The festival begins on February 15th, 2021, and finishes late on February 16th.
The preparation goes on for days or even weeks beforehand. This is without a doubt the most significant and most important event on the island across the year.
Third only to the Rio Carnival in Brazil and the Santa Cruz de Tenerife carnival, the Trinidad and Tobago Carnival is a celebration of epic proportions. We’re talking history and culture, new friendships and a huge coming together of communities. We’re talking general merriment.
Put simply, if you get the chance to go, grab it with both hands!
During the carnival, the island is packed with visitors, and this is the busiest time of the year to visit. You shouldn’t let this put you off, as crowds all dressed in huge, exuberant costumes, all having fun and mingling together is something you shouldn’t miss.
Known worldwide for its bright and colorful vibe, let’s learn a little more about the Trinidad & Tobago Festival, and help you plan your own exciting visit!
What’s The Trinidad and Tobago Carnival About?
For two days, the island of Trinidad & Tobago becomes a hotbed of colour, celebration, and serious fun. While celebrations go on all over the island.
Image by: Jean-Marc
The carnival is centred on the main streets of the island’s capital, Port of Spain. If you expect to be able to go about your regular daily business in the capital during these two days, forget it, it’s not going to happen! Everyone is alive with merriment and excitement, and normal life hits pause!
The Locals and the carnival
The locals are either enjoying the festivities themselves, conducting them, or preparing for them during this time. Such as the importance of the carnival itself.
Many locals look back into Caribbean history at this time, but the feeling is far from sombre, it is turned on its head into a true celebration. Music is everywhere, dancing is plentiful, and excessive food and drink are a must do!
Getting a Costume and what people wear
The festival is held annually on the Monday and Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. This means it moves around according to the exact date every year. The festival is known worldwide for being a true rival to Rio’s massive carnival on the streets of the Brazilian city.
If you want a general idea of what people wear to the Trinidad and Tobago Carnival, just think of Rio, and you’re not far wrong! It is not acceptable to not wear a bright costume, usually decorated with stones, gems, and feathers!
Securing your costume is something you need to do well ahead of time. Let’s be honest, there are thousands of people attempting to wear the same thing as you, and a costume is everything at this event. If you’re not over the top, you’re not doing it right, and every islander will agree.
What you’ll see during the carnival
So, what can you expect to see at the Trinidad & Tobago Festival? This isn’t an exhibition, so you’re not going to find market stalls and people selling you things. This is more about a massive party and celebration.
That means that the streets of the capital are going to be filled with people wearing the aforementioned huge and bright costumes, street processions of group dancing and music, plentiful drinking of local rum, and a lot of eating of local food too.
There are also many different competitions on offer too, and these make up some of the most important parts of the carnival.
While you need to be a local to be crowned, they’re great to watch. For instance, the lucky winner of the Calypso Monarch wins money, a car, and serious island fame. There are many other competitions to check out, including Calypso King or Queen, Soca King or Queen, the list goes on!
It’s a great idea to download some soca and calypso music before you go. Perhaps have a listen to it on the plane, because you’ll hear it everywhere once you land. Get into the island spirit by letting the beat find its way into your soul.
Image by: David Stanley
You’ll be one step ahead of everyone else in the competitions. You’ll also see a lot of stick fighting and limbo competitions going on, as these are mainstays of the carnival’s history. It’s fascinating to check out, so be sure to keep your eyes open across the streets of the capital.
In terms of what to see, it’s really a case of being in the right place at the right time. The bands and music begin on the Monday at around 11 am, although you’ll see celebrations starting much earlier than that.
On Tuesday, the final day of the carnival, you’ll notice that the bands and the processions begin earlier, so remember to set your alarm!
Why Trinidad and Tobago Carnival?
The Trinidad & Tobago Carnival is a fun-filled experience. One which will fill your camera memory card with visual reminders of your time. Of course, your mind will be filled with more valuable memories, if you can remember them after all the partying!
Make your costume as exuberant as possible. Go for as much colour and bling as you can. Really party it up to make the most of your experience.
While many people visit Trinidad & Tobago throughout the year, for the sun, beaches, and chilled out vibe, if you visit during the two days of the carnival, then you see a truly different and unique side of this sunny location.
The Trinidad and Tobago Carnival really will be an experience you’ll never forget.
Your costume is your ticket! Check out your preferred costume, booking it with a local retailer in the capital city on the island.
When you arrive to pick up your bright and colourful costume, you’ll be given a wristband, and this is basically your ticket to enter the fun and festivities of the carnival processions and parties. Remember that demand is HUGE! For that reason, check online for your outfit well ahead of time.
2# Pace yourself!
This is a two-day celebration, but it’s also a full-on two-day party at the same time! Don’t go all out in the first half of Monday, leaving you utterly exhausted and probably hungover for the second day.
The fun doesn’t stop until the carnival ends, late on Tuesday evening. Pace yourself, remember not to drink too much in the hot weather, and think about staying on for a few days afterwards, to relax on the beach and recover!
3# Be prepared to pay more for your accommodation
Remember that this is the island’s premier event, and it is renowned worldwide, not just locally. For that reason, don’t expect just to turn up and find budget accommodation at this time.
You’ll need to book well ahead of time, and you can expect to pay a little more during the few days before, during, and after the carnival. It’s worth it!
What to Do?
The main party action is located in the capital, Port of Spain, but no matter where you are on the island, you’ll see festivities going on. Because we’re talking about the main carnival area, however, we’ll focus on the capital, with a few activities and places to see during your visit. Remember not to rush around. However, all that carnival partying will undoubtedly take it out of you!
National Museum & Art Gallery
Located on Frederick Street, this museum will help you learn about the history of the island, while also showing you a few artistic endeavours from local artists too.
The museum is open all week apart from Sunday and special bank holidays, and you can visit between 10 am to 6 pm. Do remember that the capital is going to be much busier during the carnival, so it might be an idea to head there early in the day to avoid disappointment.
We know that the carnival has a lot of history involved in it, so add a little more to your break by visiting this 1804 fort, with original cannons on show.
The main pull, however, is the fantastic panoramic view from the top, which shows you all of the capital spread out before you, right out to see. Definitely one to grab the camera for.
The other good news is that this attraction is totally free! For that reason, it is a good idea to get there early on in the day, to avoid large crowds. This is a very popular attraction, for the view if nothing else.
You can’t visit a Caribbean island and not spend a decent amount of time at the beach! Obviously, you don’t need to book tickets or pay to go to the beach, but you may need to hire a car to get to this one.
You need to drive through a paved road on the rainforest to reach this almost castaway beach, but it’s more than worth it. Check out your car hire options when you arrive, to avoid high prices due to the carnival.
If you’re not finished partying after the carnival has ended, or you’re getting tuned up before it begins, Zen is a great place to head. Here you’ll find local and international music, endless drinks, and people from all over the world, all in one place! Located in the centre of the city, this is one of the most popular night spots on the entire island, so you’re sure to have a fantastic time.
There is generous accommodation in an around the capital city, but if you want to camp, you’ll have to go a little further away from the main city limits.
While Trinidad & Tobago is a Caribbean island, you don’t have to splash the cash when it comes to where to say.
Do remember that during the carnival the chances are that accommodation is going to be limited, so definitely book well ahead of time if you can. The chances of finding a real bargain are going to be lower at this time, but it can be done if you look hard enough. Check out these few suggestions:
Located in the Belmont area of the capital, this is a fantastic budget option, and is an apartment style. This means you can save some cash and cook yourself breakfast or make a coffee when you wake up, rather than heading straight out, or paying for a hotel breakfast.
Rooms offer all mod cons, so you can relax and recover after all that carnival dancing, and you’ll find free Wi-Fi too – all the better for staying in touch and sharing those carnival photos. To secure your room though, be sure to book it now!
Located very centrally, and the ideal place to enjoy the carnival while not being too far away from the main action, this hotel offers mid-price range hotel accommodation, with breakfast included in the price.
You get all the mod cons once more, including parking if you choose to hire a car to get around the island a little easier. Again, you’re looking at an in-demand hotel, so book ahead of time to avoid disappointment.
If you want to indulge in a little luxury and make your time extra special, this accommodation is ideal. It is a private townhouse, so you can minimise the cost by sharing with friends, and as the name would suggest, it is located by the sea, with amazing views.
At just a few kilometres from the centre of the city, you’ll be able to get to and from with ease, and you can relax after your partying fun too. Again, book now to avoid missing out on this fantastic property.
For luxury right in the heart of the city, you can’t beat the Hyatt Regency. An instantly recognisable name, you know you’re getting quality. The hotel has beautiful and comfortable rooms, an infinity pool a rooftop bar, and a spa, for total relaxation. What more could you want? Book now for full glitz and glamour!
These are just a few suggestions, with countless more besides, but during this busy time of the year, always remember not to leave it until the last minute to find somewhere to stay.
Where to Eat?
Trinidad & Tobago’s authentic food is something to make your jaw drop and your mouth water! While you’re on the island, definitely check out some local dishes, and the local and very fresh fruit too! Of course, during the carnival, you’ll be partaking in a fair amount of the famous local rum too – be aware it is quite potent.
The Types of Food
While you’re parting it up at the carnival, you’ll see food everywhere. Food is a big part of island life, and a few local dishes you will come across include souse, bake and shark (fish sandwich, of very fresh, locally caught fare), roti, and doubles.
Doubles is the ideal dish for those on a vegan diet, and is an open sandwich of fried bread, with chickpea sauce – it’s truly delicious! Souse is marinated chicken feet, but is much more delicious than it sounds, while roti is an Indian-inspired dish, a spicy flatbread, ideal for munching on the go.
If you want to eat out during the carnival, or perhaps when you’re relaxing afterwards, check out these restaurants in Port of Spain.
Richards Shark And Bake
We mentioned shark and bake as one of the local dishes you’ll be offered, and there is some debate over whether it is shark and bake, or bake and shark, so you’ll see it written both ways. This is a fantastic budget option. You don’t normally have to book at this restaurant, but during the carnival, it can get very busy, so it might be a good idea to call ahead and reserve.
Jaffa at The Oval
This is a mid-budget range place to eat, and it’s a great spot for dessert if nothing else! A true island vibe exists here, with a sporty/chilled out atmosphere. Plentiful beer, plentiful local food, and delicious desserts, what more could you want after days of partying at the carnival? Book now to secure your table!
The Youthful Vegan
This a fantastic option for vegans, and offers a huge range of different dishes on a varied menu. The mango kefir is highly recommended, and the cookies are also very popular indeed! The menu changes daily, so you’re unlikely to get bored if you visit more than once. Again, this does get very busy as it is one of the main vegan restaurants in the city, so call to book your table now.
How To Get There?
It’s likely that if you’re flying into Trinidad & Tobago, you will land at Piarco International Airport. This is the largest airport in the Caribbean country, and the only one on the island.
From the airport to the city centre, the best option is to take a taxi. You could take a bus, but these can be crowded, which could be a little too much after a long flight and buses don’t tend to run to a strict schedule away from the capital. They tend to wait until enough passengers are on board.
There are many car rental companies who will help you out, and most of them are located at the airport or in the capital itself.
To drive on the island, you need to be 25 years of age at least and to have a valid driving licence, with two years experience of driving.
We mentioned taxis as a way of getting from the airport, and these are available all across the island. Maxi Taxis are available in the capital and these run like a bus, but are more like a taxi – confusing!
Several passengers have taxied around inside, and it has a set route, working out much cheaper than a regular taxi, and much more efficient than a bus.
Speaking of buses, South Quay is the main hub for buses in the capital, and this is where you will find a range of bus serves taking you to various parts of the city and around the island, for a relatively low price and full air conditioning too!
The Trinidad & Tobago Carnival History
The carnival has a truly interesting and special history, and that is what makes the carnival different from the others you’ll find going on at various times of the year. The carnival symbolises many things, namely community, but also celebrates the release of the island. Freedom was welcomed, and the carnival celebrates the release with fun, colour, and festivities.
The Trinidad & Tobago Carnival was started in the late 18th century by the French, who enjoyed processions in the streets of the island’s capital, just before Ash Wednesday. This meant that the days before Lent was filled with festivities and enjoying all the things they were likely to have to give up during the Lent period. This was then adapted by the locals on the island, and has become an all-around celebration of freedom, community, light, and friendship.