The 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus' arrival in the New World is still five years away, but early celebrations already are getting underway and other tributes are scheduled from now until the big year, 1992. They are planned throughout North and South America; the Caribbean -- where Columbus first landed on Oct. 12, 1492 -- and in Italy, his birthplace; and Spain, the country that financed his voyage.

Many of the festivities are focused on a maritime theme, although ironically the big U.S. extravaganza in 1992 -- the Grand Columbus Regatta in New York City -- is scheduled for July 4 instead of Oct. 12. The reason, according to the Christopher Columbus Quincentenary Jubilee Commission in Washington, is that fall is the hurricane season, and sailing can turn dangerous. "Columbus was lucky," says a spokesman. Among the places where a traveler can celebrate Columbus' monumental voyage from now through 1992:

San Antonio: The loveliest and liveliest city in Texas got an early start with a three-day fair this weekend called Feria de las Americas. It is planned as an annual event on Columbus Day weekend through 1992. The site is La Villita, a reconstructed 250-year-old Spanish village overlooking the San Antonio's famous River Walk.

Port Everglades: On Aug. 29, an eight-foot bronze statue of Columbus -- especially commissioned for the jubilee -- arrived in this Florida port, having sailed from Italy aboard the Costa Riviera cruise ship. Once a special plaza is completed for it, Columbus will be greeting cruise passengers headed for the Caribbean.

Miami: "New Music America" is the theme for a Miami music festival throughout the month of December in 1988. Composers from Europe and the Americas will introduce new compositions relating to Columbus and the 500th anniversary celebration.

Columbus, Ohio: Many places named for Columbus are planning special events, but one of the biggest will be held here in 1992. Called AmeriFlora-92, it is an international flower and garden exposition featuring the plants, vegetables and flowers that have been exchanged between the Old World and the new as a result of Columbus' exploits.

Spain: Two big events in 1992 will focus on Columbus -- a world's fair in Seville and the Olympic Games in Barcelona.

Genoa: Columbus' home city, the Italian port of Genoa, plans to renovate its port facilities in order to stage a maritime exposition in 1992.

New York City: A 300-ship international flotilla -- featuring three dozen Tall Ships and reproductions of Columbus' three tiny vessels -- will sail into New York harbor July 4, 1992. Retracing Columbus' voyage, the ships will assemble in Genoa and then sail on to Lisbon, Cadiz and San Juan, Puerto Rico en route to New York. Other flotilla festivities are planned in Baltimore and the Chesapeake Bay region.