If you’re a first-timer planning to partake in the bacchanal, endless fetes and tomfoolery that is Trinidad carnival, we recommend you read this. Nothing can completely prepare you for the madness and more-than-likely plot twists but #TeamELIXHER has gathered a few tidbits from first-hand experience that might come in handy.
1. Carnival is Queer AF.
Women “wining” on each other is totally acceptable. While the same doesn’t apply to men, there is fluidity in terms of gender expression. Men can “wuk up” their waist to their hearts desire and the ability to do so praised. And everywhere you turned, you saw “family.” Well, our more-accurate-than-not gaydars were sounding off. Masculine of center women donned men’s versions of costumes. Hotel bars were sprinkled with male pairs talking intimately, with body language that screamed, “I’m gon’ rip those feathers and beads off yo’ fine ass.”
2. Party Done…By the Time Carnival Starts.
The fete list isn’t released until a few months before carnival. If you’re wise, you’ll book your travel (and hotel) a year before the festivities for the best deal. Most of the parties are finished by Carnival Monday and Tuesday. So plan to arrive in Trinidad (Port of Spain, to be exact) an entire week before you actually “play mas.”
3. Don’t Skip the Fetes or the Food.
The parties are pricey (the average fete will run you anywhere from $175-300 USD). They often include performances from big name soca artists, unlimited drinks and all-you-can-eat food stations. If you can work it into your budget, we recommend trying to make it to at least one. And arrive early! That way you can take full advantage of all the food stations and skip the long lines that will likely form later. Then you can focus on the libations, live music and having the time of your life.
4. Vibes. Vibes. Vibes.
Each fete has a different feel. So do the carnival bands. Do your research online (there are a bunch of carnival blogs and Facebook groups) and talk to folks who have been previously. Some are laid-back; others are more “stush” or about looking cute and not sweating out your wand curls or crisp button-up. (Folks pull out all the stops for carnival, including booking makeup artists, donning statement pieces that bare boobs and booty cheeks of all shapes and sizes. It’s like playing adult dress-up, so have fun with your personal style!)
5. You Can Go at Your Own Pace.
You likely won’t sleep more than a few hours a night. But the adrenaline rush will give you endless energy to “chip” down de road for 12+ hours, two days in a row. The good news is, while there’s an official “start time” for when the bands assemble before they hit the streets, apps like Find Yuh Band, allow you to locate your costume-claded crew and join them later in the day if you choose to catch a few extra Z’s first.
First After Ash Wednesday.
K. So we’re clear: Get all your partying in the week before carnival. If you’ve got Trini roots and have family on the island, plan to see them after Carnival Tuesday. You will be in a daze, lose sense of time and mostly be thinking about what you’ll drink/eat next or if that woman that was just wining up on you is into you in that way.
7. Book a Post-Carnival Massage.
Remember that adrenaline rush we mentioned earlier? Well, when carnival is over, so is that high…and then the pain you’ve inflicted on your body sets in. Get ready for the sore feet and inflamed calves. Now, footwear likely plays a big part in the turmoil you’ll put your limbs through, so use extra cushy shoe inserts and flat sneakers made for walking long distances. Just to be safe, make massage arrangements with the boo, your besties or the hotel spa for when you’re through. Also, don’t forget to stay hydrated.
8. Everyone Goes to Tobago Afterwards.
You might think skipping to the twin island Tobago after carnival will be a serene break from the bashment. Wrong! Everyone from Trinidad carnival makes their way to the beautiful beaches of Tobago to keep the party going. So grab your swim trunks and keep wining! Sleep on the plane back home.
9. Taxi Go Eat Up All Yuh Money.
If you book your hotel early, you should be able to find somewhere close to the festivities (hotels like the Hyatt and Hilton host their own fetes). Some carnival-goers will reserve a driver in advance for a large posse to get to and fro. Otherwise, you’ll depend on taxis that your hotel can hail. These won’t be cheap and they’ll add up (we’re talking $12 – $20 dollars for 10-minute rides). But it gives you a secure way to get around with a legit cabbie — highly inflated prices for tourists included. It’ll be tough to get a ride back from festivities like J’Ouvert and Carnival Monday/Tuesday since you’re either covered in mud or paint, plus the streets are blocked off. So be prepared to walk back to wherever you’re staying. (Carnival is generally safe but be sure to walk in groups always.)
10. Carnival Tabanca is Real.
“Tabanca,” or the sadness you might experience after a breakup, is often used to describe the withdrawal symptoms you’ll go through after carnival. You’ve been part of this incredible, non-stop celebration for days, and then you go back to everyday life. You might find yourself gazing longingly at the costume headpiece still sitting on your nightstand or constantly scouring Instagram for carnival photos. Some say the only cure is to start planning for the next year.
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