Trinidad Carnival is all about masquerade bands, fetes, wining…basically non-stop partying. I conquered my first Trinidad Carnival this year when I headed to Port of Spain with some friends. Here are a few tips I wish I’d known as a carnival newbie.
Before You Go
1. Choose your crew wisely. You’ll want people who are responsive and reliable. Leading up to Carnival, you’ll be making a lot of time-sensitive decisions about accommodations, costumes, fetes, etc. So you need to trust the people in your crew to divide and conquer. Also, keep in mind that during carnival, you’ll be operating on little to no sleep. So make sure you choose people you like to be around. Or, people who won’t get offended
when if you pop off due to the sleep debt.
2. Secure a spot. Book your accommodations early. We booked a spot about nine months before Carnival. Trust me when I say, Ms. Glenda at The Glen Inn is an amazing host! Home-cooked meals and colorful stories…you can’t go wrong.
3. Book flights ASAP. Look up flights the day after Carnival ends. Seriously, book early. Don’t be like me. It was December and I was still looking up tickets for Carnival in February. I booked two one-ways. It worked out in the end, but geez those tickets were expensive!
4. Think about transportation. While Uber is available in Trinidad, we found it was less of a headache to secure transportation before arriving in Trinidad. Luckily, our B&B host took care of this for us. It was great to have transportation and a local guide with insider tips.
5. Train early. When people told me to workout, I thought they meant for aesthetics. Nope, train for stamina. You’ll be walking miles and miles, in heat, with a heavy costume. So boost your stamina and be prepared to sweat.
6. Step up your Soca skills. Get familiar with the music. Very familiar, because you’ll hear the 10 most popular songs over and over. Download a Soca playlist and workout to that. Two birds, one stone.
7. Be ready when bands launch. Choosing the right masquerade band is key. Join bands’ mailing lists, take a look at costumes in advance, and be ready. Want to save some coins? Join the backline. Our costume cost about $800 USD. For that reason, I will wear this for Halloween, local carnivals, to play dress up, and anything else I can think of.
8. Get your fetes in order. The number of fetes to choose from can be overwhelming. There are themed fetes, all-inclusive fetes, cooler fetes. If you’re a newbie, get suggestions from friends who have conquered Carnival before you. Get tickets early because some fetes will sell out. Somehow, we managed to get tickets to Dj Private Ryan’s Soca Brainwash. We were told that was a must-do, and it did not disappoint. Fetes can range anywhere from $50-$300 USD…per fete.
9. Pay as you go. Between flights, accommodations, costumes, and fetes…costs can add up quickly! If you pay as you go, you won’t notice how much you’re spending. Depending on the person, that can be a good or a bad thing. For me, it was great. I’d guesstimate that I spent about $2,000…and that was with me using points to cover a portion of my travel. There are definitely ways to cut costs, and if I ever return to Trinidad Carnival, I will do just that. For example, you can party on the sidelines without joining a band. For any future carnivals, I will definitely consider it a spectator sport.
10. The details are in the costume. Sequins, feathers, chains…for such tiny costumes, there is definitely a lot going on. Ladies, consider ordering the bra a band size up. You don’t have time to break it in or stretch it out, and with the handmade stitching, the bras are a bit snug. Also, bring undies that match your costume to wear underneath the bottoms. Finally, leave space in your suitcase for your costume. I didn’t think about that before I left the states, but I managed to get my costume back home…thanks to my roommate who took pieces of my costume and the fact that I wore my feathers on the plane.
11. Tights are your friend. You can get tights that blend in, or tights that stand out. We went with fishnets, which were cute but come with a few warnings. Be prepared to get caught on someone as you’re wining. Or, if your costume has a lot of chains, you might pull at your fishnets. By the end of the day, you might have a few holes, but it’ll be worth it. Check out Carnivalista for tights in various styles and shades.
12. Pick the right shoes. You’ll be doing a lot of walking so wear some comfortable, durable shoes. I saw a few people in heels and I’m still not sure how they did it.
13. Book a makeup artist. Initially, I was against this idea because it felt like an added expense and a loss of sleep for something that was just gonna sweat off. I’m happy I got outvoted on this one. Surprisingly, our makeup lasted and it looked amazing!
14. Get comfortable with your body. You’ll be showing a lot of skin…a lot! But guess what? Nobody cares how you look. People will be too busy having fun and soaking up the Soca vibes. So get comfortable so you’re not hindering your own fun.
On De Road
15. Stay hydrated. Seriously! Heat plus alcohol, not a good mix. So throw some water in the mix and keep it moving. Don’t want to chug water? Use coconut water as a mixer.
16. Establish a lost and found spot. We didn’t pick up on this one early enough. Nothing like looking around and realizing you’ve “lost” someone from your crew. The drink trucks usually have numbers, so pick a number and designate that as the spot when someone gets lost, walks off, or gets caught up wining.
17. Sleep when you can. Not on de road, but try to squeeze in some sleep here and there. You’ll be going non-stop. Party from noon to 8, nap, out at 11 for the next fete that ends at 6 am. Rinse and repeat.
18. Be prepared to get dirty. This is a rule to remember especially if you partake in J’ouvert. Paint, mud, water, anything goes. Ladies, pack a shower cap, bonnet, plastic bag…pick your poison.
19. Eat some Trinidadian treats. Ask the locals for the best spots for some good roti and doubles. On a slow day, you can also head to Maracas Beach for some bake and shark.
20. Take a vacation from your vacation. After a week of nonstop partying, I was beyond tired. Wine Down Wednesday in Tobago is a popular recovery option. We didn’t make plans for that. Instead, I ended up booking a quick trip to Barbados — mainly because it was cheaper than buying a return flight to the states. Visit Tobago, fly to a different island, or stay local and head to Maracas Beach…whatever you do, make sure you relax before you return to the real world.
I hope you enjoyed my tips for Trinidad Carnival. Once you get over the costs, it’s not too bad. The issue is getting over the costs. Would I do it again? Yes and no. I’d go back for Carnival, but I plan to wine on the sideline.