There’s always a ton of ways to enjoy your time in Jamaica, but some things are worth planning an entire trip around. Festivals are a great reason to gather a group of your friends, book out a set of rooms and fly to Jamaica. Here is a list of festivals to suit different interests, from colonial history buffs to food lovers, music aficionados, partiers and literary fans.
For just over 25 years now, one of the world’s best reggae music festivals takes place at Plantation Cove in St. Ann. Started by reggae icon Tony Rebel, his focus is to promote the best of the Jamaica. This is apparent in the unique tradition of Dancehall artists performing songs with ‘clean’ lyrics under their own names vs. their stage names. This family friendly music festival allows free entry to kids under the age of 12 but restricts those under 18 from entering certain areas like their mini enclosure ‘Herb Curb’ created to offer education about the uses of marijuana in various industries.
Accompong Maroon Festival
The Maroons were a community of runaway slaves who got the British to sign a peace treaty granting them their freedom and autonomy 100 years before slavery was abolished. Once a year this ‘nation within a nation’ has a festival celebrated in Accompong with wares and food for sale, and at the heart of it all is the ritual that celebrates young men becoming true warriors of the tribe. Venture off the beaten track for this important annual festival in the sleepy town of Accompong which comes alive every January. This is a little known festival that gives a real insight into local life with singing, dancing, and storytelling.
Please Note: photography of the warrior ritual isn’t always welcome so be mindful and respectful of the elder’s wishes.
This isn’t one festival but an entire month celebrating the iconic Jamaican music familiar to the world. The main day of celebration is February 6th, the birthday of reggae legend, Bob Marley, with a concert held at the Bob Marley Museum in Kingston. Rastafarian flags colour the streets and the crowds sway to sweet reggae sounds as fans from all over the world flock to Jamaica. Concerts showcase top musical artistes and there are art exhibitions and other celebrations.
The GATFFEST Film Festival originated from the Greater August Town Film Project and was created as an outlet for graduates of the UWI Community Film Project to showcase the films that were produced during the course, or any other films that they would like to produced and would like to enter into the festival. The event screened their work along with that of other local and international independent filmmakers. Since then, the festival has grown significantly, receiving numerous international and local submissions every year serving as a platform for the exposure of film making talents of– directors, producers, casts and crews and features premieres, special events and panel discussions with stakeholders in tourism, academia and the film industry.
Stepping High Ganja Festival
This two day event is the first and longest running in the Caribbean. After over a decade underground with only word of mouth bringing in those interested in the farming and marketing of products derived from the marijuana plant, its status has now changed. With the medicinal marijuana industry growing larger each day and legislation changing regarding personal use, fabrics made of hemp and wider acceptance of the plant this festival is finding its place in the region. Celebrating Rastafarian culture, fashion, music and more associated with the industry it is an amazing experience that takes place every year in Negril.
Tmrw.Tday Culture Festival
One week of seeking the best you through food, yoga, dance and meditation all showcased in the paradise setting of the most scenic spots along Negril’s 7 mile stretch and the cliffs of the West End. Highlights include full day experiences, classes, talks with leaders in the fields of wellness and holistic health as well as organic eating and environmentally friendly practices. This is topped only by unforgettable evenings like a blowout reggae concert on the beach with some of Jamaica’s newest and hottest reggae stars and Dub Caves, where Gabre Selassie takes his famous Dub Club experience from the hills of Kingston to the cliffs of Negril for an evening hosted by music mogul Chris Blackwell at his luxurious hotel, The Caves.
Jamaica Food & Drink Festival
In late October, every foodie in Kingston and some from even farther away buy tickets to the different culinary themed nights in various locations across the capital city. No matter your budget or tastes there is something for everyone, whether it’s the food truck event at a low cover charge with a pay-as-you-nibble arrangement, distinct influenced nights like Asian Fusion or the wine paired gourmet dinner. No matter what, you’re sure to find something to make your mouth water.
St. Ann Kite Festival
The skies over St. Ann are filled with colour at this family friendly festival. Spend the day enjoying the display of kites of all shapes and sizes soaring through the air amidst magnificent colours. A live music concert is on at the day’s end just as the sun goes down in order for the entire family to enjoy it after a day of dancing, competitions , good food and a lot of laughter. As of 2018, the annual kite festival moves to Grizzly’s Plantation, home of Rebel Salute.
Liguanea Art Festival
Meet the best-known names in the Jamaican Art World and get to know some new talent—at what has been hailed JAMAICA’s most anticipated ‘Art Event of the Year.’ Marketed as ‘the art beat of Jamaica, you’ll get to meet artists in photography, painting, ceramics, jewellery, sculpture and more at this festival in Kingston. Meet the best-known names in the Jamaican Art World and get to know some new talent—at what has been hailed Jamaica’s most anticipated ‘Art Event of the Year. www.liguaneaartfestival.com
Carnival in Jamaica
Jamaica’s annual carnival rules the month of March, and a little before as many hit the gym to get that perfect body for their costume. Colourful feathers, sequins and barely there costumes and beautiful make up are only the last day, before that there are parties to attend, songs and dances to learn, drinks to be drunk and soca can be heard everywhere you go. The idea is to have fun and let go with the fervor building towards the all night mud and paint covered festivities of Jouvert and then on to ‘Pretty Mas’ the road march everyone associates most with the party atmosphere of Carnival. The pricey costumes are not a must, most parties are low cost for the entry fee and many not marching line the streets the day of the road march partying along with the revelers.
When: Feb – March
Ocho Rios Jazz Festival
The Annual Jamaica International Ocho Rios Jazz Festival has developed and established itself as a recognized authority for promoting and showcasing distinguished International as well as Jamaican and Caribbean Jazz musicians. The stunning performances from some of the greatest jazz artists in the Caribbean are worth booking your trip to Jamaica as well as your tickets for this event in advance for your holiday, and in such a fabulous setting, the smooth sounds will leave you wanting to stay in Jamaica forever. Note: The closing performance has taken place in Hope Gardens in Kingston, so even if you aren’t in Ocho Rios, it means you can still catch some great performances in the capital city.
When: May –June
Sumfest is a musical sensation taking place in Montego Bay in Jamaica. Coined as ‘The greatest reggae show on Earth’ – we couldn’t agree more, and what a beautiful setting for it to take place. Every evening sensational themed parties lead up to a weekend of music from sun down to sun up with some of the best reggae stars from far and wide, making for a world-class line up. This truly memorable ‘bucket list’ Jamaican experience with its unique energy will transport you along with the crowd as you share this moment.
Calabash International Literary Festival
One of the most respected cultural events in the Jamaican calendar, Calabash rivals the likes of Cheltenham and Bath literary festivals, and is hugely attractive for its spectacular exotic location, held in the fishing village of Treasure Beach. This promises to be a magical experience for culture lovers to indulge in the numerous fantastic talks from novelists to poets, all celebrating the English language and its great masters.
This period showcases many exciting events which showcase the talents of Jamaicans. The float parade and grand gala brought back in 2008 forms the zenith of the celebrations and have helped to strategically revitalize and engender the nostalgic Independence celebrations. Hosted by the JCDC as only one part of their efforts and activities throughout the year to grow our cultural heritage and celebrate our rich past in the performance arts island wide.
When: July – August
Mobay Jerk Festival
This family friendly showcases authentic Jamaican culinary delights within a cultural context, exploring the history of the jerk food methodology from its Taino and Maroon roots and the morphing of the Jamaican dish over the years. Set in an environment of family fun with music and other entertainment elements throughout the event.
Portland Jerk Festival
Originally held in Boston Bay, this annual festival is now held in the Folly Great House at the East Harbour. The aroma of sizzling pork fills the air as both visitors and locals sample lobster, fish, chicken and pork cooked in the traditional way. There is live musical entertainment along with events for children at this three day event usually held
Ocho Rios Seafood Festival
The Ocho Rios Seafood festival, now in its 10th year, will be held on Emancipation Day as part of the Independence celebrations. The festival will feature cooking demonstrations, a cook-off competition, seafood offerings, kiddies village, cultural presentations throughout the day and will end with a stage show in the night. Previous artists have included Shaggy, Chronnix, Tessane Chin and Tarrus Riley.