If there’s one event that epitomizes the lively and colorful culture of the Bahamas, it’s Junkanoo Nassau. With costumes, performances, and cuisine, Junkanoo is an event you won’t soon forget.
Junkanoo Nassau, often referred to as the Bahamas Carnival, are celebrations that take place at different points throughout the year. Featuring rich costumes and showcasing crafts, performances, and more, the Bahamas Junkanoo Festival allows travelers to experience the authentic beauty of Bahamian culture.
As is the case with many things in the Bahamas, the exact origins of the Bahamas Carnival are something of a mystery.
One origin story claims that John Canoe, a West African prince who outwitted the English, began celebrating the festival in the 18th Century. Another story claims that the event originated thanks to slavery – African slaves were given three days off of work during the winter holidays, during which they sang and danced.
Similarly, there’s also uncertainty surrounding the origins of the word “Junkanoo.” Some people believe that it comes from “John Canoe,” while others will tell you that it stems from the French word l’inconnu, meaning the unknown (a reference to the masks worn by Junkanoo performers). Finally, some people think that the word comes from the Scottish settlers who referred to the parade as junk enoo, meaning junk enough.
Regardless of how it originated, the Junkanoo Nassau festival as it exists today has been celebrated since the early 1900s.
If you’re in the Bahamas during Junkanoo Nassau today, it’ll feel less like a street festival and more like a grand parade. Colorful troupes of performers march as they play all sorts of music, including traditional calypso, jazz, R&B, and more.
You’ll also see accompanying dances to this music in the form of choreographed routines that troupes spend months preparing. From the merengue to the short step, the diversity of movement and rhythm present is staggering.
While Junkanoo Nassau is certainly an auditory experience, it’s also a visual one. One of the highlights of the Bahamas Carnival is seeing the colorful and elaborate costumes worn by the performers.
The original Junkanoo costumes were simple and featured cloth, face paint, and fringed paper. Early performers also worked leaves, sea sponges, and other natural materials into what they wore.
Today, elements of these origins remain, but the costumes have become much more elaborate. From the bright colors to the plumes of feathers, the performance today serves up a feast for the eyes.
Since it’s a special event, seeing the Junkanoo Nassau festival requires you to coordinate a visit to the country when the Bahamian people are celebrating it. Traditionally, the Bahamas Carnival took place on Boxing Day (the day after Christmas Day) and on the morning of the New Year.
In recent years, celebrations have expanded to other parts of the year as well. Today, Bahamians celebrate the Bahamas Junkanoo Carnival on July 10th, which is their independence day, and on other small holidays throughout the year. These celebrations usually begin early in the morning before the sun has risen.
While locals partake in Bahamas Junkanoo Festival celebrations throughout the country, the grandest festivities take place right in Nassau. Most of the action occurs on Bay Street, which winds its way past the cruise port, Junkanoo Beach, and other Downtown Nassau attractions.
For the most part, you’ll probably stay in one spot during the festival as different troupes of performers make their way by. However, the Bahamas Junkanoo Nassau celebrations encourage onlookers to partake in the fun as well.
Besides dancing along to the music and liveliness of the festival, check with your hotel to see if they can get you into the event itself!
If you’re in the Bahamas at a time when the islands aren’t celebrating Junkanoo Nassau, stop by the Atlantis Marina Village on Paradise Island. On Fridays at 9 pm, you can see a mini version of the festival make its way by the restaurants and shops. While it won’t be as extensive as the actual event, it can give you a taste of the Bahamas Carnival.
Junkanoo Nassau is a lively and colorful event that takes place throughout the year. From Bahamian music and crafts to performances by competing groups, attending the Bahamas Junkanoo Carnival is one of the best ways to immerse yourself in the rich culture of the archipelago.
While the Bahamas Carnival takes place at different locations throughout the country, the largest celebrations are at Bay Street in Nassau. While you’re in the area, stop by Junkanoo Beach (named after the celebration) and nearby attractions like Fins Up Waterpark at Margaritaville.
Nassau is brimming with culture, history, and beautiful sites just waiting to be visited. If you’re looking to learn more about the top destinations, check out our other travel guides and browse our interactive travel map.Explore our Nassau Travel Guides