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The Parties You Must Attend at Trinidad Carnival

February 16, 2016 By: Joe Pike

The Soca Brainwash 2016 was an incredible party that Trinidad Carnival attendees need to experience. But can you believe it wasn't even the best party of the week? // Photo by Joe Pike

Many people tend to only associate Trinidad Carnival with the parade on Carnival Tuesday, where thousands of alcohol-fueled party-goers parade through the streets of Port of Spain in elaborate costumes. 

But while Carnival Tuesday serves as the culmination of a roughly week-long celebration, Carnival Tuesday is not the only party clients should attend during Trinidad Carnival. In fact, it’s not even the craziest bash of the week.

Travel Agent recently returned from our onsite coverage of Trinidad Carnival and breaks down the best parties of the week along with some helpful tips on how to reach the party’s full potential.

The Top Three Parties of Trinidad Carnival

Travel Agent's Joe Pike (far right) and his fellow Dirty Dozen revelers embrace the paint as part of the J'ouvert celebration, the best party of Trinidad Carnival. // Photo by Toni Anne Thomas of Caribbean Vibrations TV


Come tired and leave covered in paint and ready to seize the day... after a shower and a long siesta. 

Live musicians, including vocalists and deejays, take to the stage from about 3:30 to 4:30 a.m., getting "band" members fueled up with beer, rum punch and some heavily pounding soca music before revelers take to the streets. Bands are basically names given to the seperate groups taking part in the party. Travel Agent was part of the Dirty Dozen band. 

It starts with just a smudge. Travel Agent's Joe Pike wears a small splatter of blue paint on his face as the J'ouvert wildness ensues. // Photo by Toni Anne Thomas of Caribbean Vibrations TV

About five trucks, all going roughly 1 to 5 mph, follow band members as they parade through the streets. One of the trucks serves as the music, housing nothing but gigantic speakers all blaring music to keep the energy high. There is also a truck serving as the bar and another one that has portable bathrooms on board.  

It won't take long before you start to feel some cold paint first slowly splashing you in small little drips and drops. Then people start to up the quantity of paint, baby powder, mud, oil and whatever else can make a mess. Full handfuls of paint are commonly wiped on your face and then the buckets start flat out getting dumped. We were all like dancing Jackson Pollock canvases. 

The true beauty of J'ouvert, however, is that even if you begin as a different gender or race as your fellow reveler, when it's through, you're all covered in the same paint.

The History

J'ouvert is French for "day break." In 1783, when slavery was prevalent, French settlers would throw masquerade balls that the slaves were barred from. The slaves would instead throw their own parties in their backyards, wearing costumes to mock their slave owners. So, in many respects, J'ouvert was born from a revolt against oppression. 

Some experts say the tradition of paint was spawned in remembrance of civil disturbances in Port of Spain when the people smeared themselves with oil or paint to avoid being recognized.

Some Helpful Tips

Guests of J'ouvert should be prepared to get whatever he or she wears that night destroyed. Band members are provided with a t-shirt bearing the band's name and logo. Travel Agent was a member of a band called The Dirty Dozen. 

Be sure to hit the bathrooms one last time before taking to the streets at J'ouvert. There are hardly any lines during the live music portion of the party. Although there is a bathroom truck, it is the last truck of the pack. So, every time you need to use the restroom, you may need to fall back a bit or walk against the crowd to get to the truck.

For every drink, pound a water. Sure, excessive drinking, lack of sleep and just general fatigue can all ruin your time at J'ouvert, but the biggest culprit is dehydration. The adrenaline produced from the pounding bass and the general high-energy vibe can easily mask dehydration and exhaustion. Don't be fooled. Your body is still confused. Feed it as much water as possible. 

Before taking to the streets, cover your body in baby oil. Try to get your face, shoulders and legs at least. This makes the paint that guests are inevitably going to be covered in easy to get off in the shower. 

Don't bring anything aside from your room key. If you want to bring some emergency cash, we suggest stuffing a few bucks in your sock. 

Like all Carnival events, be smart. Travel in groups. Don't go anywhere alone. Be mindful of pickpocketing. Large groups are large groups. There are only so many people that can behave before a few decide not to. The vibe that Travel Agent witnessed was very upbeat and peaceful. Sure, there was a lot of "wining," which some might consider to be on the racy side of dancing, but it never got out of hand. Having said that, no need to tempt fate. 

Take a pre-party power nap. No matter what time your Sunday night festivities conclude, try to take a nap before J'ouvert even if it's only an hour or two. Trinidad Carnival is a marathon, not a sprint, and your body will thank you for every time you recharge it's battery even if it's not 100 percent full. 

Soca Brainwash 2016

The Soca Brainwash 2016 was basically a terrific outdoor concert festival. It takes place a little later in the afternoon around 3:30 p.m., giving party-goers the opportunity to sneak in a nap and grab some lunch before a marathon dance party in the sun ensues. 

Soca music, which is a variation of calypso, is a genre of Caribbean music that originated in Trinidad and Tobago in the early to mid 970s, and developed into a range of styles in the 1980s and later.

Some Helpful Tips

Bring some sunblock. Bring different SPFs if you have to, but make sure you're covered with something all day. As opposed to the parade-type parties during Carnival where you are constantly moving, you're practically stationary during Soca Brainwash aside from some side-to-side dance moves. 

Travel Agent's Joe Pike followed Soca Brainwash tradition by tagging his name on the black tarp toward the entrance. 

Don't be afraid to move up. Although there were a few thousand people in attendance, there was also plenty of space. There was never a line for the restroom and never a long line for a drink. From the back of the pack it appears as though the front is jammed packed. As you approach forward, however, you discover there are pockets of space that allows for an easy path to the front of the stage if that's where you want to be. 

Make your mark. Upon entering is a fence covered with black tarp. There are colored paint markers on tables nearby. Attendees are encouraged to paint their names or nicknames on the black tarp as they enter. We obliged. 

Leave the Ray Bans at home. There's no need to bring any valuables to this party. Your band is all-inclusive and covers drinks and food. There is no need to bring anything more than a few bucks with you. Again, stuff that in your sock. 

If you have a backup pair of shades, bring those instead of your go-to pair. When the sun goes down, it can be easy not to notice that you just danced them off your t-shirt. 

Carnival Tuesday, the culmination of all the Trinidad Carnival events, brought out some beautiful costumes. // Photo by Jennifer Hartley of Ottawa Life Magazine

Carnival Tuesday

Carnival Tuesday, the culmination of all the Trinidad Carnival events, was surprisingly the most subdued of all the parties Travel Agent attended. And it was quite refreshing.

Although we expected it to be a bit more wild, we were also relieved that it wasn't. It was special in a different way. It was great to just see the many unique costumes that obviously required a lot of love to make and the beautiful smiles that went along with them. This was a day of pride. Sure, the drinks flowed and the music cranked, but this was a far less crazy party than J'ouvert and Soca Brainwash 2016.

The highlight of any carnival is crossing the stage, so we are not exactly going out on a limb when we say this was Travel Agent's favorite part of Carnival Tuesday. Sure, getting into costume and cracking open that first Carib of the day as fellow Carnival-goers begin making there way on foot to the parade was a sight to see, but crossing the stage represented perhaps the culmination of the week for Travel Agent. It was the last crazy act we would partake in. Guests began jumping up to the music and started to form a herd of drunken masqueraders bouncing their way across a literal stage as bleachers full of attendees clapped and screamed for the people "playing mas," which is a phrase for bascially participating in Carnival. 

Other Notable Events Worth Attending

The Tribe Ignite Fete (or party) was the first event Travel Agent attended during out coverage of Trinidad Carnival. // Photo by Joe Pike

Tribe Ignite Fete

This was basically a Soca Brainwash-type live, outdoor concert, but it was held at night instead of the day, and Travel Agent thought the performers were better here as well.

Attendees of the Tribe Ignite Fete were greeted by fire spitters. // Photo by Joe Pike

As attendees entered, they were greeted by a fire spitter on either side, each dancing and working up a sweat before hurling large orange clouds of fire from their mouths. 

Of all the events we attended, this was the only one where the volume of people was a bit of an annoyance. Lines for drinks took forever and there were always waits for the bathroom. 

The highlight of the night came when Trinidad native and soca legend, Machel Montano, took the stage at about 3:30 a.m. It's not every day you see the headliner of a concert take the stage well into the morning. 

Some Helpful Tips

Get multiple drinks at once unless you want to wait. This was one of the only parties where there was a terribly long wait on the drink line. We didn't see anyone enforce a drink maximum, so we would suggest getting as much as you can carry so you can enjoy the music for a bit before the next refill. 

Carnival Saturday belongs to the children during Trinidad Carnival. // Photo by Joe Pike

Carnival Saturday, aka the Kiddies Carnival

Whereas the other celebrations were more dance party than parade, the Kiddies Carnival was a true parade. There wasn't much drinking for this event, although there were plenty of shops selling beers and rum drinks along the road. There was no beer truck however. There was a music truck though. The costumes were incredible and the children participating were all adorable, mainly because they were all just so happy and proud to be there. 

Carnival Monday

This was almost a tune-up for Carnival Tuesday. The main difference between the two days is basically that Tuesday contains the more elaborate costumes. Marching begins around midday after J'Ouvert morning. 

Where to Stay

Bottom line is if clients are interested in attending Trinidad Carnival in 2017, book them a stay at the Hyatt Regency Trinidad as soon as possible. In fact, when Travel Agent was leaving this year's Trinidad Carnival, we were told rooms at the Hyatt were already being booked for next year. 

This is because it is clearly the best hotel to stay at in Port of Spain and isn't that much more expensive than the rest of the hotels, considering there is a lot of price gouging at nearby hotels during Trinidad Carnival. If the Hyatt fills up or if clients are looking to save a few bucks on the rooms, the Hilton Trinidad & Conference Centre would be a solid option. 

The overall vibe of the Hyatt Regency Trinidad is both lively and chill at the same time, making it a great place to kick back and relax after a day (or morning) of hard partying and dancing in the Caribbean sun. The service here is also a step above the other nearby hotels. 

Looking for a Good Driver/ Tour Guide?

If you're looking for a reliable and knowledgeable tour guide on the ground in Trinidad, we were quite impressed with Gerald "Mr. Nick" Nicholas of Sensational Tours and Transport. He accompanied us with his own driver while he sat in the passenger seat pointing out historical facts and notable landmarks. He also seemed to know everyone in Trinidad and those kind of people are usually incredible assets for any vacation. Agents looking to book Sensational Tours and Transport, should e-mail [email protected].

Visit and keep visiting for all your latest Caribbean news. Be sure to follow Travel Agent’s Joe Pike on Twitter @TravelPike.

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About the Author

Joe Pike
Joe Pike is Travel Agent's senior editor covering the Caribbean, Bahamas & Bermuda; Hawaii; Central & South America. Previously, Pike was a newspaper reporter for The Asbury Park...

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By Joe Pike | February 16, 2016
While Carnival Tuesday serves as the culmination of a roughly week-long celebration, it is not the only party clients should attend during Trinidad Carnival. Here are our top picks.