Updated: Nov 8, 2020
"The Best Festival in The World", Trinidad Carnival
A Newbies Guide to the "Original Carnival" in Trinidad & Tobago
Welcome to my first Wine! Join me on this voyage as I experience one of the most historic and ionic festivals globally.
Trinidad Carnival... An Unbelievable Experience!
Heading to Trinidad Carnival for the first time, I had no idea what I was in for. I was told things about the celebration but unless you experience it yourself, you will never really understand how incredible this tradition and culture truly is!
“Trinidad Carnival is an experience that cannot be put in words?"
Here is a glimpse into what I learned and what you should know.
1. An Energy Like You've Never Felt.
When I first heard about everything that goes on at Trinidad Carnival, I asked how will have the energy to walk, dance and wine for two full days, after multiple days of fetes, all on little to no sleep?
And then you land in Trinidad....
You notice an energy you’ve likely never experienced before!
You will feel so much excitement and general love from everyone around you. It’s something I can’t explain but I guarantee you’ll hear everyone say.
From the early fetes to the end of Las Lap, the music, the vibe and the energy together creates a feeling you've never felt elsewhere.
And then comes Carnival Tuesday.....
You put your costumes on, you gather with the other masqueraders, you hear the Soca sounds, you see all the elaborate colors, you feel the positive carefree vibes, you are filled with energy!
2. All Are Accepted.
To my surprise Trinidad was one of the most diverse countries I have ever visited. Influences that come from Indian, African, Portuguese, Amerindian, Spanish, Chinese, and so many other beautiful cultures, have come together to make up this country.
It is probably why Trinidad Carnival is one of the most incredible celebrations on earth!
Not only is country made up of so many backgrounds, tourist who come in to celebrate Carnival come in from all countries, all walks of life, all backgrounds, all cultures, all bodies, all ages. All are welcome and so many come together to leave all their worries behind.
Trinidad has been built up around Carnival and the locals are so inviting, so proud to share their traditions with the all who visit. All ages; young and old, embrace ALL who come to celebrate their culture!
With all the diversity here and all the love for their country, it is no wonder why there is no judgement at Carnival.
It is a celebration so diverse, inviting all to embrace the true self, with love and energy all around!
3. You HAVE to Plan Early!
Now, that you have an understanding of the vibe at Trinidad Carnival, its no wonder why the event brings in so many visitors each year.
Over 40,000 visitors come in from all over the world for the opportunity to experience the culture of Trinidad and Tobago Carnival.
With all these visitors coming at the same time, in a country who's total yearly visitors is only around 120,000, you may understand why you have to plan early. With limited accommodations and a high influx of tourist, things book early. Some as early as a year in advance.
Here is a list of things you will need to book to ensure you are prepared for Carnival.
Carnival Band / Costume
Car / Transportation
Tobago (if looking to check out)
Carnival Glam (if looking to have hair, make-up or spray tan done)
For a print out version of this list, click here.
For more info how to book & when to plan, check out "Top 7 Things You Need To Do To Plan An Epic Trip toTrinidad Carnival"
4. It's An Investment Worth Making
If you started your research on my list above, you're probably overwhelmed but I'm here you ease your mind.
Here's a general breakdown of some of the average costs you should plan for (in USD):
Hotels, ~$400 - 500/night
Flights, ~$700 (depends from where)
Carnival Band, $500 - $2000
Personal Driver, $50-100 per day
Fete's, $50-100 per fete
Food (food typically inexpensive)
Glam, $40-200 (depends on what you want)
Tobago (roundtrip flight $60 + hotel, $200/night)
Depending on how you plan your trip, your total cost can be upward to $3000-7000 USD.
It's worth it, plus there's extras you can get with some of your purchases.
Band - includes Carnival entry and costume, plus many include everything you need for 2 full days and more.
Fetes - many include all you can eat and drink.
Hotels - many offer free breakfast and shuttles.
Most importantly, remember you are paying for a vacation plus an experience you can't get fully anywhere else!
For everything you need to know about your band purchase, check out: "Your Carnival Costume - All 5 Things You Must To Know"
To help you choose the right band, check out The Official Carnival Band Comparison Guide.
5. It's Full of Culture & History
If you are like me and love countries that have history or enjoy learning about new cultures, you'll love Trinidad. I especially love cultures whom are excited to share their traditions with outsiders. Trinidadians are probably some of the most passion people when It comes to inviting others into the celebrations of their heritage.
Carnival stems for so much history
What is Carnival?
Meaning “farewell to meat” and “farewell to the flesh”, it's significant in the timing which takes place every year prior the Catholic Lent and embodied through the carefree spirit that festival goers experience.
The History of Carnival
The original “carnival” started with wealthy French planters hosting masquerades, dressing in masks and costumes; forbidding their enslaved to participate.
The enslaved began to mimic the planters in their own celebrations of masks and costumes. In late 1880s, still banned from celebrations (even after being freed) the British attempted to further crack down on this prohibition, banning the use of percussion instruments.
Along came the Canboulay riots, where the freed slaves fought back and created music using steel pans. This is noted as being the introduction of Calpso music.
Hear these steel pan sounds still used today at Carnival...
6. Learn the Music
The iconic sounds of the steel pans heard in Calpso music, also evolving to Soca music is still carried through in the music today. Because of its roots, music is a MAJOR part of the Carnival experience. Each year new music is released in November, with 100s of new songs filtered down to the top 20-30 which are played repeatedly during the Carnival celebration.
Prepare for Carnival by learning the music, it will make your Carnival experience so much better
Contests like the "Road March" rewards the most played song as masqueraders cross the stage on Carnival Tuesday!
Learning the music is one of the biggest MUST do things to prepare for Carnival
The music is way to connect!
Imagine attending a concert not knowing the artist vs attending a festival with your favorite artist performing.
Here's a video to help you understand the unity in the music!
The music is so fun, upbeat and energetic, the more you listen the better you will feel and the more you'll appreciate the culture!
7. There's A Lot of Fetes
I mentioned, fetes are parties, and during the Carnival season they are an important way to learning the new music but also to kick off the celebrations.
Carnival fetes start after the new year through Carnival.
Once you arrive for Carnival, you could literally fete all day long and some people do! I am not who could keep up all day but I definitely recommend attending some of the varying fete themes.
With some many fetes and so much going on, make sure to plan out your fetes.
Choose from a few themes and remember to make time for rest.
Fete themes to attend :
J'ouvert (Paint) parties.
Definitely make time to attend at least J'ouvert paint party! This is an experience you will never have anywhere else
For details on fetes, click here to read more "Your Official Carnival Fete Guide - 5 Steps to Plan / Pack Accordingly"
8. Learn Some Lingo
Even though most Trinidadians speak english, they use a lot of terms you may not know.
Fortunately for me, before going to Trinidad I heard a lot of the lingo and learned some of their terms.
Terms to learn:
Play Mas - chosen a masquerade band to participate in Carnival
J'ouvert - day break, a colorful celebration including being covered in paint & powder
Lime - a gathering or to hang out
Fete - celebration, festival, party
Bacchanal- drama, scandal, big party, confusion
Weys - exclamatory term used when surprised, shocked, or in disbelief.
Whine - the dance of Trinidad and Tobago, similar to twerking
9. Make Time To See The Country, including Tobago
Trinidad is a beautiful country with natural waterfalls and beaches.
Make sure you save time to visit the beaches, see some waterfalls, and if you can make a trip to Tobago.
10. Have Fun!
Leave behind any worry… There’s no need to stress. I have to be honest, I personally worried about a lot of things leading up to the trip.
Will my costume fit?
Would my body be accepted in this costume?
Will I feel exposed or uncomfortable around everyone in my costume?
Do I have the right shoes?
Will I have the energy to go all day?
How will I dance if I never learned to whine?
And then, you get there. You feel the energy, to see the excitement from the locals, the country and everyone coming to celebrate and forget about the worry.
BONUS: Learn to whine....
As someone not from this background, it may seem awkward at first. After I understood, how important it was to the culture and embraced by even the elders, I felt free.
I was scared and felt uncomfortable when I let go, I had fun with it
I hope you enjoyed my First Whine
Take these 10 tips, have fun and take in all the energy around you!
Please comment and share your experience here!