Barbados is probably best known for its first-rate beaches, but the tiny isle also holds its own when it comes to the ultimate Caribbean party.
At Crop Over, the island's summer festival, Barbadian culture comes alive for eight weeks in an earnest exhibition of color, calypso, cuisine and costumes. This year, the festival ended Aug. 4, but locals are already anticipating next year's revelries.
Crop Over's roots date back to the nineteenth century when the festival was a celebration for slaves marking the end of the sugar cane crop harvest. Today, Crop Over remembers its past with plantation-era traditions like the Ceremonial Delivery of the Last Canes, but acknowledges its present with soca sing-offs at Cohobblopot and enough fetes to keep any partier pleased.
The event culminates with a fest of feathers on Grand Kadooment -- better known as Mega Monday -- when masqueraders parade the streets in skimpy costumes dancing to soca music, reveling in freedom and unadulterated joy.
If you're looking to fete, frolic and feast like a local during Crop Over, here's what you need to know.
Get filthy at Foreday
The Foreday Morning Jam signals the start of the Crop Over festival's street parades. The event begins around 1:30 a.m. following the Pic-O-De-Crop calypso competition and lasts until the sun comes up. Often likened to Trinidad & Tobago's J'ouvert celebration, Foreday Morning lures late-night revelers into the streets to dance and get dirty as they slather each other in mud, paint and powder marching behind music trucks blaring soca. Paint is pelted, spirits are freed and wildness is welcomed.
Practice "Wukkin Up"
When the Crop Over rhythms hit you, the only natural response is to "wuk up," the Barbadian form of dancing to soca music. To do it, move your hips in a circular motion with someone else moving in front or behind you in the same manner. Barbados born Sean Michael Field describes it like this: "As your bodies stay glued to each other, the dance becomes provocative for some, sweet for others and alternating speeds for the pros."
Fete on a boat
Crop Over wouldn't be Crop Over without the soca fetes, or parties. Grab your group and fete on a beach or on a boat, during the day or at night (or all of the above). You're likely to see the season's hottest Barbadian artists like Porgie & Murda live belting tunes like "Benup," for a sexy Caribbean crowd. Booze Cruise, which departs from the Boatyard, is the festival's don't-miss fete.
Taste a fish cake
Barbadian fish cakes are an island specialty and a favorite late-night treat. Made from salted cod, local seasoning and hot pepper, you'll find the fried treats anywhere, from high-end restaurants to roadside rum shops, but it's best to sample this snack on the street. After a fete, find the vendor claiming to have the area's best and put them to a taste test.
Pare down and parade
Shed your inhibitions -- and most of your clothing -- for Crop Over's climax, Kadooment Day. Jump (or fete and parade) with a masquerade band for the full festival experience. When you join a band, you purchase a costume, acquire a group of like-minded revelers and indulge in the bottomless beverages often including with your participation package. Bands like BAJE and Gwyneth Squires are some of Barbados' best and biggest, and there's Zulu whose list of past masqueraders includes Barbados native Rihanna.