island with its feel-good magical revelry from 26th July to 5th August. Unashamedly over-stated, Antigua Carnival 2014 will be a 10-day extravaganza of stunning pageants, up-tempo music, vibrant colours and fascinating Caribbean culture.
Antigua's carnival officially kicks off with an opening parade through the buzzing city of St. John's. To the sound of blaring horns, the musicians and troupes hit the streets on heavily decorated, elaborate floats. Onlookers claim the prime roadside viewing spots along the parade route at breakfast time, thought the processions don't begin until 3:00pm. After creating a frenzy along Parliament Drive, the parade turns onto Queen Elizabeth Highway to continue the party. After spreading feverish excitement along Independence Drive, it heads left onto Redcliffe Street and onto Thames Street and High Street before looping back onto Independence Drive. To rapturous applause, the processions enter into Carnival City - the anointed "Kingdom of Fun" at the Antigua Recreation Ground, where all the shenanigans are centred.
Expect cutesy costumes and dancing during the popular Children's Carnival parade, from Disney princesses and pirates to fairytale characters. Mock coronation ceremonies, conducted with considerable aplomb, crown the Carnival King and Queen. Jazz, reggae and many other Afro-Caribbean musical genres woo the crowds during Carnival, as well as Calypso, the much-loved traditional favourite. With its roots in slavery, when poems woven to drum beats were used to communicate, Calypso competitions have long been a highlight of the Antigua Carnival, attracting entries from fine homespun steal drum maestros. This infectious percussive musical style has been an important part of Carnival celebrations for generations. Today, Antigua's steel bands are joined by the island's finest Soca stars, who add in the slower beats from American Soul, now an integral part of Carnival.
For another pace entirely, check out Antigua Carnival's most raucous musical happening J'ouvert, a byword for hedonistic merriment and revelry. In the wee small hours, usually around 4am, the streets of St John's begin filling with people keen to "jam" with the wildest early-bird musicians along the parade route. Much beer and rum is consumed and it is customary for partygoers to daub their bodies with blue and brown paint amidst the melodic melee. Expect tooting brass and ambient steel-pan choruses followed by legions of swaying dancers. The jamming continues for hours and hours and hours - so as well as a truly outlandish multi-coloured costume, lots of stamina is definitely required!
Don't miss Antigua Carnival 2014 - fly in to St. John's for the Carnival launch on 26th July, ahead of the J’Ouvert on 4th August with street parades taking place from the early morning and culminating on August 5th.
Header image: Showstopping costumes and parades © Antigua & Barbuda Tourism Authority
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About the author: SarahWoodsSarah Woods
Award-winning travel writer, author & broadcaster Sarah Woods has lived, worked and travelled in The Caribbean since 1995. She has visited resort towns, villages and lesser-known islands where she has learned to cook run-down, sampled bush rum, traded coconuts, studied traditional medicine, climbed volcanoes and ridden horses in the sea. Sarah is currently working on a travel documentary about the history of Caribbean cruises.