Carnival in Trinidad and Tobago is described as the greatest show on Earth according to its locals. In Trinidad, it is typically held right before the start of the Lenten season in the Roman Catholic religion. This festival’s origins date back to the late 18th century during the time of slavery. European plantation owners engaged in festivities which consisted of events such as balls, dinners, concerts etc. After slavery was abolished in 1834, formerly enslaved Africans began to participate in their own parallel respective festivities such as Canboulay. Canboulay was originally a harvest festival held among enslaved Africans. Drumming, singing and dancing were central to this event. After Emancipation, Canboulay then transformed into a festival that acted as an outlet of expression for this group since they were not allowed to participate in European traditions.
From the past to now, Carnival has become a festival that is rich in culture and heritage. From the music, dancing, parties, concerts to the main parade, there is something for everyone. During the Carnival season, the air is usually one of excitement and energy. Although travel is very tricky right now and Trinidad’s carnival has been cancelled because of the COVID19 pandemic, we await its momentous return. This article will tell you everything you need to know to navigate the Carnival season when Carnival is back and better than ever!
Trinidad Carnival Timeline
Although Carnival is officially celebrated on the Monday and Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, the season is one that stretches typically from the beginning of the new year. There are a series of parties, otherwise known as “fetes”, that are held to kick off the party season. There are then key events that take place in the days leading up to the occasion. On Carnival Friday (otherwise known as Fantastic Friday), a Soca Monarch competition is held where soca artists compete against each other for the Soca Monarch title. On Carnival Saturday, the Panorama competition takes place where different steel bands compete against each other. On Carnival Sunday, the Dimanche-Gras event takes place where the Calypso monarch competition is held. This then takes you into Carnival Monday, where J’ouvert (a street festival) takes place from 4 am to 8 am. The day then kicks off with the main Carnival parade where masqueraders adorn the streets. The parade then kicks off again on Carnival Tuesday, where masqueraders come out for a “Last Lap.”
Where to stay to enjoy the Best of Trinidad Carnival?
This season is one that is packed with a lot of events and tourism is at its peak in this season since many come from far and wide to experience our culture. If you’re coming to Trinidad for this event, you would be required to book accommodations early to ensure that you get a place with a decent rate and location. Most Carnival events take place in West Trinidad, and the main parade takes place in Port of Spain. Therefore, if you want to be close to the festivities, staying in areas close to Port of Spain is your best bet. There are many popular hotels (such as the HYATT) that are in the heart of Port of Spain itself. If you’ll be staying at an Air BnB location however, ideal areas for accommodations would be Maraval, Woodbrook, Cascade, St. Anns. These “suburbs” are all a ten-minute drive away from Port of Spain.
The best parties and after-parties
Although there are numerous parties that are held during the Carnival season, there are some popular events that are always well-attended and recommended. These parties can be classified into two groups: “all-inclusives” and “cooler fetes”. All-inclusive parties are a hit for those who want to enjoy a party in a “classier” setting. Although these events could be a bit pricey, you definitely get what you pay for. Food and drinks (including alcohol) are provided for all patrons so you can eat and drink to your heart’s content. Additionally, numerous famous artistes perform “concert style” at these events so you get to enjoy your favourite soca music in a much more interactive way. Highly recommended all-inclusive fetes include UWI, Hyatt LIME, Soca Brainwash, CIC, Fatima, QRC, Blue Range, and more recently Soca Brainwash. On the other hand, there are also cooler fetes, that are also hits as well. These events are not food and drink inclusive, and persons have to walk with coolers filled with their own drinks (alcohol). Cooler fetes also are typically much wilder parties in comparison to their all-inclusive counterparts. These parties can be jouvert style (where everyone gets covered with paint/ or mud), masquerader themed, or even a wet fete (where patrons are sprayed with water). Some of the most recommended cooler fetes include Soaka, Jam Nation, Bacchanal Road, and Blue Range.
Playing Mas at Trinidad Carnival?
If you’ve come for the main event of Carnival to “play mas” on Carnival Monday and Tuesday, there are some key tips that you should follow to have a great experience. Firstly, as a masquerader, make sure that you wear a comfortable pair of shoes! You will be parading the streets for hours and covering a lot of distance in the process. Therefore you want to make sure that you’re comfortable enough to enjoy yourself fully. Secondly, hydrate hydrate hydrate! You will be in blazing hot sun and probably drinking a lot of alcohol. Masquerading is a marathon, not a sprint. Make sure that you’re hydrated so you can keep up. Thirdly, organise a designated driver. You’ll be drinking all day and so will your friends. Everyone will want to fully enjoy the festivities, so arrange for a driver to drop you to and from masquerading activities. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, HAVE FUN! Playing mas is supposed to be an exhilarating, freeing experience. Make sure to dance/wine to your heart’s content and sing along to the soca at the highest volume. Make the experience yours.
Staying safe during Trinidad Carnival
While Carnival is an extremely fun time for everyone, however, one should always be mindful of the criminal elements that exist. Safety should always be anyone’s top priority. Firstly, do not walk around with very expensive valuables to parties. At best, they could get lost amid partying, but they can also attract unwanted criminal attention in a worst-case scenario. Secondly, avoid having your wallet or purse extremely visible. Keep your belongings close to you and ensure that they are very secure to avoid any chances of being pickpocketed. Thirdly, there is safety in numbers. Move as a group and stay around friends especially in places in which you aren’t familiar. Fourthly, do not accept drinks from strangers. Lastly, don’t forget to walk with your cell phone with emergency contact numbers.
Carnival is a phenomenal time that is rich in culture, energy and fun for both locals and tourists. You are guaranteed to have loads of fun and its return will be bigger and better than ever. Will you be there?
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25 years old, Trinidadian woman on a journey, background in Psychology and Business Psychology. You will love my articles and stories as I’m extremely passionate about my culture. From music to food, to partying, I will provide you with very insightful perspectives on any topic about the place I love to call home.