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Sint Eustatius may be small, but its late July carnival is not. Like many islands, it has a midnight-to-dawn parade that ends with the burning of an effigy -- here charmingly called Prince Stupid -- to rid the island of evil. Given the island only has 3,400 inhabitants, this carnival is almost one-big family reunion.

The mid-July carnival on the island of St Lucia is one of the Caribbean's largest, as seemingly every one of the 170,000 islanders has a vital role to play. The capital Castries shuts down for a week so it can explode in colour, song, dance and non-stop revelry.

In Antigua, the abolition of slavery on 1 August 1834 is the root of this suitably free-spirited bash which reaches its wild peak on the first Tuesday in August. Like other carnivals, music is a key component, but on Antigua there is even more of an emphasis on entertaining the jubilant masses island-wide. Bands of all sizes thread their way around the island visiting villages big and small to party before heading to the capital, St John’s, for the final explosion.

Junkanoo, as the party is called in the Bahamas, has its roots in secret West African societies before slavery. Now a fully-fledged carnival in terms of music, dance, colour and costumes, it kicks off on Boxing Day (26 December) for a short and frenzied swirl of parties and parades that culminate on New Year’s Day (1 January). Personal “floats” worn by one person and weighing up to 90kg vie for prizes and star in parades in the capital, Nassau. There is another flurry in July, mostly because it has already been six months since the last Junkanoo.

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© 2012 Lonely Planet. All rights reserved. The article ‘A Caribbean carnival of carnivals’ was published in partnership with Lonely Planet.

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