Planning a vacation to the Caribbean this fall or winter? Why not take in a new attraction, or time your trip to coincide with one of many upcoming festivals (focused on everything from food and sailing to film and music), or consider a visit to one of the islands. Here's a look at what's new and coming up:
Film lovers may want to take a break from one of Antigua and Barbuda's 366 beaches by catching a movie. The second-annual International Film Festival Antigua Barbuda (Nov. 18-25) will have outdoor screenings under the stars at English Harbour, workshops, a gala and awards ceremony, and an after-party with live entertainment. Check iffab.org or antigua-barbuda.ca. Visitors can now fly direct to Antigua non-stop from Toronto with Westjet, which began twice weekly flights to the island on Oct. 28.
Six international and eight local chefs will take part in the Barbados Food & Wine and Rum Festival, Nov. 16-19. Cooking demonstrations, wine and rum seminars, and more will take place at various spots around the island. Among the visiting chefs are Canada's Mark McEwan, and Anne Burrell who has worked at some of New York's top restaurants. Events include: Sizzle Street from 1-8 p.m. at Queen's Park, Bridgetown; lunch at Fisher Pond Great House; Sunday Bajan Fiesta at the Lion Castle Polo Estate; Bar-B-Party Cruise aboard The Jolly and a Rum Tasting Tour at historic St. Nicholas Abbey. See foodwinerum.com.
A short ferry ride from Grenada, the tiny island of Carriacou takes the spotlight next month when it stages the Carriacou Parang Festival Dec. 21-23. Festivities include an open-air concert, cultural shows and a competition of parang string bands from villages throughout Carriacou, Grenada and Petite Martinique. If you miss it, the next big event on the island is Carriacou Carnival Feb, 8-12.
The 28th Havana International Jazz Festival -- one of the biggest events on Cuba's musical calendar, takes place Dec. 16-24. While the lineup has not been finalized, performers from around the world -- including the U.K., the U.S., Argentina, Chile and Bermuda -- are expected to participate. Among the notable Cuban jazz bands and soloists set to perform are Mayra Caridad Valdes, Bobby Carcasses, Jose Luis Cortes, Harold Lopez-Nussa, Ernan Lopez-Nussa and Lazaro Valdes. Scheduled performances and spontaneous street jams will occur throughout Havana. Concerts take place in many venues including Amadeo Roldan Theatre, Casa del Alba and the 8,000-seat Karl Marx Theatre, which will host opening and closing ceremonies. See checkgocuba.ca.
If you enjoy fishing, sailing or music, head to Grenada this winter.
Anglers can catch a piece of the action in some of the Caribbean's best game-fishing waters during the 44th-annual Spice Island Billfish Tournament Jan. 22-26. Many sheltered anchorages and good weather year-round also make the Spice Islands of Grenada a popular yachting and sailing destination. Not surprisingly it plays host to three sailing events -- all in February. Perhaps the best known is the Grenada Sailing Festival, Feb. 1-3, featuring international yacht racing off the south coast. The Grenada Sailing Festival Heritage Work Boat Regatta, Feb. 9-10, features sailing races (in categories from junior to senior) set against a backdrop of a beach party, traditional steel pan music and a barbeque. Ten days later (Feb. 21-21), there's the annual South Grenada Regatta -- three major races in five categories, along with a pirate's trail, dinghy racing and big wind up party. Check Grenadagrenadines.com.
Perhaps this is the secret to the success of Jamaican runners ... only in Jamaica are marathoners greeted with live and recorded reggae music after each mile, and a Red Strip beer and a coconut at the end of the race. The 12th-annual Reggae Marathon is expecting 1,600 International competitors for this year's event in Negril on Dec. 1. The race, which last year included 70 Canadian runners, is on a mostly flat looped course along Negril's famous Seven Mile Beach. Competitors can enter either the full marathon (42.19 km ), a half-marathon (21 km), or a 10 km race. Check reggaemarathon.com.
Getting to Puerto Rico has become increasingly easy in the last few years since the introduction of direct air service and greater frequency of flights from Toronto. WestJet offers year-round, non-stop service between Toronto and San Juan, on Saturdays and seasonal Saturday and Sunday flights from Oct. 28 to the end of April. The airline offers connections from most major Canadian cities. Check WestJet.com.
Air Canada also offers non-stop service from Toronto to San Juan on Saturdays and Sundays from Nov. 17 to April 7, 2013, and will offer weekly Sunday service from Montreal to San Juan starting Dec. 23 and continuing to March 31. Check aircanada.com.
The Caribbean isn't known for its museums, but a new one called Our Planet located in Castries is definitely worth a visit. The multi-million dollar state-of-the-art attraction, which has a partnership with NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, contains "the largest mirror-sphere in the world," multiple touch screen displays, video interviews with local conservationists, and a special effects theatre where you can feel the impact of extreme weather events and enjoy a lasershow. Check ourplanetcentre.org.