19 Aug Celebrating Carnival in Antigua: A Beginner’s Guide
This August I had the opportunity to go to Antigua for Carnival. It wasn’t my first Carnival (I’ve been to Notting Hill Carnival several times) but it was certainly my first Carnival in the Caribbean, where it originates from.
Carnival goes on for ten days in Antigua – it involves drinking and partying non-stop from morning till night. The main event takes place on the Monday and the Tuesday, culminating in The Parade of the Bands, but there are also lots of events leading up to those days. Beauty pageants, live Soca competitions and steel band performances are just some of the things you can expect to experience during this festival. It’s fun, it’s crazy and it’s a great way to experience the culture and spirit of the Caribbean.
What’s awesome about Carnival is that people seem completely comfortable with their bodies. People of all shapes and sizes don revealing outfits – it doesn’t matter whether you’re tall, short, big or small – carnival is about displaying your body with pride. This year it was the 60th anniversary, so the celebrations were bigger than ever before.
We had a behind-the-scenes tour of the Myst Carnival camp, where saw people collecting their costumes the day before the big parade. Costumes can cost up to $1500 and many of them are incredibly elaborate, with colourful feathers and jewels. Some people save up for the entire year just to be able to afford their costume and place in the parade.
The girls and guys in the Myst troupe get two outfits – one for the Monday and one for the Tuesday. They also get amenity packs which includes things like razors, tampons and hangover medicine. Basically anything you would need to prepare for (and survive) Carnival.
As I learnt more and more about Myst I couldn’t help think that this must be a great money making business to be in. Yes it’s seasonal, but the owners have taken this concept to Carnivals all over the world.
The Monday was my favourite day of the event. We set our alarm clocks for 4am so we could go to see the j’ouvert parade, where people were already drinking, dancing and partying to the sound of steel drums. Throw in some paint and a giant hose of water, and the atmosphere was pretty wild. It was cool to see the sun come up in the streets of St. Johns, even if I was still half asleep and longing for my bed.
After a long nap and rest at the hotel, we then went to join the Myst troupe at their rest stop before joining in the evening parade. Alcohol is free flowing from the Carnival floats, so you’re never left thirsty. All you have to do is take along your fluorescent green plastic cup and they’ll fill it up with whatever alcohol you like.
I have to say I felt incredibly overdressed – the girls wear thongs or bikini bottoms, cover themselves with glitter and cut up their tops to make themselves stand out from the crowd. In Antigua it doesn’t matter what you look like and people don’t seem to be as body conscious as they are in the UK, which is refreshing.
The Tuesday parade is when everyone gets dressed up in their colourful, feathered outfits. We were just bystanders on this day, so I spent most of my time capturing photos of the beautiful costumes! It was incredibly hot and humid, so I don’t know how some of them do it marching for all those hours…some of them even do it in heels! Here are some of my favourite costumes of the day:
Disclosure: I was a guest of the Antigua and Barbuda Tourism Authority – all opinions expressed here are my own.