While stunning beaches, soft white sand, and warm island breezes may be the main draw of the Bahamas, make no mistake; it’s a nation packed with a vibrant local culture and no shortage of annual festivals. Scattered across the Caribbean nation’s numerous islands, these cultural festivals are plentiful and deeply ingrained within the local heritage. Whether you prefer high adrenaline or rambunctious festivals or more laid-back, artistically inclined ones, the Bahamas has something for you. Read on for 5 Bahamas cultural festivals you can’t miss!
Perhaps the nation’s most well known festival, Junkanoo has had its fair share of time in the spotlight. If the name sounds familiar, it’s probably because it’s been featured worldwide, including in international sensations such as James Bond films and many more. The origins of Junkanoo date back centuries, however its origin story is a subject of hot debate among locals. Debate aside, this historic festival can be characterized as loud, energetic, colorful and lively. The name of the game is creativity at Junkanoo, and performers and onlookers alike are encouraged to wear masks and costumes for the occasion. Thousands of dancers and musicians parade down the downtown streets of Nassau, just a short 9 minute walk from the British Colonial Hilton Nassau, performing extensively rehearsed dances and playing handmade instruments like goatskin drums and cowbells. The parade concludes with prizes for best music, dance and group presentations, culminating around 10 in the morning.
Junkanoo officially takes place twice a year, on Boxing Day and New Year’s Day. The festivities begin shortly after midnight, and go well into the morning. While the main event may be in Nassau, many local versions can be found throughout the numerous Bahamian islands, including Bimini, Grand Bahama Island and the Exumas.
Eleuthra All That Jazz Festival
If you’re passionate about jazz music and warm tropical weather, then the Eleuthera All That Jazz Festival is just right for you. Attracting acclaimed international musicians each year, the festival spans 5 days in the city of George Town, Eleuthera. Taking place at multiple venues across town, one day you may find yourself soaking up the sounds in an outdoor pavilion within the Leon Levy Nature Preserve, while the next you’ll be swaying to be saxophone on the steps of the beloved Haynes Library overlooking the harbour.
The festival takes place each April, and offers a variety of both free and ticketed events, activities and performances. All That Jazz serves as a showcase for Bahamian musicians to play and mingle with one another, and all festival profits directly benefit the Haynes Library, a cultural centerpiece of the city and all the Bahamian islands.
Bahamas International Film Festival
Called BIFF for short, the Bahamas International Film Festival is among the premiere events in the country. Since 2004, actors, filmmakers and industry insiders descend upon Nassau for this annual festival, usually held during the first week of December. Movies and short films from all over the globe are showcased, and beyond the screenings there’s no shortage of things to do, from seminars to educational forums (and parties, of course!).
The festival is frequented by some of Hollywood’s finest, from Sean Connery to Johnny Depp and many more. The festival is put on each year by its non-profit organization, providing the local Bahamian community and tourists alike with international films, bringing movies to the region which may not usually be released on the islands for locals to see.
National Family Island Regatta
Cherished by both locals and visitors, the National Family Island Regatta is a centerpiece among Bahamian cultural traditions. The Regatta unfolds across 5 days during the last full week of April each year, bringing sailors from all over the Bahamian islands to Elizabeth Harbour in the Exumas. One of the oldest regattas in the Bahamas, The National Family Island Regatta celebrates the rich Bahamian tradition of boat building and racing native Bahamian sloops (wooden boats). The event is rich in cultural tradition, as the rules of the regatta stipulate that each boat must be designed, built, owned and sailed in the Bahamas in order to be eligible to compete. The boats themselves must be built in total compliance with building traditions, only using materials that are aligned with the nation’s earliest builders.
For the majority of attendees not taking to the seas, there’s plenty to do ashore as well. From art exhibits to pageants, live music and dancing, and even games and plenty of local food, the regatta is a must-visit when in the Bahamas!
Eleuthera Pineapple Festival
In case you thought you read wrong, yes, the Bahamas does in fact have it’s very own pineapple festival! Started in 1988, the Eleuthera Pineapple Festival pays homage to the tradition of pineapple farming in Eleuthera and the farmers who cultivate this fruit of great importance to the region’s agricultural heritage.
Held each year at the Homecoming Site in Gregory Town, Central Eleuthera, the event is free to attend and plays host to dozens of family friendly and culturally rich activities. All activities are pineapple themed, from pineapple eating contests to pineapple cooking contests and even pineapple themed sports competitions. There’s no lack of entertainment, local culture and cuisine to be found at this free event!