Aruba Carnival 65
The pre-Lenten over-the-top festival of Carnival is celebrated all over the world (in the U.S., it’s known as Mardi Gras), and here in Aruba, it’s been going strong for 65 years. Aruba’s Carnival has evolved tremendously over the past six and a half decades. Back in the 1950s, Aruban Carnival consisted of a few parades where roughly 120 participants shimmied to the tunes of steel bands playing Trinidadian calypsos and road marches. Today, Aruban Carnival is a two-month-long celebration boasting a packed schedule of Carnival queen elections, tumba and calypso music competitions, jump-ups (street parties), and an array of parades characterized by colorful floats and pumping sound trucks that fuel the thousands of party-hard spectators and paraders decked out in extravagant costumes.
The various parades form the backbone of Aruban Carnival. There are between 15 and 20 Carnival groups each year, with each group choosing its own original theme. Each group is subdivided into various sections, the number depending on the size of the group. Every group has a “massa,” which is always the biggest section, its members’ costumes reflecting the group theme. The bigger groups will have additional specialized sections, with each section representing a unique variation on the theme according to the vision of its own costume designer. It’s within these sections that you’ll find the most awe-inspiring costumes, impressive headpieces, towering shoulder pieces, and massive road pieces. All groups have their own live band with mammoth speakers rolling along on a tractor trailer, and most groups have their own queen and at least one painstakingly decorated float.
A few of the most popular Aruban Carnival events:
Fakkel – January 5, 2019
The Fakkel parade in Oranjestad kicks off the Carnival season with plenty of fanfare and creativity. The beauty of Fakkel is that anyone can join by participating with one of the established Carnival groups, and it’s very inexpensive to do so. Each group chooses its own Fakkel theme (which is different from the theme it uses for all other parades), and anybody participating with that group for Fakkel receives a T-shirt that reflects this theme. There are no bounds to what participants do with their tees—cutting them, twisting them, and embellishing them with lights and rhinestones—to give them their own personal touch.
Jouvert Morning – February 23, 2019
Jouvert Morning kicks off the last week of the Aruban Carnival season. This thrilling street party, also known as the pajama party, is not for the faint of heart as it starts before dawn—at 3 am!— in the oil-town of San Nicolas at the southern tip of the island. It’s an incredible sight to see as several thousand revelers, beer or rum in hand, shuffle behind the island’s most popular bands with their brass sections, drums, blaring speakers, and contagious panache.
Aruba’s Grand Lighting Parade – February 23, 2019
After napping off the effects of Jouvert Morning, revelers get right back into the game and begin preparing for Oranjestad’s Lighting Parade. It’s the first chance for the members of the Carnival groups to show off the fruits of all those frenzied nights of glue-gunning rhinestones and feathers to their glorious costume designs. During this evening parade, the darkness of night serves as the perfect backdrop for the thousands of sparkling lights that participants add to their costumes. Although the parade route is less than four kilometers long, the parade lasts for several hours, with paraders taking all the time in the world to squeeze every last ounce of fun from the supercharged atmosphere.
San Nicolas Lighting Parade – February 28, 2019
Following the Lighting Parade in Oranjestad, the sounds trucks and floats make their way down to Sunrise City in preparation for San Nicolas’ rendition of the Lighting Parade. The vibe is decidedly funkier and looser as paraders and revelers light up the streets of what is considered to be the birthplace of Aruba’s Carnival.
San Nicolas Grand Parade & Aruba’s 65th Grand Parade – March 2 & 3, 2019
The Grand Parades are the final hurrah of the Aruban Carnival season. The first takes place in San Nicolas, and the second in Oranjestad. All the paraders bring their A game to these daytime parades—blisters are ignored, trumpets are shined, and missing rhinestones are replaced in order to deliver spectacular final performances.
Island visitors are highly encouraged to attend the various Carnival celebrations and parades (see full schedule below), which play such an important role in defining Aruba’s culture. It’s the biggest party of the Aruban year, and you simply can’t miss it!
Aruban Carnival 2019 Schedule
Jan 5: Torch Parade – Oranjestad – 8 pm – 2 am
Jan 12: Prins & Pancho Elections – Harbour Arena, Oranjestad – 7 pm – 12 am
Jan 19: Children & Youth Queen Elections – Harbour Aruba, Oranjestad – 7 pm – 12 am
Jan 24: Carnival Queen & Mrs. Carnival Election – Harbour Arena, Oranjestad – 7 pm – 12 am
Jan 26: Tumberito Festival – Harbour Arena, Oranjestad – 6 pm – 12 am
Jan 27: Balloon Parade – San Nicolas – 1 pm – 6 pm
Feb 1: Sunset Parade – Noord – 8 pm – 2 am
Feb 2: Grand Tumba Contest – Harbour Arena, Oranjestad – 8 pm – 2 am
Feb 3: Kids & Youth Calypso & Road March Contest – Carnival Village, San Nicolas – 6 pm – 12 am
Feb 4, 5, 6 & 7: Pre-Final Caiso & Soca Monarch – Carnival Village, San Nicolas – 7 pm
Feb 9: Grand Final Caiso & Soca Monarch – Carnival Village, San Nicolas – 7 pm – 3 am
Feb 17: Grand Children Parade – Oranjestad – 1 pm – 6 pm
Feb 23: Jouvert Morning – San Nicolas – 3 am – 8 am
Feb 23: Aruba’s Grand Lighting Parade – Oranjestad – 8 pm – 2 am
Feb 24: Grand Children’s Parade – San Nicolas – 1 pm – 6 pm
Feb 28: San Nicolas Lighting Parade – San Nicolas – 8 pm – 2 am
March 1: Hebe Hebe – Parking Lot Post Office in Oranjestad – 8 pm – 1 am
March 2: San Nicolas Grand Parade – San Nicolas – 10 am – 7 pm
March 3: Aruba’s 65th Grand Parade – Oranjestad – 10 am – 7 pm
March 3: Burning of King Momo – Harbour Arena, Oranjestad – 8 pm