Insider Guides | Trinidad Carnival

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T&T resident, Gabrielle Agostini gives us the insider's scoop on one of the greatest show downs on earth, Trinidad Carnival. From when and where to buy your skimpy, feather-clad costume to where to stay and how to prepare, this is all you need to know.

Known as the second largest carnival only to Brazil, full of vibrant costumes, scantily-clad revelers, bottomless rum and feel good, blaring music, how could you miss one of the best shows on the planet?

For soca fans, Trinidad and Tobago (T&T)’s Carnival is where you'll get a full-on soca-fest that you've been craving all year.  For carnival virgins, download some soca beats and get pumped up for this once in a lifetime Caribbean event that cannot be missed.

Carnival – What is it?

Carnival was introduced to T&T during the late 18th century by the French who would parade down the streets for the two days preceding Ash Wednesday, which is the start of Lent (i.e. 40 days before Easter). These are known as the last two days before one must give up something they truly desire – so why not throw a wild party and let it all go before you're stripped of your desires?

This tradition was parallel by the African slaves whom eventually turned this celebration into one of the greatest festivals of all time. Those of African descendants influenced the music, the costumes and large number of events to occur during the “Carnival season”.

Carnival season usually starts a month before the actual street parade where anyone can join in on music competitions for pan, calypso, soca and chutney as well as costume competitions such as Kings and Queens as well as Kiddies Carnival. The whole island pulsates with positive vibes and ground-shaking music that takes you to a place far, far away.

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Costumes - Tickets

Start your journey to Trinidad Carnival by securing your costume in one of the many bands on offer.

Think of your costume as a ticket to entering a festival. Carnival is a competition of the various bands of masqueraders in beautifully hand decorated costumes competing to win the best band of the year. Carnival Bands come in all sizes. The largest and more up-beat bands are: Harts, TribeBlissFantasy,Island PeopleTrini Revellers!

As the theme of each band changes annually, the costumes change the same. Once you buy your costume, you'll get a wrist band that allows you enter the band within a secured area on the streets in which the bands 'chip down'.

During the summer months of July and August, these Carnival Bands have “band launches” to display the new costumes for the upcoming year. Within a few days of the band launch, the costumes become available to purchase the “Band House” or online. So you'll need to choose which band you'll 'play' with at least 6 months before-hand. Costumes can sell out within days after the event so buy as soon as they are available (by July/August).

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Getting there & Accommodation

Flights - Once you book your costume, I would recommend booking your flight! You can direct flights to T&T from London, Frankfurt, New York, Miami, Orlando, Houston, Toronto and many Caribbean islands. Key airlines to look into include Caribbean Airlines, Liat, British Airways, American Airlines, Jetblue, WestJet, Condor etc. For more listing on flights check here.

Accommodation – If you are a large group, I would recommend renting an apartment in Port of Spain on airbnb or tripadvisor. Top hotels in Port of Spain include the Hyatt ($$$), Hilton ($$), Carlton Savannah ($$), Radisson ($$) and Mariott ($$).

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The Event

Listen to Soca Music

You will hear Soca non-stop once you arrive in T&T around Carnival time so it is best to catch up on the best tunes of the season. One way to do that is to search carnival soca music on youtube or look out for DJ mixes online such as DJ Private Ryan or DJ Marcus Williams or DJ Nick Pena. Top soca artists include Machel Montano, Kes, Bunji Garlin & Fayann Lyons, Destra and more.

Pre-Carnival Activities

Book your trip to T&T to arrive a couple of days before the Carnival Event so that you have time to visit Carnival pre-parties, pan yards or spend some tanning time on the beach. Carnival schedule is updated one month before the event at Trinidad Carnival Diary.

Key Essentials for the Ladies

Not only do you have to buy a costume for Carnival, but a popular new tradition is to buy another costume to wear on the Monday. This is called “MondayWear” – it usually consist of a monokini that is decorated lightly with beads and feathers. Other recommendations include buying boots (with dr schools insols) for true comfort on the road, accessories such as necklaces, bracelets, earrings, earcuffs and of course glitter and diamontes for your face. Many ladies book make-up, hair and even spray tan appointments months in advance to ensure they look perfect on the day, even if it means waking up at 4am.

Carnival Monday

J’ouvert (Optional but worth it)

It starts at 3am where you arrive in Port of Spain with an old pair of clothes and sneakers to parade in the streets until sunrise where you will be covered in mud, paint, powder or cocoa powder. Organize your J’ouvert package from numerous bands that specialize in this unique activity. The big bands include Red Ants, Cocoa Devils, Fantasy, Simply J’ouvert etc. If you are playing carnival, best not to take a nap and go straight through until Carnival if you're man enough to handle it.

The bands usually start around 11am in Port of Spain. If you are driving, go early to get a good parking spot near to where you band finishes for the day. A safe and reliable spot to park is St. Clair. Pack a little bag with essentials such as phone, id, cash, makeup, sunscreen and camera! Your band will provide you with food and drinks but take your time as the sun is hot and there may be not shade for hours at a time. Enjoy yourself and don’t go too hard as remember you have another 24 hours of partying to go!

Carnival Tuesday

The bands start much earlier than Monday and everyone is in their full costume. This is where the costumes come together to present a show to the numerous judges determine who has designed the most awe-inspiring costumes for that year. It is a long day and there is even after parties in secret locations for selected bands. Carnival Tuesday is about non-stop dancing, fallen feathers and rum-infused fun.

Post carnival

A Carnival cooldown in Tobago for the following few days to relax those poor feet and burnt out bodies. Book your flights or boat across to Tobago at least two months in advance to ensure you get a spot as this is top post carnival activity.

Carnival newbies

Check out “Trinidad-Eat, Stay, Do” and “Tobago – Eat, Stay, Do” for more information on the best places to stay, the best places to eat and top activities to do in this beautiful sister isle nation.”