Junkanoo is a street parade with music, dance, and costumes of mixed African origin in many islands across the English speaking Caribbean every Boxing Day (26 December) and New Year’s Day (1 January).
Imagine that you’re in Nassau, the capital city of the Bahamas. You have set your alarm to wake up at 2:00am so you can shove your way through the rowdy crowds to try to catch a view of the parade that is about to take over the city.
Junkanoo is the biggest celebration that takes place in the Bahamas. It happens to some extent on each of the major islands, but the largest celebration is undoubtedly in downtown *Nassau.
The Bahamas consists of a chain of islands spread out over some 800 kilometres (500 mi) in the Atlantic Ocean, located to the east of Florida in the United States, north of Cuba. The Bahamas, known officially as the Commonwealth of The Bahamas consists of more than 700 islands.
The big Junkanoo parade in Nassau takes place twice a year: Boxing Day (December 26th) and New Years Day (January 1). You should plan to be in downtown Nassau on one of these days if you want to experience the Bahama’s wildest celebration.
One thing that may surprise you about Junkanoo is that the parade on Boxing Day is completely different than the one on New Years Day. Each of the seven Junkanoo groups comes up with an entirely separate theme complete with different costumes, dances, and music for each day.
Influenced by West African drum rhythms, American blues, and Caribbean culture, Junkanoo music incorporates drums, cowbells, brass horns, and whistles. One of the nicknames of the Islands of the Bahamas is “The Islands of Song” and music is an essential part of the fabric of the Bahamian lifestyle—something that’s never as evident as it is during Junkanoo. The music of the Junkanoo Carnival is as lively as the beautiful costumes you’ll see and it will definitely make you want to get up and dance!
The Bahamas are a popular port of call for cruise ships plying the Caribbean. The capital, Nassau, on New Providence Island is one of the world’s busiest cruise ship ports, and is well served by ships that originate from Florida. Freeport on Grand Bahama Island is a growing destination as well.
Mail boats serve almost all populated islands in the Bahamas, and are amongst the cheapest way to reach many areas, though be warned that many passengers find them slow and not very comfortable. They generally run from Nassau to each island once per week, but are notoriously unreliable, and can be delayed for days at a time.
The most comfortable way to see Junkanoo in Nassau is from one of the balconies overlooking Bay Street. A few of the restaurants and bars lining the street stay open during Junkanoo and sell tickets to their balconies with a view of the carnival below.