Jamaica Carnival Is a Colorful Dream of a Celebration

Jamaica Festivals
by Rulo Luna Ramos Apr 17, 2024

It’s strange to feel like you know both so much and so little about a country. For me, that’s how I’ve always felt about Jamaica. Bob Marley, the Rastafari Movement, ganja, reggae, dancehall, Usain Bolt, the colors of the Jamaican flag… those elements reminded me of the Jamaica I thought I knew. But when I touched down at the airport, seeing the Blue Mountains towering over Kingston Harbour, I realized it wasn’t as familiar as I thought.

As my van drove me from the airport, on the left side of the road, I realized I had lots to discover about the island nation. With each mile we drove, the island’s beauty was unveiled before me. And from what I could see, it looked as inviting and refreshing as a bottle of the country’s beloved Red Stripe beer.

I arrived in Jamaica with the intention of photographing one of the wildest Carnival festivities in the world. But secretly, I also wanted to close the gap between the Jamaica I thought I knew, and the reality of being there. Fortunately, my quest to experience a deeper side of Jamaica paid off, and I ended with so much more than just Carnival photos.

Here’s everything I got to experience during my visit, and why I can’t wait to go back and get to know the island and its culture a little better.

Jamaica Carnival is a colorful, thriving celebration

The Sunday Road March is the main event of Jamaica’s multi-week Carnival season. Thousands of people take the streets of Kingston, Ocho Ríos, and Montego Bay in multi-town events full of music and some of the most vibrant costumes you’ll ever see.

The pictures here are from the Kingston Road March on April 7, 2024.

Streets are full of color and celebrations of culture

Street art is strong in Jamaica, with various murals celebrating Jamaica’s culture everywhere from the Kingston Harbour to the back alleys of Ocho Ríos. Most of the murals portrayed here are from Water Lane in Kingston, produced and maintained with the help of Kingston Creative, a non-profit organization transforming this section of the city into a multidisciplinary arts district.

Celebrating a true Jamaican legend

The Bob Marley Museum is in the musician’s former home in Kingston. The place is a tour de force for every Bob Marley fan, but also for those who appreciate music history in general. A major highlight is Marley’s studio, unaltered from his recording days.

Also worth mentioning is the collection of the musician’s most iconic possessions, like his famous 1976 Land Rover. Photos of Marley himself decorate the walls as a reminder that this legend of a man once occupied the same space you’re standing in.

History lessons at Devon House Heritage Site

The Devon House Mansion is one of Jamaica’s better-known historic landmarks. This palatial, tropical manor was once the property of Jamaica’s first black millionaire, George Stiebel. Now, the manor and its gardens house shops and renowned restaurants.

Jamaica Carnival’s party scene rivals bigger celebrations

The Road March might be Carnival’s main event, but it’s not the only party taking over the streets of Jamaica during this time of the year. Carnival-related events are frequent nearly everywhere on the island, and you could easily party both day and night if you’re up for it.

These photos are from two separate events: a nighttime “Tailgate Party” in the heart of Kingston, and a “Breakfast Party” in the outskirts of the city.

A peaceful haven in the middle of the city

An afternoon walk took me to Emancipation Park, a public park built to commemorate the end of slavery in the Caribbean. It had a peaceful atmosphere that contrasted with the Jamaica Carnival activities around town, with families relaxing under big tropical trees and photographers using the beautiful setting as the perfect backgrounds for photo sessions. The park also contains several sculptures of Jamaica’s national heroes, and a monumental sculpture at the entrance, called “Redemption Song.”

An offshore white-sand paradise

A short boat ride from Port Royal in Kingston can take you to one of several white-sand cays. These small islands are an ideal option for enjoying a day of sun and sand near Kingston, since the city itself doesn’t have a proper beach. These photos are from near Maiden Cay during a post-Carnival event. It was lively on land, but I’m told that this small sand island is a much more quiet destination during the rest of the year.

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