Gros Islet Friday Fish Fry // © 2015 Saint Lucia Tourist Board
Feature image (above): Enjoy a performance by Haitian band RAM at the historic Hotel Oloffson. // © 2015 Courtesy Steve Bennett/UncommonCaribbean.com
Parties aren’t hard to come by in the Caribbean. Almost every resort throws at least one weekly beach barbecue with live music, and a party atmosphere can blossom at a pool’s swim-up bar or in the resort’s lobby at any moment.
While adventurous travelers can go off-resort to explore local nightclubs, not all travelers are that bold. Luckily, there are a handful of established off-resort parties that allow vacationers to dip into an authentic Caribbean vibe while still feeling safe and secure.
Gros Islet Friday Fish Fry, Saint Lucia
At some point on a resort vacation, a guest will probably be in the mood to change things up. On Saint Lucia, advise your clients to head out to the Gros Islet Friday Fish Fry, in the fishing village of the same name, to the north of the island.
Guests will meet locals, dine on grilled or steamed seafood at communal tables and listen to either live music or island rhythms blasting from speakers. Things kick off around 8 p.m., and as the evening progresses and the Piton Beer flows, there’s often dancing in the streets.
La Placita in San Juan, Puerto Rico
The residents of San Juan love a good time, and one of their traditions is the open-air block party that goes by the name, “La Placita.” The party is held at the Plaza del Mercado de Santurce every Thursday and Friday, beginning around 5 p.m. (and going on until the wee hours).
The main location for festivities is the plaza in front of the Santurce market, which is surrounded by little bars and restaurants, with lots of food vendors serving up sizzling street food and cool drinks of rum and Coke. Pretty soon a live salsa band starts playing, and the crowd begins dancing. On a whim, it’s easy to move the party indoors to one of the bars or restaurants.
RAM at Hotel Oloffson, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti
A performance by RAM — a Haitian band that derives its name from the initials of its lead male vocalist, Richard A. Morse — is a mind-blowing experience. First, it’s in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, a destination packed with color and promise. Next, the performance is held in the historic Hotel Oloffson, which hosted famous guests such as author Graham Greene and musician Mick Jagger.
RAM is a famous Haitian band celebrated for its social consciousness during Haiti’s darkest years. Every Thursday night, the 15-member band lays down a blistering and hypnotic sound they call “Vodou Rock,” which is powered by drums and huge bamboo horns used in “rara” (traditional festival music) ceremonies. While some Caribbean parties seem sanctioned and overseen by tourist boards, the RAM performance is like traveling without a map — uncharted territory, for sure. As passionate as the crowd became, I felt safe throughout the whole evening.
Rick’s Cafe in Negril, Jamaica
This is one of the granddaddies of Caribbean parties, having drawn revelers for decades. Negril is known for its nightclub scene, and Rick’s Cafe in Negril’s West End is a favored way to kick off the action. Most people arrive in the late afternoon to down a few Red Stripes, score a quick bite and catch the sunset.
Rick’s Cafe has a cliff-top, seaside setting, and it’s a tradition to either dive or jump off the cliff into the ocean. There are several perches at which to do this, with the highest point on the cliff being 35 feet high. There are also local daredevils who climb high to the top of cliffside trees. For tips, they make daring dives into the water. Live reggae provides a soundtrack for the hijinks going down.
Shirley Heights, Antigua
Antigua is well-known for its British heritage and buttoned-up sense of history. But, they do let their hair down on a regular basis at a weekly party at Shirley Heights, a historic lookout point on a hill 490 feet above English Harbor and Falmouth Harbor.
The party is held every Sunday and begins around 4 p.m. Advise clients to get there before sundown, so they can take in the marvelous sea and sunset views; it’s a tradition to try and catch the momentary flash of green as the sun dips out of view below the horizon. Festivities usually begin with live steel drum music and a barbecue spread. As the evening progresses, a reggae band plugs in and then the party really gets started.