Carnival in Trinidad and Tobago: Flashy Taste of Honey in the Caribbean

While Mardi Gras in New Orleans and Carnival in Rio are among the world’s best-known pre-Lenten bashes, Trinidad and Tobago’s Carnival is in a class all its own. “A taste of honey” is how many have described the event, an explosion of color, creativity, dance, art and music

While many of the towns in this twin-island nation get into the action, the main bash takes place in Port of Spain. In this city where rum, dance and singing flow freely 365 nights a year, Carnival draws by far the biggest and most raucous throngs of revelers, including locals and visitors from throughout the Caribbean and elsewhere.

WHEN: February 19-20

WHY GO: Visitors learn firsthand what makes this celebration the “Greatest Show on Earth,” as it’s known, when watching thousands of costumed masqueraders dance through the streets of Port of Spain – and all of it accompanied by the music of steel pan and brass bands. While the costume presentations provide an exciting introduction to the islands’ vivid culture, mostly it’s a way to cut loose.

And once the two-day celebration is over and the Catholic season of Lent begins, many visitors stay to tour the flora- and fauna-rich countryside in Trinidad. Others head for Tobago, where the beaches are pristine and tranquility is in abundance.

WHAT TO EXPECT: If you get to the island before the big two-day celebration, don’t miss the crowning of the king and queen of the masquerade bands at the Dimanche Gras show, which takes place on Feb. 18 at the Jean Pierre Complex (Wrightson Road, Port of Spain). Also check out the Children’s Carnival, which also flows through Port of Spain on February 17.

On February 19, the fun starts early. Visitors can participate in J’ouvert, a French term that means the opening of day. It begins before dawn, around 4am, and lasts until 11 that morning. Partiers take off through Port of Spain and other parts of the nation in comical portrayals, including local and international political personalities, as well as celebrities.

Once J’ouvert is over, it’s time to grab breakfast and perhaps get a bit of sleep before venturing out for the day’s parades, which begin around 1 pm and end around midnight. Expect to see costumes – some colorful, others that look as if they’re torn from the pages of a fashion magazine. Again, thousands take to the streets and dance to pulsating music.

On February 20, the street party continues. Be ready to start at 8 a.m. and keep it up until midnight. Now, though, thousands more are added to the masquerade bands – which are judged by panels at various venues – and the costumes are even more flamboyant. Stalls featuring Caribbean fare, soft drinks and more potent refreshments line the streets.

At midnight, the masqueraders disperse, the orchestras return to their camps – and preparations begin for next year’s Carnival.


– Visitors are advised not to travel with valuables (including jewelry) and to venture out in groups only. Stay away from dark and isolated places.

– Wear comfortable shoes. There is a lot of walking involved at Carnival time.

– Carry ID with you, including your address while in Trinidad and Tobago.

– Try the local cuisine from the roadside vendors; just remember to look for the food handler’s license.

– Check the newspaper and local Web sites daily for a schedule of events.

WHERE TO STAY: During Carnival season, a room at the Hilton, Marriott and other major hotels in central Port of Spain costs about US$300 to $500 per night. Most deluxe hotels book early, but last-minute travelers hoping to jump into the action this year may be able to snag a basic room in a guesthouse for $200 to $300.

INFORMATION: Trinidad and Tobago Tourism Development Co., 868-675-7034,

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