Carnival is a massive street party that falls the week before Ash Wednesday, which is in late February/early March, and is observed annually in many countries around the world. It is celebrated with especially great vigor in Trinidad and Tobago. It’s basically a culturally-rich party parade, filled with beautifully diverse people in elaborate costumes dancing through the street with soca music blaring from speakers carried on flatbed transport trailers.
Needless to say, halfway through the road trip I knew that my husband and I needed to experience this event, it was definitely bucket list worthy!
Carnival is so popular and massive in scope that you must act fast in order to secure flights and any economical accommodations. Unfortunately, by the time we booked our hotel last August we only had a choice of ridiculously expensive or outrageously expensive, so we ended up with a CAD$600 per night room and an abused credit card.
Luckily, those prices were only during Carnival week so the rest our trip was more financially reasonable.
We arrived in Trinidad the night before Ash Wednesday, giving us plenty of time to take in the events leading up to the festival’s climax on the following Monday and Tuesday. Our hotel was walking distance from the stadium and main stage in the Queen’s Park Savannah where the steel pan bands and calypso competitions took place and where the parade bands performed before the judges.
Trinidad’s Carnival has three main parades: a Junior one, which is exclusively for children; Jòuvert or Dirty Mas, which involves copious amounts of alcohol and being sprayed by paint; and the finale Carnival Tuesday, or Pretty Mas, where you see an endless display of people dancing in breathtaking costumes.
Each parade is comprised of numerous “bands” – some of them consisting of thousands and thousands of people. If you want to “play mas,” you sign up with a band (Tribe, Bliss, Fantasy, or Yuma to name a few) and choose the level of Carnival experience you want to have, this can range from just participating in one of the parades or having the ultimate, all-inclusive experience. All levels include event transportation, food, drinks, and a costume, but the upper levels also give you more parade events, tickets to exclusive parties (fêtes), and significantly more elaborate costume choices. Whatever you sign up for will definitely be a full-on experience and you are in for a non-stop street party in the sun.
Given that this was our first time at Carnival and the weather was 35+ degrees, we decided not to play mas, instead we danced on the sidelines partying it up with all the bands at our own pace, allowing us the flexibility to find shaded or air-conditioned spots when needed.
After Carnival, we did what most people do after the event, we headed over to Tobago to recuperate. We loved that island’s relaxing atmosphere and took full advantage of all it had to offer: visiting the Nylon Pool, hiking to waterfalls, hanging out on beaches, and gorging ourselves on “doubles,” which are one of the country’s most famous street food offerings, typically sold out of the back of a van on the side of the road.
We even got to go to a fête – which in this case is an all-inclusive outdoor party featuring numerous soca DJ’s and loads of delicious food and drinks. Mid-way through the event there was a refreshing downpour, which sent most people to take shelter under tents, but we found it to be such a refreshing break from the heat that we just kept right on dancing in the rain, which I’m sure, left people questioning our sanity… Regardless, by the time we headed back to Trinidad for the last leg of our trip we were re-energized and ready to see more of what the big island had to offer.
We were so happy we made that decision to explore Trinidad after Carnival, because we got a taste for the real feeling of the island. We learned about its history, seeing its famous Pitch Lake, eating “bake and shark” at beautiful Maracas Beach, and even doing some gambling at a few casinos.
Throughout our trip we were so impressed by the country’s laid back and friendly people! We had been warned about their high crime rate, but we found that people seemed to be continually looking out for us and even went out of their way to make sure that we were safe.
We absolutely loved our time in Trinidad and Tobago and would highly recommend it for people to both experience Carnival and/or just partake in the Islands’ beauty and culture.