For the history of the festival you have to step back in time to 1st August 1834 when slavery was abolished. People immediately celebrated by taking to the streets to celebrate their freedom and express their joy and happiness. Over the years there was a return to this informal celebration until 1957 when the first official Antiguan Carnival was organised. Since then the festival has developed into 10 days of music, dance and revellery, with street marches, jump-ups and formal evening shows – calypso, pan, and Carnival Queen pageants – always around the last week in July the first week in August.
For the visitor to Antigua it is perhaps the best time to visit Antigua to get a real insight into the culture of the country and to understand the sheer joy people still feel at this time of year. As a visitor you will be welcome to join in the spontaneous fun that surrounds you.
The Carnival takes place in the streets of St. John’s, and in Carnival City at the Antigua Recreation Ground (A.R.G) – home of cricket in Antigua. Crowds of thousands of revellers attend the shows every evening. Tickets can be purchased at the ticket office outside the grounds prior to or on the night. Along side Carnival City a festival village is erected, where you can buy locally prepared BBQ chicken, fish and burgers direct from the grill, as well as locally prepared drinks.
On parade days – and nights – you can find yourself a shady spot with a look out over the parades – or don your trainers, and jump up behind one of the many sound systems which pass you by. Don’t wear your best out fit for this –as many of the locals will be spraying water over the crowd to keep people cool. Whatever you do don’t forget your water bottle as Carnival is hot work.
In the run up to Carnival the building excitement is almost tangible, especially in the streets of St Johns. If you go into the city at night you may be lucky enough to pass by a Pan Band (Steel Orchestra) practicing for the carnival. Each of the troupes will be setting up Mas Camp – a base where beautiful, colourful , intricate costumes are prepared and where they troupes start marching from on the first Saturday of Carnival – on their way to Carnival City to officially open Carnival. Carnival Culminates in a massive street party called J’ouvert (meaning day break) on the following first Monday in August. The dancing literally goes on all night and stops mid morning.