Here are a few things to know before you go! Here is how to handle the world’s best street party.
- Language – The language spoken is English, but a much closer to British English. The Trinidadian accent is a mix of West Indian and British accents.
- The currency – $1USD will get you about 6.80 Trinidadian dollars, of course this may fluctuate from the time this article has been posted.
- Visa – is not required for members of the European Union, Canadians or Americans. Check with your local embassy.
- A Brief Snapshot – Trinidad and Tobago, is a twin island nation, that is the most southern nation of the West Indies in the Caribbean. It is only 6.8 miles or 11km off the north-eastern coast of Venezuela.
- A Small History – The origins of Trinidad and Tobago started in the 18th century by the French who had colonised the country. The French brought their cultural traditions and language to the island and one of the traditions were private parties and masquerade balls called fetes.
The African slaves were forbidden from attending these celebrations so instead they held their own parties which were called canboulay. During their canboulay celebrations the slaves used to mock the behaviour and outfits of their masters which led to the creation of the ‘Mas’.
When it comes to celebrating carnival in Trinidad and Tobago you can either just be a spectator and watch the parades, or you can join in! When you choose to join in it is called playing mas.
For those not familiar with Carnival in the Caribbean if you want to play mas you have to join a masquerade band. It isn’t possible to just show up in a beautiful home-made costume and join the parade. You must select a mas band you want to be part of, wear their costumes and dance through the streets with your chosen band.
To have the best time at carnival in Trinidad and Tobago don’t just be a spectator! Absolutely find a mas band that you want to be part of, then sign up and join the party!
How to choose a Mas Band?
How to choose a Mad Band for Trinidad and Tobago Carnival?
Well that’s a difficult decision because you have so many good options. Maybe you will select your band based on their costumes with some groups wearing very sexy costumes, and others being more conservative.
Some Mas Bands are all inclusive and you will not just get your costumes but also food and drinks, bathrooms, security, medical services, and whatever else you may need to make your carnival experience easier.
Obviously, money can be a big factor when choosing to play mas and honestly if you are on a tight budget then you probably won’t play mas. But then again it is the ultimate Trinidad and Tobago Carnival experience.
Learn to Wine!
If one of the locals asks you to dance then the dancing maybe a little more pearl clutching, Miley Cyrus twerking levels of rude than what you might normally see. To wine is essentially gyrating your hips in a very suggestive manner. You will see it everywhere during carnival in the parade, the fetes, upside down, on a wall, everywhere you look, you will see people wining.
So just give into the soca rhythm and energy and induce your urge to move, so to wine you essentially just rotate your hips in a circular motion, and you will be all set. Of course a quick YouTube tutorial will help you master the move.
Carnival will hurt your bank account!
Carnival in Trinidad is very expensive, don’t even bother trying to save money. But the good thing is that carnival is worth every penny! You can easily spend $2000-$7000 USD on carnival depending on how good your costume is, how many fetes you wish to attend and where you are flying from. But trust us, it is worth every penny, so save up and just enjoy having the time of your life!
Carnival costumes in Trinidad and Tobago are amazing and over the top! If you’re playing “mas” prepare for revealing bikinis, colorful feathered headdresses, and bedazzled body and face pieces. Costumes can range from $200 to over $5000.
J’ouvert is a must!
What is J’Ouvert?
J’ouvert which in English translates to ‘break of day’ and symbolises the start of carnival each year. J’ouvert takes place in the early hours around 4am on Carnival Monday, in the darkness before the sun even rises! I know what you’re thinking… before sunrise! Yes, before sunrise! And yes, it is worth getting out of bed for!
If you do get up and attend J’ouvert a little warning is that you must be prepared to get hit with flour, paint, mud, water and maybe even clay. There is nothing you can do to avoid it, just get ready to get down and dirty and join in the fun.
J’Ouvert actually originated in Trinidad and Tobago and has since spread across the world to numerous other carnivals. J’ouvert at Trinidad and Tobago Carnival is the most liberating street party in the world! You must attend!
The Fetes – Be prepared for non-stop parties!
Carnival fetes at Trinidad and Tobago are the huge parties that are held during carnival. Fetes are the absolute highlight of carnival. Nobody knows how to party like the Trinidadians! Be prepared you are going to party till you hit absolute exhaustion!
There is a fete to suit everyone’s taste! From fancy fetes at five star hotels, to ones where you bring your own drinks in a cooler. Fetes that start a midnight and last till early morning, soca fetes on a boat, to live music shows, honestly there are so many!
Trinidad and Tobago Carnival fetes are not cheap, and some fete tickets are nearly impossible to get your hands on. Your average fete cost around $100US minimum. The best and most in demand fetes cost around $400 fetes.
Trinidad Carnival Terminology
Here are words and phrases that you need to know before attending carnival in Trinidad!
When it comes to celebrating Caribbean Carnival, you can either be a spectator and watch the parades, or you can join in! When you choose to join in it is called playing mas! If you want to play mas you have to join a masquerade band. If you want to have the ultimate Caribbean Carnival experience we suggest that you play mas!
Mas Bands are organizations that are the heart and soul of carnival parades. They consist of a group of parade-goers, who all pay and wear a joint group costume and march in the parade together. Mas Bands are run by section leaders who every year come up with new themes and then design and create elaborate costumes for people to purchase.
When you are attending carnival in the Caribbean, you may hear people say “meet me on di road”. The Road is the parade route!
Soca actually derives from the world’s Soul and Calypso. Soca is music that was made to be danced to. It has up tempo beats and is infused with a little bit of soul.
An intimate form of dancing that is not necessarily sexual.
The name for the parties!
Canboulay is a celebration that celebrates the abolition of slavery. It has become a part of numerous carnival celebrations. Historically, the Canboulay was a night time activity where the slaves had to march through sugar cane plantations and put out fires. Today it is a torchlight procession with costumes that is accompanied by drumming, singing and dancing.
Doubles, roti, chow, bake and shark
Are all different traditional Trinidadian foods that are worth trying! Don’t cry just try!
Is a collective music that was created by originally banging on frying pans with bamboo sticks and later on oil drums
Is a popular type Afro-Caribbean music. It often has a strong message, moral tale or is some form of political or social commentary. It is set to catchy beats. It is a good way to stay informed about what is happening on an island.
Carnival characters that represent the devil.
Every Shape, Size, And Age Is Welcome!
You will see a lot of flesh during carnival but you will notice that thick or thin, everyone is exuberantly happy in their bodies! So don’t feel self-conscious just go with the flow! You will also see people of all ages embracing the carnival spirit! It is not a bad idea to hit the gym before you come but more so you can build up your stamina because carnival can be exhausting!
The Street Food is Authentic and Delicious!
Honestly one of the highlights of carnival is the incredible street food! There are loads of street vendors who are serving up the moth mouth-watering Trinidadian cuisine that can be hot, spicy and full with local flavours. You can even try shark if you are brave enough.
All the big celebrations take place mainly in the Port of Spain on the Island of Trinidad. But when carnival is finished, why not take a few days to relax and visit Trinidad’s sister island. It is stunning and serene island that will replenish you after all that overstimulation.
It is only a 20 minute plane ride, or a 3 hour ferry and Tobago is filled with white sandy beaches, colourful houses, palm trees and the most relaxed vibe!
Where to Stay?
Where to stay in Trinidad and Tobago?
Man finding your accommodation for carnival will honestly be one of the hardest parts of planning your trip! It is one of the biggest carnivals in the world, so the prices are high and availability is low!
Look for accommodation around The Port of Spain as that is the ground zero for all the festivities. Everything takes place all around Port of Spain. The area has undergone many changes recently to promote tourism and launch the country into developed status. The Port of Spain hotels are the closest and most convenient to get to carnival.
The more popular hotel options for tourists are the Hyatt Regency which is widely regarded as the best hotel on the island. Also the Hilton Hotel, Courtyard by Marriot and Radisson Hotel. These hotels can go for around $500US a night and are usually sold out about 3-4 months prior to carnival!
There are also some very nice smaller boutique hotels that are worth looking at like Coblentz Inn Boutique Hotel or the Kapok Hotel. Another great option is to hire a villa, house or apartment with your friends and split the cost!
If your plan for your time in Trinidad is just to party as much as possible and you don’t care too much about doing any tourist related activities then the most convenient region in the Port of Spain to stay in is called Woodbrook. You will also be able to walk to meet your Mas Bands on Carnival Monday and Tuesday and it’s also close to where the J’ouvert bands meet.
Staying in Woodbrook also means you will be within walking distance of the majority of fetes as the most popular fete venues are The Queens Park Oval, Nelson Mandela Park, The Hasley Crawford Stadium and St Mary’s College Grounds, which are all around 5-10 mins walk. It is just convenient because you will be able to walk around and get food, reach anything carnival related and no need for a taxi.
Also, Savannah is another great region to look for accommodation in the Port of Spain it’s essentially the cultural epi-centre of carnival. It is where all the food stalls and street vendors are lined up during carnival. It is also the main judging point for the carnival bands and has the biggest ‘stage’ for masquerades to cross in their costumes. Although besides the food and stage you may not be there for much else and it will be a longer walk than Woodbrook.
For cheaper accommodation options book a little further out in San Juan, Piarco, Chaguana or Trincity where you can actually find many great places to stay for around $100. Also many Trinidadian families will also open their homes to rent out during carnival. This is a great experience as they are famous for their welcoming hospitality. There are also plenty of carnival concierge services that will have accommodation included in packages.
As soon as you decide to head to Trinidad for carnival book your accommodation straight away! Our advice is to book straight away and if your plans change then you can cancel later. Many avid carnival-goers will pre-book hotels their hotels during carnival the year before and by December, most of the hotels are full! Check out some accommodation deals for Port of Spain here.