Most islands in the Caribbean identify with carnival being a part of their culture in some way. Saint Lucia has one of the most popular carnival celebrations in this region, making it a great place to start when discussing all things carnival.
In case you’re wondering where Saint Lucia is, this island is south of Martinique and north of Saint Vincent & the Grenadines. When carnival rolls around, residents of neighbouring islands fly in or take a boat to Saint Lucia to be part of the fun, and lots of international visitors join in as well. Saint Lucia is roughly 238 square miles and the capital city of this island is Castries, where the main carnival festivities take place. The main seaport in Saint Lucia is also located in Castries.
Aside from carnival, Saint Lucia is known and loved for its stunning Pitons, the twin mountains that are recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Other wonderful things about this island are its beautiful beaches and waterfalls, amazing diving opportunities, and delectable chocolate. If you travel to Saint Lucia in July, you can have a taste of just about everything, including the carnival!
Saint Lucia Carnival is a cultural celebration that happens on the island on an annual basis. This event first happened in 1947, just after World War II. Like other carnival events around the Caribbean, the carnival in Saint Lucia is inspired by an ancient pagan festival rooted in ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome. If you visit the island during the month of July when the carnival is held you’ll have a chance to attend a host of parties, concerts, boat rides, and other events as well as participate in the grand Carnival Parade.
Saint Lucia’s carnival attracts visitors from all over the world. Some Saint Lucians residing in other countries make a point of returning home for this event. With lots of entertainment, glittery costumes, and opportunities to socialise, let loose, and dance, the carnival on this island appeals to anyone who just wants to have a good time against the backdrop of paradise.
Saint Lucia Carnival was previously held in February/March ahead of Lent. The event’s date was changed for a variety of reasons, but mostly to avoid competing with Trinidad and Tobago's carnival, which is the biggest in the Caribbean. Saint Lucia Carnival continues to grow, and, if you’re on the island during this time, you can expect to hear lots of soca and calypso music, be dazzled by colourful costumes, and parade through the streets with a fun-loving crowd!
Expert Tip: Other than carnival time, the best time to visit Saint Lucia is between the months of December to mid-April, which is considered the peak season for this island. Much like July, peak season is when you can find more activities to do in Saint Lucia and more consistent weather as well.
If you’re planning on being in Saint Lucia around carnival time it might be a little difficult to resist being part of the fun. If you're wondering how you can participate, you can either sign up with a Mas Band (carnival band) or watch the carnival festivities from the sidelines. We’ll start with the band option. There are lots of carnival bands to choose from in Saint Lucia including Just 4 Fun, Red Unlimited, Legends Carnival Band, XUVO Carnival, Fuzion Mas, and more. Prices for costumes vary for the different bands (which we’ll discuss later). It might help to watch some videos or search for reviews on these bands in advance, so you can decide which will be best for you.
Once you've selected a carnival band you can start counting down the days to play Mas. Mas is short for masquerade! You can get the ball rolling by making a down payment on the costume of your choice. Closer to the carnival parade, you’ll be able to pick it up at a designated location. Once you put on your costume on carnival day, you’ll join the rest of the masqueraders on the carnival route. In Saint Lucia, this route is usually from Union to Castries. Stick with your band as that is where you’ll get all your provisions for the day, inclusive of drinks and food.
Another option to participate in Saint Lucia Carnival is simply watching the festivities from the sidelines. This might sound a little mundane, but it absolutely is not. If you find the right spot you can feel like you're part of the carnival celebrations even if you’re just a spectator. Dress for the occasion, particularly the hot weather, and get ready to have some fun! After the parade, you can even plan to go to one of the ‘last lap’ carnival parties!
Costumes for the Saint Lucia Carnival range from colourful and captivating to elaborate and ginormous. These costumes are what you'll wear in your Mas Band on the two days of the carnival parade. Carnival costumes are available in a range of colours and styles, which means you can do some shopping around before selecting the costume and band that you like best. Most costumes include lots of feathers, rhinestones, and other assorted costume gems. The carnival costumes for women tend to be more elaborate than those for men, although there are a few options for men that are more intricate and detailed. Take your time looking around before you decide!
Around carnival time in Saint Lucia, you can expect to hear lots of traditional calypso, as well as high-energy soca music, almost everywhere you go. The local music has African and East Indian influences, particularly in terms of the catchy rhythms. There are specific events you can go to in Saint Lucia if you want to experience more of the local music. These events include the Groovy Soca and Power Soca competitions, as well as the National Calypso Monarch competition.
Carnival in Saint Lucia makes room for regional soca as well. You’ll find music from islands like Saint Vincent, Antigua, Trinidad, Jamaica, and other islands playing at some of the major events. Various artists from these islands regularly come to Saint Lucia to perform during carnival. Other genres like hip hop and dancehall are sometimes played on the island at carnival events but these tend to be in the minority.
There is no short supply of events happening in Saint Lucia during carnival time. This includes the Parade of the Bands and other national events in Castries, as well as community events held in places like Soufriere, Vieux Fort, Gros Islet, and other areas. More festivities and individual events take place in Reduit Beach, Rodney Bay Marina, and Pigeon Island. Carnival events in Saint Lucia tend to span a few weeks to a month ahead of the main celebration.
Pre-carnival parties set the tone for the main carnival celebrations held in Castries. The list of these types of events in Saint Lucia is extensive and continues to grow every year. This list includes club parties, breakfast parties, boat rides, concerts, night Mas events, community carnival activities, and more. Surprisingly enough, even though there are so many parties on the schedule and even some on the same days, many of them are sold out.
Carnival prime-up or pre-carnival events are a fantastic opportunity for visitors who do not plan on participating in the Parade of the Bands to get a taste of carnival. One of the most popular events in Saint Lucia held ahead of carnival is ‘Colour Me Red’. This event has been held on Pigeon Island in Saint Lucia featuring regional acts like Patrice Roberts, Kes, Nadia Batson, and Saint Lucian performers like Ezra, Arthur, and more. If you're headed to a pre-opening festival or event in Saint Lucia, keep in mind that most of these events tend to start later than the ticketed time. For events like ‘Colour Me Red’, you can dress all in red to keep up with the event theme. Some people go all out and create their own outfits or costumes for this and other themed events.
Other than ‘Colour Me Red’, the list of events held ahead of carnival in Saint Lucia includes band parties, concerts, and other celebrations.
J’ouvert is a traditional event that dates back to the early 1830s when slavery was abolished in the Caribbean. This knowledge can really help in understanding where this celebration stems from and what it's all about. J’ouvert is the activity that opens the way for the Parade of the Bands and it is usually held in Castries. The word ‘j’ouvert’ is derived from the French word for daybreak, which is around the time this event begins.
Carnival J'ouvert typically happens on Carnival Monday ahead of the Parade of the Bands. This event involves mud, body paint, powder, oil, and lots of dancing. As far as carnival goes, j’ouvert has an identity of its own. Some people participate in only j’ouvert and not the main carnival event. J’ouvert is also cheaper than carnival. A j’ouvert band package will typically just consist of a t-shirt and that will be all you’ll need for a few hours of excitement.
For many people, j’ouvert is just one of the many activities they participate in on the first day of carnival. This can mean very little sleep so keep that in mind if you’re contemplating it! Ahead of j’ouvert, there are usually carnival parties going on. Some carnival parties end in j’ouvert. Once j’ouvert is over, carnival revellers have just enough time to head home, shower, and get dressed for the Parade of the Bands, which usually kicks off around 11 am.
Parade of the Bands is the biggest part of the Saint Lucia Carnival. This two-day event gets underway on Carnival Monday & Tuesday. Carnival Monday is usually a holiday in Saint Lucia and some companies either don't open at all on Tuesday or just operate until mid-day. This is done to give their employees a chance to participate in carnival if they want to. Plus, business tends to be slower during the main days of carnival as most people are either participating, watching, or using the day to get some rest at home.
On Carnival Monday & Tuesday, carnival bands usually meet up at Union, which is about 10 minutes or less from Castries by car. Revellers will meet their bands at specific times and each band will head down the road at their allotted time with gaps in between to differentiate them. While some revellers make it to the starting point on time, others join along the way. If revellers miss the starting time, they can sometimes wind up having to walk (or dance!) through the various bands to find their own.
Day 1 of the Parade of the Bands is when costume judging happens. For this reason, revellers will usually show up suited in their full carnival costume, inclusive of headpieces, leg bands, armbands, etc. The bands are rated by a panel of judges at a set point on the route and the best band receives the Band of the Year award. On day 2, costumes tend to be less official and some revellers opt to wear their own ‘Tuesday Wear’ creations. Revellers can still be identified by their wristbands. If you want to be part of the Parade of the Bands in Saint Lucia, you’ll need to sign up with a band to ‘play Mas’. If you don’t, you can simply watch the parade from a location of your choice in Castries.
Image credit: Angela N Perryman/Shutterstock.com
Good to know: Carnival is one of the things Saint Lucia is known for but there are many other things that stand out about this island. This includes the island’s intriguing British and French history, the Sulphur Springs in Soufriere, which is the world’s only drive-in volcano, and the Pigeon Island National Landmark with its war-torn history.
Saint Lucia Carnival is a major celebration in Saint Lucia. Apart from the Parade of the Bands, there are many events happening on the island around this time. This includes fetes organised by private companies and individuals. Fetes start happening weeks ahead of carnival and extend well beyond. Local entertainers and DJs take to the stage at these events and many parties feature regional and international acts as well. Most events are soca-oriented, though as time progresses, more mainstream music continues to make its way into Saint Lucia Carnival.
Aside from the parties, the national Soca and Calypso Competitions are also well-attended events. These competitions see Saint Lucian talent going head-to-head to see who can secure the top spot with their music. Other national carnival events include Panorama, the National Carnival Queen Show (beauty pageant), and King & Queen of the Band events. The King & Queen of the Bands event usually showcases the large and elaborate costumes that are representative of the major carnival band themes.
Boat rides and beach parties are also very popular during the carnival season. If you want to get the full carnival experience then definitely try to go on at least one soca boat ride. This can serve a dual purpose as you’ll also get to see the island's coastal beauty, often at a fraction of what you’d pay for a catamaran cruise in Saint Lucia. You may also be able to experience some of the best food & drinks in Saint Lucia at some of these events!
Good to know: Some of the popular fetes in Saint Lucia during carnival include Aura (about £22 GBP), which is held on Pigeon Island, Mess (about £20 GBP) in Cap Estate, and Sa Ka Fete (about £60 GBP) in Castries. You’ll need to get fete tickets early (usually available online) as they can sell out fast. More fetes are added to the list every year!
It will cost a lot less to take in the carnival festivities as a spectator than it will to ‘jump’ with a Mas Band. As a spectator, you can have a front-row seat to the action without having to walk the whole route. Some people who go to Saint Lucia during carnival time find that it is enough to just watch the parade and attend a few parties. The cost of carnival parties can range from £20 to £100 GBP. Some all-inclusive events can cost £160 GBP and upward. Typically these events would include drinks, food, and a wide selection of entertainers.
If you’ll be watching carnival only, you won't need to pay for access. All you’ll need to do is find a good spot to watch the celebrations. You can bring a small amount of cash with you if you plan on getting drinks and food, or you can bring your own. Some people stock coolers and head to the roadside to watch the carnival parade.
Overall, as a carnival spectator, the biggest cost you’ll need to think about is your flight. Round trip fares from the UK start from £850 GBP. Your accommodation will influence your carnival costs as well. Decide on your budget from early on so you can find the type of accommodation that is just right for you. All-inclusive resorts like Sandals Regency La Toc can be a good idea for carnival as all your costs are handled upfront. You can party the days away knowing all you really have to think about is letting loose and having a good time. Plus, it can feel amazing after a day of dancing through the streets to relax in all-inclusive bliss.
Carnival is the ultimate street party! In Saint Lucia, one of the first things you’ll need to decide is whether or not you’ll be participating as a masquerader in the Parade of the Bands. If you decide to do so, you can expect to spend anywhere from £350 to £1200 GBP for a costume. Women’s costumes tend to be on the higher end in terms of price, while men can usually get a costume anywhere from £400 - £550 GBP. Carnival costumes for women tend to be more intricate hence the higher price point. If you want to participate with a Mas Band in Saint Lucia, a costume is a must.
Styles vary with carnival costumes within the different Mas bands and even in sections of the same band. Some costumes are simpler than others, but most include glitter, feathers, jewels, and bright colours. Typically, the more complicated the costume, the more you can expect to pay for it. Usually, bands have frontline or VIP sections that cost more. The added cost for VIPs will generally come with more benefits. Sometimes VIP for carnival means more party tickets, a wider selection of food and drinks, boat rides, and other exclusive conveniences and services while you’re parading down the streets.
Overall, the cost you’ll pay to participate in carnival as a masquerader can be calculated by adding the cost of your flight, accommodation, fete tickets, the cost of your costume, and other incidentals. The price can vary but there are ways to keep your cost down including carefully selecting the right band for your budget, booking your flight and accommodation early, and being selective about which parties you go to as there are a ton to choose from!
The best way to get to Saint Lucia is by plane. There are two airports on this island, one in the north and the other in the south. If you’ll be heading to Saint Lucia from the United Kingdom, you’ll more than likely arrive via the Hewanorra International Airport (UVF) in Vieux Fort. It takes roughly 9 hours to get from London to Saint Lucia by way of this airport. The Hewanorra International Airport is about 1 hour away from Castries, the capital.
Other than Castries, there are other popular areas you'll want to check out, especially if you're wondering where to stay in Saint Lucia. These include Rodney Bay, Pigeon Island and Gros Islet. All of these places are located in the north of the island, which is the best place to stay if you’ll be in Saint Lucia for a carnival. Most of the major carnival fetes and parades take place in the north and there are some pretty amazing resorts in this area as well.
In terms of how to get around in Saint Lucia, you'll have the options of taking a cab, renting a car, or taking the bus. A car rental in Saint Lucia will cost around £350 GBP per week. This can vary depending on the car rental company and the type of car you want to rent. It can be convenient to get a car, but if you stay at an all-inclusive resort like Sandals Grande Saint Lucian or Sandals Halcyon Beach, you may not need one. You can book tours through these resorts that include pick up and drop off. You’ll also be able to arrange transportation to get to the carnival parade easily as well. In fact, the carnival parade passes right in front of Sandals Halcyon Beach resort in Saint Lucia on both days!
Good to know: If you’ll be going to a few carnival parties in Saint Lucia, renting a car can be the more convenient option as you’ll be able to get from place to place with ease. If you plan on drinking, a cab might be the better option.
We hope the above information helps you get a head start on your Saint Lucia carnival planning! This island is definitely one of the best places to experience carnival, whether it's your first time or you’ve walked these carnival streets before. For the best carnival experience in Saint Lucia, it makes sense to do your research and get ready for a truly liberating and exhilarating event.
When planning a Saint Lucia Carnival getaway, it is important to decide early on where to stay. Look in the direction of the resorts in Castries because these will best position you for the carnival action. Sandals all-inclusive resorts are perfect for couples who want to be part of the fun! Not only will you be able to make your way easily to the various events from any Sandals Resorts property in Saint Lucia, but you can also return to luxury and complete relaxation when the festivities come to a close. A trip to the Sandals Resorts Red Lane Spa might be in order after a day filled with excitement along the Saint Lucia Carnival route!
Expert tip: Staff at all-inclusive resorts in Saint Lucia are usually willing to share carnival tips if you ask. This can help you navigate the newness of this experience and have a blast! Staff can also help you plan other activities and excursions on the island.