Pretty much all the Caribbean people I’ve spoken to in London have said that Trinidad Carnival is something that every carnival fan has to experience, and this year that’s what I finally did.
I found a host on Couchsurfing and stayed with him for a week in San Juan, an area about 15 minutes away from Port of Spain by maxi (minibus). It was quite safe and accessible, so I would recommend that area if you can’t afford to stay in Port of Spain or if everything there is sold out.
Before the carnival itself, most people attend some fetes (soca parties, often with live performances or famous Caribbean DJs). Personally I only went to one fete – the Bayveiew Cooler Fete. A cooler fete means you bring a cooler full of drinks (and food if you want) as opposed to having to keep buying drinks from a bar. Cooler fetes often start in the afternoon rather than in the night.
Tickets for fetes are quite expensive. The Bayview Cooler Fete cost the equivalent of £40, which in my opinion would be fine for an all-inclusive fete (a lot of them exist too), but is too much seeing as you have to provide your own drinks and there weren’t any live performances. Having said that, I did enjoy myself, and the main reason I went and spent the money is because my Trini friend from London was going. Here I am with her, and our crazy light-up cups that were being handed out:
I later learnt that the fetes are kind of elitist and there are certain fetes that cost more just to keep a high-class crowd. In general, Carnival in Trinidad is very expensive for the working class people and a lot of Trinis apparently take out loans to be able to enjoy it. The best way to buy tickets is to start searching online months in advance and buy the ‘early bird’ tickets.
The next thing to happen after the fetes is Jouvert, the event that basically represents the opening of Carnival. Supposedly you need to join a band (a group that goes behind a truck with music and drinks etc.), so that’s what I did. I wanted to have everything sorted before arriving in Trinidad, so I picked a band called Dirty Dozen and bought my package online, to be collected when I arrived.
Once I arrived, I found out that firstly, it’s possible to have a great time at Jouvert without being in a band, and secondly, if you do want to join a band, you can still do this up until the day before Jouvert, so it’s better to wait because you might meet a really cool group of people and want to be in their band, rather than being tied up with the band you booked months ago from your computer in your own country.
Most Jouvert bands consist of a music truck with DJs and big speakers, a drinks truck where people who paid to join the band get unlimited drinks, and a truck providing mud/paint/powder/clay for the revellers who paid to throw at each other. There’s also security roping off the paying band members from the non paying crowd.
The thing is, you can just go in some old clothes, bring a bottle of alcohol and a bottle of paint, and roam the streets passing all the different bands. You’ll still have fun because a lot of the paying revellers also leave their bands and wander, and the security isn’t always particularly strict. I think if I had a big group of friends, that’s what I would do next time to save money. I paid about £70 to be in a band.
Anyway, I did have fun:
The day after Jouvert is Carnival Monday, which is kind of a warm up for Carnival Tuesday. Most costume bands for Carnival Tuesday are also on the road on Monday and provide a t-shirt or something to wear. Personally I didn’t attend Carnival Monday because I went to Paramin instead to see the Blue Devils, but that’s explained in a separate blog post.
Carnival Tuesday is something that can also be enjoyed without joining a band, but being in a band in a costume is a priceless experience. It costs at least £300 and includes a costume, food, DJs, drinks and security. Unlike the Jouvert bands, the mas bands (costume bands) can sell out quickly, so it is advisable to book this online in advance.
I picked a band called Legacy and I would definitely recommend it because the costume pick-up was quick and easy, the other masqueraders were nice and friendly, the drinks and food were good, the staff were polite and there weren’t too many masqueraders in the band so everyone had space to dance and be free without bashing into people (unlike some bands).
Carnival seemed very safe and the spectators were very civilised (unlike in London where they often try to come inside the ropes etc.). My main advice is firstly, wear a lot of sunscreen because you’ll literally be in the sun all day. Secondly, drink water as well as alcohol and thirdly, if you lose your friends or you’re going alone, just make new friends! Also if you can’t find the meeting point of your band in the morning, just go to the Savannah and wait near the stage because they’ll pass there at some point.
This is me with the Trini girls who adopted me when I couldn’t find the friend I was supposed to meet:
Sometimes just enjoy the feeling of liberation and dance down the road by yourself:
I did finally find my friend:
The bands stop at around 8pm, but for those who still have energy, you can always go to The Avenue (Ariapita Avenue, the main party road in Port of Spain with a lot of clubs, bars and restaurants). I met up with some friends and went to The Avenue with them (they were in their normal clothes and I was still in my costume) and it was absolutely packed, but I still felt safe and the vibes were still good. Most people were just dancing/drinking on the road outside the bars, and you could hear different music coming from all directions.
I ended up falling asleep in a bar and got a ride home at about 1am.
Overall, I’m happy I went to Trinidad Carnival and I had a great time, but I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it over other carnivals. It’s definitely very big and famous and has a lot of events surrounding it, but in my opinion that doesn’t make it any more fun than other less well known ones.
If you have any questions, you can reach me on Twitter – @_travelwithzoe or comment on this post.