Traveling to my first Trinidad Carnival was one of the most epic adventures of my life. When I decided that I was really going to plan a trip to Carnival, especially over the age of 30, I had no idea what I was in for.
The highlight of the festivities is of course the Carnival Monday and Carnival Tuesday parade (see Outdoorsy Diva Does Trinidad Carnival). However, that’s just a portion of all the fun waiting to be had at your first Trinidad Carnival.
During the trip we adopted the mantra #TeamNoSleep. Let’s see if you can keep up!
1. Get a dose of culture.
I know you thought I was going right into the parties. Trust me I will, but as a wise and proud Trini taxi driver shared with us, “My country is full of beauty and tradition that shouldn’t be overlooked. The Carnival parade is all well and good but it’s really become full of bikinis with feathers on them.”
While I was definitely looking forward to jumping around in my own beautifully embellished swimwear, I did take his comments to heart.
Art along the streets of streets of Port of Spain, Trinidad
Our original plan was to watch Kiddie Carnival (the junior bands). The children’s costumes are very elaborate and tend to mirror more aptly the traditions of the days of early Carnival. Unfortunately our Saturday was dominated with running errands, picking up fete tickets, and getting our costumes.
We were less than a block away from the kiddie parade route so we did see a few of the mini-masqueraders as they passed by. At the park just across from the band mas camp was a group of youngsters who practiced the art of stilt walking, called Moko Jumbies.
The group consisted of both boys and girls and some were tiny, no more than age 3 or 4. Very cool to see these youth embracing a tradition dating back to the earliest days of the Carnival in the early 1900s and even further back to our African ancestors.
At the advice of our driver, we attended the National Panorama Finals competition. Panorama is the pinnacle for those who live for the steel pan or steel drums. In fact, the pan is the national instrument of Trinidad and Tobago.
You may have heard a steel pan at some island-themed restaurant or a Caribbean resort. THIS competition is not that. It’s not that at all.
A steel pan band in this competition isn’t made up of just a few players. Many bands were 30 to 100 players. The steel pans were all different sizes, shapes, and weights.
When the first band began to play our mouths fell open. It was like an orchestra but using steel pans. It was beautiful and loud and full. There isn’t a sound that a regular orchestra can make that the steel pan cannot mimic.
The bands were composed of old and young men, women, and even children. To say I was impressed would be an understatement. However after listening to three bands it was time to jet off to our next adventure.
2. Attend as many Fetes as your wallet, schedule, and liver will allow.
Fetes are parties. An all-inclusive fete means the price you pay includes entry, food, alcoholic drinks, and entertainment.
We purchased advanced tickets for Ultimate One Fete on Carnival Saturday. It was a challenge just getting there because we headed out so late. No taxi was willing to take us so far that late, but as fate would have it, this is how we met Robert ,our taxi driver that we used for the rest of the trip! He slept in his car and waited for us until we were done.
There was so much food at this party! There was Brazilian food, creole, Trini, Indian, Chinese, Guyanese and other tents that I never even made it to. There were tents of top shelf alcoholic beverages. This is also the party where I was first introduced to Puncheon, a.k.a firewater (see 8 Best Things I Ate in Trinidad).
The highlight of the night that started us down the path to epic status was the live entertainment. On stage we saw some of the top local Soca artists, Roy Cape All Stars featuring Blaxx, Karma featuring Ravi B and Nisha B along with Iwer.
The headliner was 2013 Soul Train Awards Winner, and MTV’s 2013 Iggy Song of The Year artist Bunji Garlin. Also performing with him was Fay Ann Lyons, his wife, but a soca queen in her own right.
What a party! I don’t think I ever stopped dancing once we started. This was the beginning of my love affair with soca music.
Check out my Trinidad Planning Guide to find out how to find and purchase tickets for fetes.
3. Pull at least one all nighter!
By all nighter I mean just that. Leave your hotel when there’s still light out and come back the next morning. At some point during the night it was decided that we should go to another fete that night, Insomnia.
I don’t even know how we found out about it. The rum was flowing and it sounded like a kick ass idea at the time.
The name alone should have been an indication of what we were in for. Did we have tickets for it? Of course not. Did we even know where this place was? Not a clue. Did we know what it was or who would be there? Nope and nope.
I know….we’re nuts. No denying it. Our driver actually tried to dissuade us from going. Our minds were made up. We weren’t ready to call it a night; after all it was only 2am.
And so we embarked on what has to be the longest taxi ride I have ever taken in my life. Thank God they don’t run on meters.
It took us 2 hours to reach the location of Insomnia. That’s not a typo….2 HOURS!!! Traffic was bumper to bumper for miles; I took a nap.
Somewhere along the way Robert, the driver, knew a guy who met us along the road with VIP tickets for the party for a reasonable price.
Picture this….traffic for miles on a 2 lane highway and a guy just walks up to the car from seemingly out of nowhere. I can’t make up these kinds of things. It just happens to us this way. Now we have tickets and we’ve had a nap so we are ready to roll!
The venue is an outdoor amphitheatre on the water with the mountains behind it and there is literally a sea of people and many are clearly locals. Along with the VIP ticket came fast entrance, an area away from the massive crowds below, a wonderful spread of food including corn soup, bake and shark, and some other things.
There was a DJ on stage getting the crowd hype and we danced and mingled. It was a chill vibe.
Then it occurred to us that dawn was soon approaching and just before the first rays of the sun, an artist comes to the stage and the entire venue erupts.
It’s none other than Machel Montano, THE MAN in Soca! We were so surprised!
His songs are in heavy rotation and it’s just not Carnival without his music these days. His energy was bananas. As the sun was rising above the bay everyone was singing and dancing and jumping.
“In total we were awake for about 27 hours straight.”
Just when we thought it couldn’t get any crazier, the fire hoses appeared. Men in cherry pickers are raised high above the crowd with fire hoses attached to water trucks and the crowd chants “Water”! Machel taunts and urges the hose guys on and they begin to spray the crowd.
Everyone goes crazy, waving flags from seemingly every island nation, singing along as Machel gives it his all! In that moment, the night became epic. We lost ourselves in that moment.
Let me warn you. Insomnia is not for the uppity or those afraid to get a little sweaty, or wet, or dirty. If you want to lose yourself for just a moment and really feel what the Carnival vibes are all about then it’s a must!
Begrudgingly we decided we should call it a “night” at 7am. This party wasn’t ending until noon and we needed to pace ourselves because it was only Saturday!
By the time we made the drive back to our hotel we were walking in at 8 am wearing the same clothes we left wearing at 6pm the day before. It was the best walk of shame I’ve ever taken!
In total we were awake for about 27 hours straight. Was it worth it? Absolutely!
4. Get to Maracas Beach
This was really our only true down time to just relax. We were told that most people go to the beach on Wednesday for the cooldown after Carnival, but it’s more of a party scene and less of a retreat.
We were leaving on Wednesday so Robert agreed to come back for us in the early afternoon on Sunday to take us to the beach. It’s a long drive through the mountains. You get to see the beauty of rural Trinidad.
There’s a great lookout point and fruit stand which provided awesome views of the bay from above and a chance to sample some local fruit treats (see 8 Best Things I Ate in Trinidad). It’s a very scenic and beautiful beach. I will just let the pictures speak for themselves.
5. Play mas with a J’ouvert Camp
You cannot go to Trinidad Carnival and skip the tradition of J’ouvert. In French it means dawn or daybreak. It’s the official start of Carnival starting at 4am Monday morning.
Tradition calls for the revelers to cover themselves with paint, mud, or oil and walk through the streets to calypso and soca music dancing in one big mobile street party. In modern times some bands now include powder and even chocolate as other messy alternatives.
Tradition dictates that no one remains clean. We played mas with iJouvert, who provided a shirt to wear (by wear I mean destroy), a swag bag, drink cup, security, music, a pre party starting at 2 am, unlimited alcohol, paint and colored powder and a mobile paint truck.
It also included breakfast after and showers. I don’t really have any idea how long our route was but man was it fun! Our mission was to get as filthy as possible. Mission accomplished.
We packed as much adventure into this trip as we possibly could for our first Trinidad Carnival! Being first timers we definitely missed out on some other activities because we didn’t arrive until Friday night, but I think we did pretty good as “Carnival virgins”.
We were absolutely exhausted by the end of this trip but we had some truly awesome moments. It’s not for the faint of heart but it is definitely for those looking for their next great adventure.
You think you’re up for it? Check out the planning guide to plan your Trinidad Carnival adventure.
Have you attended a Carnival celebration? Tell me about your experience in the comments!! I love to hear from you.