Calling all soca music lovers, if you’ve never attended Trinidad Carnival, make sure to add it to your bucket list! Trinidad Carnival is one of the largest in the world, with many people traveling from all over to attend. It occurs annually on the Monday and Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. Read more about attending one of the most fantastic street festivals in the world in my ultimate guide to Trinidad Carnival.
While Carnival happens in Trinidad and several cities worldwide (Miami, Toronto, Houston, London, and NYC), the experience in Trinidad is like no other. Costumes, sometimes called “mas,” music, and the cultural events leading up to Carnival Monday, are essential to the festival.
I played in Miami Carnival in 2016 Trinidad Carnival in 2023, and plan for Trinidad Carnival in 2024!
Ready to play mas in Trinidad? See all you need to know in my Ultimate Guide to Trinidad Carnival!
Trinidad & Tobago’s Carnival is the most significant event for the country every year. Many people attend locally as well as out of the country. Ticket prices will increase as you get closer to February, so as soon as you know, you’re planning to attend, book your flights, stay, and transportation ASAP.
Book your flights to Port of Spain at Piarco International Airport (POS). If you plan to visit Tobago during your stay, you can also book those tickets. However, since it is easier to get Tobago flights, you do not need to book these as early as your tickets to Trinidad.
With hotels, these tend to get booked very early, especially for Trinidad Carnival weekend. The main hotels are Hyatt Regency Trinidad and Hilton Trinidad. You can also look at other hotels in the area.
I typically stay with my family during my Trinidad visits. However, we book a room at Hyatt during the carnival Monday and Tuesday as it is easy to walk back to during the festivities, removing the stress of transportation on those days.
Unless you come solely for Monday and Tuesday Carnival and stay at a hotel in the area, you will most likely need transportation. I recommend hiring a private driver that you can split between your group. It will remove the stress of navigating Trinidad’s streets, which will have more traffic due to Carnival, and the regular local Trini drivers.
Private drivers can assist with transportation to/from your stay, any fetes you attend leading up to and after Carnival, and Carnival Monday and Tuesday. But, of course, you can always book your car for after if you plan to stay and want to drive on your own after Tuesday once the streets have settled down post-Carnival.
Choosing a band
Once you decide to ‘play mas,’ it means you are purchasing a costume from a provider (band) to officially join in on the two-day parade, Carnival Monday and Carnival Tuesday. There are many options, and knowing which one to choose may feel overwhelming. However, choosing the right band to play with for you and your group is essential.
You can choose a band based on your vibes, costume design, band amenities, age range, budget, and native-to-visitor ratio. In addition, you can choose from small, medium, and large bands. Large bands are the most popular, containing about 8-12 sections (3,000-9,000 people).
Getting an all-inclusive band is an excellent option as it will include your food, drinks, bathroom, security, etc. While you can find cheaper alternatives for bands, picking a band with good security is important. Carnival can be a crazy experience, and good security is an important aspect to have. It is not something to risk, especially in Trinidad.
We played with Bliss, a break-off of Tribe in 2023. Bliss provided a great experience with the costume selection, DJs, crowd, and security.
Purchasing your costume
Your costume determines what section of the band you will be in. The costume design is based on the band’s theme that year. (Note, larger bands will have a greater selection of costume designs).
Each section of the band typically has three designs of costumes you can choose from: frontline women, backline women, and men. Frontline women’s is usually fancier, with more costume elements, and the most expensive. Backline women are cheaper, but it won’t have as many parts, and then there is the men’s costume.
My costume choice
I chose the backline for my costume, as the frontline had a huge feather set. While the feather’s back piece is gorgeous and can complete the look, I did not want to wear it or carry it around all day.
Remember to bring
Once you purchase your costume in the band, there are some items you’ll want to remember to bring on the road. You can pick up or have your costume shipped, and it will include all the elements for your Carnival Tuesday costume. Other items to consider are these items are :
- Monday Wear (will discuss more in Carnival Monday)
- Comfortable Shoes/Boots
- Belt Bag
- Mini Fan
- Fete Patches
I am working on a detailed list of items to bring for Carnival…lookout out for my future post.
The lead-up to Carnival Monday and Tuesday is one of the best parts of attending Trinidad Carnival. These are known as “band launch fetes,” which are the events leading up to Carnival Monday and Tuesday. These fetes (huge parties) can vary from night concerts, all-day festivals, boat parties, wet parties, and so many more.
As with Carnival, fetes are a marathon, not a sprint. So pick a few that would interest you in attending. If you can participate in some fetes before Carnival, it’s worth starting to get in the carnival spirit and feels the vibes around the carnival season.
Carnival Monday will have three sections to start. J’ouvert begins early and involves throwing mud, paint, and more scandalous behavior. ‘Pretty Mas’ starts around 10 AM and is a ‘rehearsal’ for Carnival Tuesday. Finally, Monday Night Mas is geared toward spectators. (It is not necessary to go to all of these).
Carnival Monday and Tuesday are similar setups to how your day will go. You meet where at the time and location your band sets and begin walking with the band (depending on how big it is, different sections will be separate with trucks). You start walking (or dancing) through the streets, listening to the DJ’s sets, and enjoying the vibes. You’ll typically break for lunch and resume the parade after that.
For ‘Pretty Mas,’ while it was deemed a more casual affair in the past, over time, Monday wear has played a bigger role for Carnival Monday. You can find multiple Monday wear designers to find a piece you want to wear on Monday or get a custom piece made.
Sometimes artists will come and perform in a section of the band. Also, be sure to keep a lookout for surprise guest performances!
Finally, Carnival Tuesday is here, and all the lead-up feels worthwhile for this day. Carnival Tuesday is more exuberant than Carnival Mondays. On Tuesday, you show off and wear your costume for your band.
Carnival Tuesday is similar to Monday but will usually start a bit earlier. You’ll walk the streets and enjoy the music, drinks, and carnival vibes. The experience is like no other, to surround yourself with masqueraders all in celebration with you!
Drink, dance, party, and stay safe for your lively carnival experience!