Earlier this year my boyfriend and I went on a 3 week holiday to America and the lovely Caribbean island of Trinidad. My sister is on an overseas posting with her job in Trinidad’s capital city Port of Spain so as I’m sure you can imagine, it quickly made it’s way on to my “Travel To Do” list and what better time than CARNIVAL time!!!
I’ll be the first to admit that I had no idea where she was talking about when she first said she was moving to Port of Spain. My first thought was “Yay, how great is Spain,” boy was I way off the mark there!!
Things you need to know about Trinidad
It’s actually called Trinidad and Tobago
No I’m not going to Trinidad AND a separate place called Tobago.. although I guess technically I could. Trinidad and Tobago are twin islands that make up a combined nation that’s about 3.5 hours flight from Miami. Tobago is the smaller one that’s known for it’s beaches, and Trinidad is the bigger one with the capital Port of Spain, known for the best Carnival in the Caribbean.
What’s this about a carnival, you say?!
Yup that’s right, it’s not just Brazil that has a carnival each year (forgive my ignorance up until now). Other Caribbean islands like Jamaica have a carnival each year too, but ask around and you’ll soon find that Port of Spain is the place to be (and I can now vouch for that)
Carnival feels like one big colourful parade that goes for days.. and days. The main parade days are the Monday and Tuesday before Lent. It’s loud (like really loud), it’s energetic, it’s spectacular. On those days people separate into groups (known as bands) They each have their own theme and they provide you with costumes, drinks and a semi-trailer worth of speakers to dance and follow along to.
It’s a hive of activity starting from the Friday night. Not only do they have the 2 main parade days but they also have Panorama, the grand final of the Steel Pan Bands on the Saturday. Entry into the event is by ticket purchase, but you can see them rehearse for free before the event which is just as good. I think I would go back just so I could see them perform again!!
J’ouvert (pronounced like joo-vay) happens the first night of Carnival weekend. It starts at about 3am and can go until lunch time the next day. The only way for me to describe it is one big street party with traditional soca style dance music, with an included paint fight.
There’s more to do in Port of Spain than meets the eye
Trinidad has great wildlife. We went on a late afternoon bird watching tour in a little wooden boat through leafy swamps out to see the Red Ibis birds come in to sleep for the evening. We saw snakes and little crabs on the way, but the birds were beautiful- and that’s coming from someone who normally has no interest in bird watching. Before too long the island was covered in a sea of pinky red birds who arrived in groups.
There’s also a great spot to get views over the city called Fort George Lookout. And you can’t go past Maracas Beach which locals and tourists love. It’s about an hours drive out of the city so take a picnic and some drinks or try a Bake ‘n Shark from one of the local shops down there.
I wouldn’t go alone
Find a tour that you can book onto!! If it wasn’t for my sister I would never have gone to Trinidad. The crime rate is high and by the time we’d got there on the 5th of February there had already been over 40 murders this year. It is such a shame because this little island is amazing. The culture and the music is so incredible.
Taxi’s are not always safe, and quiet streets aren’t always a good thing, but going at a busy time like Carnival means higher security and so much more to see and do.
But Emma, you’re so fussy!!
I always surprise myself when I go to other countries, especially those that I expect to differ so much to my own. Because of my lack of research I had no idea that Trinidad was so closely tied to America with almost all of their food coming from the states in big shipping containers. The local cuisine is meant to be great- like the Bake ‘n Shark at the beach, but I was happy to find pasta, chicken, and french fries.
Surprisingly enough I was shocked to find that Trinidad has the best KFC in the world. I’m not sure if that’s official, but people love it so much that I sat on a plane back to America with buckets of fried chicken in the overhead lockers.
Visa’s and Vaccinations
I’m certainly no expert and things can change so quickly so please check this stuff out before you go, but as an Australian we needed to purchase a visa on arrival for USD$67. We waited at immigration in a line for 2 hours so be prepared for a wait!!! Apparently it needed to be USD but then they swapped it for Trinny money before we paid for it so I’m not sure on that one.
We also needed to have quite a few vaccinations to make sure we were up to date including the Yellow Fever vaccination. It was expensive so stay tuned for a post on other places to go where you need a Yellow Fever Vac because I’m going to get my money’s worth!!
It’s totally worth it
Despite the fact that numerous people told me how dangerous it was and that I shouldn’t go, I was so glad that I did. I expected a third world country but what I got was a bunch of people living in “normal” houses and driving expensive cars. I would absolutely recommend going for Carnival but book in advance as there are not that many flights and they get pricey real quick!
If you want to participate (which we didn’t, but probably regret that decision now) definitely do your research before you go. Make sure you’re organised. There are so many great things that you can be apart of.