My first Carnival experience was in Jamaica of last year (2017). I went with the Jamaican Tourism Board, and it was a wild experience. I told myself I would go to Carnival the following year either in Trinidad or Brazil. I ended up choosing Trinidad because my friends who go every year told me I should start there first before going to Brazil.
I knew nothing about Carnival in Trinidad, so when my friend started asking me all these questions like “Are you playing Mas? What band are you playing with?” I had no clue what he was talking about. Apparently there is Carnival lingo I had to learn before making a fool of myself before I got there lol. I quickly learned that Carnival in Trinidad was completely different than Carnival in Jamaica.
CHOOSING A BAND: The right way to do Carnival is to join a band. There are a bunch of different bands to choose from, and let’s be honest, the most important thing about Carnival besides the dancing and the music is the costume. Many people choose their band according to the band’s costumes and color schemes. The most popular all-inclusive bands and the ones that are considered the “best” are: Tribe, Harts, and Fantasy, but there are other great Carnival bands like the Lost Tribe, Passion, Bliss etc. I chose to join HARTS as my band for my first Trinidad Carnival. Harts is under Tribe, and I loved their costumes the best. I’m so glad I went with Harts, I loved the people and the energy and vibes of the band were all the way turned up at all times! Joining the right band really takes your Carnival experience to the next level.
WHERE TO STAY: If you plan on attending Trinidad Carnival, make sure you book accommodations in the Port of Spain area way in advance. I stayed at the Hyatt Regency Trinidad which is the best hotel to stay for Carnival. It is where all the action is and is centrally located. They also provide free shuttle services to Carnival and events throughout. Although any hotel in Port of Spain area works, you are barely at the hotel anyway.
J’OUVERT: French word that means “Day Opens”, which is kind of like the initiation/opening ceremony before Carnival actually begins. J’ouvert is a crazy street party where people cover each other in mud and paint. It starts at dawn (around 3-4am), on the morning of the first day of Carnival. After J’ouvert, you go back to change anytime between 9am-11am and get ready for Carnival Day 1. I didn’t make J’ouvert this time around, but I’ll be ready and prepared to go next year!
CARNIVAL: There are tons of events and parties the whole month leading up to Carnival, but just two days of actual Carnival. The first day is more chill because everyone is recovering from J’ouvert and no one is in their full costume- full costumes with the big feathers and head pieces are only on Day 2. (I learned this late and was butt hurt I didn’t get feathers on the first day but then was told people only deck out on the second day and I would have looked stupid if I was wearing feathers on the first day- it was all a learning process for me ha).
Carnival is basically a street parade all day long. Each band has its own sector that is tied off by rope, and inside the rope is a moving dance party through the streets with mobile bars for drinks and DJ booths that play loud music. The people who don’t join a band need to be on the other side of the rope on the street and are more just spectators. You can still walk with the bands but you are on the other side of the rope and don’t have access to the bars with drinks and included meals etc. You break mid-day for lunch on a big field and then continue on for the rest of the day until the sun sets. After lunch is when the energy picks up and the partying and dancing gets a little more lively, its when the real turn up begins! It’s a full day of walking and dancing in the HOT sun so TWO MAJOR TIPS: wear comfortable shoes and wear a lot of sunscreen. Most women wear flat high boots that match their outfits, and the men wear sneakers. I also learned the hard way, but the second day I brought sneakers in my bag to change after dancing on the main stage.
The second day when everyone is in full costume, each band has the opportunity to cross the “stage” to show off their costumes and to have basically a fun dance party in front of the media and camera people who are covering Carnival on the local TV stations. This happens first thing in the morning around 7-8am, or whenever time slot your band has to cross the stage. People start heading to the stage as early as 6am, and women get up as early as 2-3am to start getting ready!
Basically Trinidad Carnival is a bunch of no sleep lol. So get mentally prepared.
I hope some of my tips were helpful if you ever decide to experience Carnival. Below are a few pics, and stay tuned for a whole YOUTUBE video on my Carnival experience. In the meantime you can check out a few short video teasers on my Instagram.