A Local’s Guide to Carnival in Trinidad & Tobago

Fetes, soca, and playing mas at the Greatest Show on Earth.

Ask any Trini what their favorite time of year is, and the answer is unanimous: Carnival season. That’s when the Trinidadian capital of Port of Spain comes alive with the sound of music trucks blazing the latest soca tracks, thousands of costumed revelers, and larger-than-life Moko Jumbies (stilt walkers) gallivanting through the streets. After a two-year pandemic hiatus, the nation that’s given the world calypso, the steel pan, and musical greats like Machel Montano, is primed and ready for the return of its national treasure, often called the “Greatest Show on Earth.” If you’re planning on attending the event, you’ll want to make the most of every minute—and as a Trini with 15 Carnivals under my belt, I have a lot of advice to share.

Pace yourself—It’s a marathon, not a sprint
In the modern iteration of Carnival, there’s no shortage of events to attend. With a seemingly endless array of fetes (parties) that celebrate Trinidadian culture and history—plus national competitions like Panorama, DeMas Gras, and the Carnival King and Queen costume contest—you’ll need to pace yourself in order to power through until the festivities’ grand finale on Carnival Tuesday. Expect a real test of endurance as you wake up early, go to bed late, and spend most waking hours partying.

If you have any question about what to prioritize, make sure you attend J’ouvert morning (Carnival Monday), a no-holds-barred, come-as-you-are affair. You won’t wear a costume, but try to wear something that’s okay to get dirty; participants typically smear themselves with mud or body paint.

You’ll also want to go to Tuesday’s Mas, which is the climax of Carnival week, in which costumed bands parade through the streets. Unlike some spectator-only carnivals in other parts of the world, Trinidad welcomes all to the party, and there’s a band for every budget. To play mas (that’s a masquerade), register with your band of choice and pick up your matching costume upon arrival; you’ll hit the road with your band and dance the day away with thousands of adorned and feathered revelers.

Get into soca music
Think of soca music like a jolt to your senses that leaves you both whiplashed and hungry for more. Derived from its forefather, calypso, it’s the rhythm of Carnival, and each year artists pass the torch Olympic-style in a procession of fresh releases. If this is your first Carnival, download a TeamSoca or DJ JEL mix to get familiar with the latest hits before you get to Port of Spain. You’ll want to arrive pumped, familiar and ready to jam.

Check out the eats on Ariapita Avenue
Bussin a lime—or hanging out—on Ariapita Avenue is a must for those who want to refuel after a day of dancing. A flurry of food vendors fill the Ave at night, and revelers should have cash handy to indulge in Trinidad’s most famous and flavorful street snacks. Be sure to order doubles (fried flatbreads filled with curried chickpeas) and bake and shark (pocket bread filled with fried shark or fish), both of which you can customize to your liking. If you find yourself nursing a Carnival hangover, I can also recommend a hot cup of corn soup, which after much “research,” I’ve found to be the perfect cure.

Dress comfortably and bring an emergency kit
You’re going to be on your feet a lot, so comfort is key when you’re deciding what to wear. Choose sandals or sneakers with cushy, supportive soles, and be thoughtful about every element of your outfits. Carnival “feterans” often pack outfits and accessories, organized and ready to go, in individual Ziploc bags—a huge help when your alarm for the next fete goes off at 3 am.

You should always pack some emergency basics, such as sunscreen and baby wipes, and make sure you have water handy. You’ll also want a waterproof phone case for wet fetes, and vex money (emergency cash) will come in handy if you lose your crew and need to make your own way home.

Where to stay and how to get around
The point of your visit may not be to spend time in the hotel, but you’ll definitely want a comfortable place to get some rest and dress up in your Carnival best. In most cases, it’s ideal to book ahead before everything sells out. I’ve stayed at The Brix Autograph Collection hotel in the past and really enjoyed it, and both the Hilton and Hyatt should be just fine for a Carnival stay. Airbnbs are also a great option; just be sure to book at least six months in advance if you want something good.

Feel the energy
There’s an awakening energy that greets your spirit when you participate in your first Mas. I remember playing with the band Tribe during my first experience, turning onto the dragway before crossing the stage. Pausing to marvel at the sea of color, and the total bliss on people’s faces, I thought to myself, “This is what pure joy and euphoria feels like.” For those few short moments, all that mattered was the music, my friends, and the road ahead. It was perfect.

Enjoy every moment of your first Carnival experience; I hope to see you on de road again soon.

< Souce : https://www.thrillist.com/travel/nation/carnival-trinidad-tobago-local-guide >

Comment Disabled for this post!