We’ve all heard the slogan “It’s better in the Bahamas,” and when it comes to annual festivals happening in this welcoming Atlantic Ocean archipelago, there’s a lot of truth to the tourism bureau's tagline. From the legendary Junkanoo to the Andros Crab Festival, Bahamians really know how to party. Here, our five favorites:
1. Junkanoo and Junkanoo Carnival
The Junkanoo parade in Nassau -- yes, the same one you saw James Bond experience in Thunderball -- has been an integral part of the fabric of the Bahamas for centuries. Some say it's been celebrated on Boxing Day and New Year’s Day for over 500 years, while others date it to the 1700s when slaves were given a Christmas holiday and began the tradition of masked, costumed, musical revelry in the streets. These days, it’s a wildly exciting visual feast that begins at 2 a.m. and rolls until 10 a.m., as various clubs -- made up of up to 1,000 members -- don their crepe paper, feather, and cardboard costumes and masks; grab their homemade goatskin drums, cowbells and rake-and-scrape percussion instruments, and dance into the streets. It’s a fabulous spectacle and entices revelers to dance the night away; smaller versions are also held on Bimini, Grand Bahama Island and in the Exumas and the Abacos islands.
The Bahamas Junkanoo Carnival is a spin-off of the original: a music-based festival that has become the hottest happening in the spring. There’s a Music Masters competition that goes for months, with the final rounds beginning on Grand Bahama Island in late April and culminating in Nassau during the first weekend of May at Da Cultural Village, a massive outdoor venue packed with food, crafts booths, and performances happening late into the night. Local bands vie for the winner’s crown, and international superstars like Wyclef Jean take the stage during the Music Masters extravaganza on Friday night. Come Saturday, Road Fever takes over the streets, as costumed dancers and musicians parade for miles, with the party continuing with a final go-all-night concert.
2. All Andros Crab Festival
If the idea of eating crabs cooked 101 different ways whets your appetite, then head to Andros Island in the Bahamas on the second weekend in June, when the Andros Crab Festival goes off. This celebration of large-land crabs fills up Queen’s Park in Fresh Creek (about two miles from Andros Town Airport, which is a quick 15-minute air hop from Nassau) with over 50 colorful food booths and plenty of jubilant musical acts. Taste local dishes like crab soup or crab and dough, learn all about the life cycle of the land crabs, and check out the cooking competition, as Bahamian chefs battle it out for the title of best crab dish. There’s even a crab release, with over 1,000 crabs set loose among the revelers -- just try to catch one without getting pinched.
3. Fox Hill Day Festival
Bahamians celebrate their 1838 emancipation from British slavery with the annual Fox Hill Day Festival: an all-day party that's always held on the second Tuesday of August in the Fox Hill neighborhood of Nassau. Visitors will find that the event begins with church services, and after giving thanks, children “plait the maypole,” with ribbons while men work to climb it for a monetary prize. All along, there’s plenty of local Bahamian foods to taste, music to experience, and -- the thing that makes the Bahamas so special -- everyone dancing in the streets.
4. Eleuthera Pineapple Festival
On the island of Eleuthera, about 50 miles east of Nassau, local Bahamians have celebrated the island’s pineapple industry for nearly 30 years with a lively get-together. The Eleuthera Pineapple Festival happens over the first weekend of June, as farmers bring plenty of the spiky sweet fruit into Gregory Town and join in the merriment. There’s music, pineapple-eating contests, a cycling classic, beauty pageants, and cooking competitions going on during this long-weekend event. Be sure to ask before you bite in, as some of the Bahamian pineapple dishes come spiced with some serious heat.
5. The Bahamas International Film Festival
Since 2004, the Bahamas International Film Festival (BIFF) has been celebrating cinema with a weeklong showcase of movies and short films from around the world. Usually held during the first week of December, the BIFF offers screenings, seminars, educational forums, and parties, all designed to bring the culture of cinema to Nassau and beyond. Hollywood stars flock to the BIFF, including Sean Connery (who has a home in Nassau), Johnny Depp, Anna Faris, Naomie Harris, and many others, who jump at the chance to combine their love of film with a trip to paradise.