The Ultimate Guide to Jamaica Carnival

2024 Planning Guide 

The History of Jamaica Carnival

Though Jamaica has no traditional ties to carnival, as reported in Travel & Leisure, the University of the West Indies: Mona campus held their own carnival likened to Trinidad’s during the 50s (they are still staged to date). It wasn’t until 1990 that the street procession we know in Kingston emerged spearheaded by late musician Byron Lee of Byron Lee & The Dragonaires. 

Carnival Season & Parade Dates

Unlike Trinidad Carnival, Jamaica’s is a one-day affair held in the streets of the nation’s capital, but the season starts in early April and runs through to the end of May. The 2024 Jump Up Day (Parade of the Bands) will take place on April 7, 2024.

Arrivals & Departures

There are two airports in Jamaica you can fly into: Norman Manley International Airport (KIN) in Kingston and Sangster International Airport (MBJ) on the north coast in Montego Bay. Norman Manley International Airport is the closest to all the festivities, but if you do end up flying to Jamaica through Montego Bay, you’ll need to commute to Kingston. You can arrange a private taxi or take a Knutsford Express bus into town.


Lodging in Jamaica fills up fast during carnival. Most fetes and carnival-related events will be in Kingston near neighborhoods like Liguanea, Barbican, Hope Gardens, New Kingston and along Old Hope Road and Hope Road. You can book a villa or Airbnb in any of the aforementioned, which will place you relatively close to events, grocery stores, restaurants and attractions. 

Our top five options near the parade route are: 

Local Currency

The currency used in Kingston is the Jamaican Dollar (JMD), though the US dollar is accepted (and often preferred) at select businesses. The current conversion can be found here. Most international credit and debit cards are accepted and Interac Flash/contactless payment is available. When purchasing from street vendors, please note that credit and debit machines may not be available.

Getting Around

You can get a taxi easily by calling transport companies like On Time Taxi, Apollo Taxi and others. Drivers tend to ask if you’ll need transportation throughout your trip, so it’s a good way to get someone consistent. You can also ask Airbnb hosts or hotel staff their recommendations for getting around before getting to Jamaica. Uber is also available.

Active Bands 

The active bands for Jamaica Carnival 2023 are:

Can’t Miss Events

Fete staples include parties held by Jamaican and international promoters such as Sunnation, Frenchmen Party, Caesars Army, Lehwego and more that put on events like:

If you’re looking for a full list of events, keep your eyes peeled for Lucy & Vagabond’s annual calendar.

The Road March Experience

You typically meet the bands mid-morning at designated areas. You leave and follow the trucks throughout the streets of Kingston following the route of your respective bands. A favored element of Jamaica’s carnival experience is the mid-route break where bands serve lunch and  revelers can get refreshments, take pictures, rest, get makeup touch ups and more. Jamaica does not have a judging portion of its carnival, but the parade typically concludes after sunset. 

The J’ouvert Experience

Bacchanal Jamaica typically hosts Beach J’ouvert and Bacchanal J’ouvert before the road march, but in recent years there have been a lot of pop up alternative j’ouvert stagings such as Caesar’s Army AM Bush. These events typically happen the Saturday before parade day from 11:00 PM until about 5:00 AM and revelers are equipped with paint or powder

The Soundtrack of Carnival

Jamaica is known to be the nation of dancehall, however during carnival time both popular soca music (usually from Trinidad, given Jamaica Carnival’s history) and dancehall is played during fetes, events and the parade. Soca and dancehall artists (over recent years) have been seen to collaborate to create music specific for Carnival In Jamaica. 

During the road march, artists will perform on the road with their respective bands and dancers come out and perform the popular Jamaican dances for that year, sort of giving it a “passa passa” vibe mixed with carnival culture. 

Beyond Mas

While it’s difficult to balance carnival activities and go sightseeing, it’s definitely worth it to explore the island while you can. Check out places to eat like the ice cream and patties at Devon’s House and Usain Bolt’s restaurant called Tracks & Records. Schedule a spa appointment at Strawberry Hill Spa or make the trek for a fun activity on the north coast in Ocho Rios at Dunn’s River Falls or Mystic Mountain Jamaica Adventure Park, or stay in Kingston to visit the famous Bob Marley Museum or go on one of Kingston Creative’s Artwalk

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