When my buddies suggested I join them in Trinidad for Carnival this past weekend, I figured why not? I love the Caribbean vibes and felt I’d be at home for my first visit to the island. Also, since it’s difficult to find time to write during the week, I thought I’d have some time to relax and catch up during my vacation.
From the fetes (festival parties) that end after sunrise, to the thundering soca music that never stops, to the wet, sexual wildness of J’ouvert, there’s little time to relax. I had a lot of fun, but now I need a vacation from this vacation.
If you like the Carnival atmosphere, check out Trinidad’s version of it. Don’t think you’ll fly there, celebrate, and return to work a day or two later, unless you like walking into meetings looking like a sleep-deprived zombie. You’ll be putting in some work, and you’ll need time to physically recover from the partying and celebrating. I’ve met people who’ve experienced Mardi Gras in New Orleans and Carnival in Brazil, and they say nothing captures the spirit and energy of Trinidad.
If you want to party in Trinidad & Tobago, here are six things to keep in mind:
1) Start early
- Plan your travel about 9-12 months in advance. Naturally, the prices get worse the closer you get. Hotels like Hyatt and Hilton will charge 3 to 4 times their normal price that week. And they still sell out fast.
2) Make the band
- Some people reserve costumes and join bands for playing mas, where they dance along parade routes on Monday/Tuesday. Costumes range from $200 U.S. to well over $2,000, but this also includes food, alcohol, security, and access to parties. If you don’t reserve one, you can try waiting for a last-minute cancellation and grabbing an unclaimed costume at a discount, but you risk missing out completely. Or you can just watch and enjoy the crowd.
3) Dress for comfort
- Most people wear shorts and t-shirts, with sandals or sneakers. It’s warm and humid and you’ll walk a lot. Trying to be cute with your shoes will only mean blisters and sore feet later. And people aren’t worrying about your shoes anyway. Not with all of the other sights to look at.
- In fact, if you do J’ouvert (a giant street party), bring a t-shirt, shorts or pants, and shoes you don’t mind throwing away. J’ouvert starts at 4am on Monday, where thousands dance through streets to ear-shattering, bass-thumping soca music until 8am. Revelers toss and smear colorful paints, mud, water, and chocolate syrup on everyone (tip: eat a snack before the party and put your phone in a plastic bag so it won’t get wet).
4) Wine and Dine
- You won’t forget the dancing. Men and women will freak and grind on each other to the music (also called wining). They quickly move on to the next willing participant, usually a complete stranger. Inhibitions are definitely loosened (the free-flowing alcohol helps) and it is sexually charged. However, most people don’t wine; they’re content to walk along with the crowd and enjoy the music and drinks.
- But if you do indulge in wining, please don’t fall in love with that sexy young lady because she thrust herself on you, or because that tall stranger with the accent lifted you in the air like some Adonis. It’s not that serious. They’ll wine like that all night. This isn’t a nightclub in the States, where that action could mean something else. In Trinidad, it’s dancing, not a commitment for sex. I didn’t see a single fight or drama, despite the plentiful supply of alcohol. So if you chase after that woman or dude because they wined you so well, you’ll come across as a stalker.
5) Stay near downtown Port-of-Spain (capital city)
- Traffic can be as awful as Atlanta rush hour in a snowstorm (okay, it’s not THAT bad, but it’s bad). If you stay on the outskirts and go to a party, you may have to walk several miles back to your hotel at night (which I don’t recommend) or wait 1-3 hours for a cab to retrieve you. But if you do stay on the outskirts and don’t have a friend driving you…
6) Hire a designated driver
- Finding a cab can be an adventure. Especially if you go to the fetes that end early in the morning and everyone leaves at the same time. You could be stuck there for what seems like days. Instead, pay your cabbie to wait for you or schedule him to pick you up before the party ends.
- Just note that cabs there do not have standard markings, colors, or fleets. They look like any regular car or minivan. The only way to tell is to look at the plates; cab plates start with an ‘H’.
There are lots of other things to add, but that would put me over my self-imposed word limit for my posts, which I’ve already blown out of the water. However, I’ve only been to Trinidad once. I’m sure experienced veterans reading this could add more insight. If that’s you, please feel free to share!