Trinidad And Tobago: Caribbean Carnival at its Best - My Family Travels

Trinidad and Tobago's spring Carnival will amuse your family with great costumes and amazing creativity.

If you like pulsating music, dancing in the streets, spectacular cultural events and parading masqueraders, then tropical Trinidad and Tobago’s annual spring Carnival should not be missed.

The islands of Trinidad and Tobago, just off the coast of South America, boast of an ethnically diverse population of 1.3 million, predominately African and Indian, in addition to Chinese, Lebanese, European and Amerindian. At Carnival time, burdens are forgotten, barriers fall and all from this cultural mosaic come to together to party!

Carnival’s Past Is As Colorful As Its Present

The stories of Carnival’s past are as colorful as the revelers costumes. Some trace the festival’s roots to the rites of Bacchus in ancient Greece, some to its position in the Christian calendar- marking lent and others emphasize the importance of the African rhythms wafting through Carnival’s air.

Still many believe, that early in the last century, the working population mimicked the colonial authorities’ extravagant balls by creating a cast of unflattering Carnival characters such as devils called JabJabs, human donkeys called Burrokeets and bandits called Midnight Robbers. While their origins may be hazy, these questionable characters can still be seen during Carnival today.

The Modern Carnival

At the beginning of the year, just two days before Ash Wednesday Carnival occurs. It is an entire season of events, which is concluded with a two-day “bacchanalian street party” on Carnival Monday and Carnival Tuesday. This festive occasion also known as “the greatest show on earth” can be compared to the high-spirited atmosphere of Mardi Gras in New Orleans. Preparations for Carnival are made as early as December. In the weeks preceding Carnival, many people go to parties and special events, where one can hear the sweet sounding music of calypso (a music form heavily influenced by Jazz) and soca (a derivative of calypso with a mixture of soul music).

Creativity At Its Personal Best

The artistic talents of this nation are abundant. Prior to Carnival, tourists can join the locals at the panyards, where large steelbands practice their beat on a very different drum – the only non-electric instrument invented in this century. The Calypso tents, on the other hand, offer calypsonians (people who sing calypsos) a stage to showcase their talent.

Competitions are staged throughout the country with the finalists strutting their stuff at the Queen’s Park Savannah. The public can purchase tickets to the Kings and Queens semi-final costume extravaganza, the Junior Parade of Bands, the National Panorama Finals and the Dimanche Gras Show. Known as one of the biggest events of the season, the Dimanche Gras Show brings together the nation’s calypsonians who compete against each other for the Calypso Monarch Title. Also at the event are the Kings and Queens of the different Carnival bands. Decked out in massive and colorful costumes, which are sometimes designed with robotic movements and pyrotechnics, the Kings and Queens parade in an attempt to win the crown for their band.

Port Of Spain’s Jump Up

Carnival is celebrated all over the Republic of Trinidad & Tobago, but the biggest bash is held in the capital city of Port of Spain. Since the constitution is suspended during Carnival, all inhibitions go by the wayside.

Every year at 2 am, Carnival Monday begins with J’Ouvert, where thousands congregate on the street, dancing alongside a favorite floating steelband. Be forewarned: this “Jump Up” gets messy so wear throw away clothes cause mud and paint may be flying in your direction.

Many first timers enjoy Carnival as a spectator, but by your second visit you’ll want to participate in the celebrations. Through the Trinidad & Tobago Tourism website, one can pre-join a mas band and select a costume. The average costume costs from $200-300. King and Queen costumes are priced from $500-900 and are breathtakingly beautiful.

Onlookers can catch the thousands upon thousands adorned in the most creative of designs parade for hours and hours across the Queen’s Park Savannah stage – dancing and gyrating for all to see.

Planning Your Trinidad Visit

Each year over five thousand tourists come to the festival. Hotel and airline reservations are taken months in advance for the festivities, which occur in February or March. Hotels in and around Port of Spain, including The Trinidad Hilton (868/624-3211), the Cascadia (868/623-3511) and the Kapok (868/622-5765) all offer special Carnival packages.

Keep in mind, though, that hotels such as the Hilton which are centrally located will not provide the best night’s sleep when the revelry of Carnival echoes through the streets at all hours.

When Carnival ends, Trinidad & Tobago returns to a more idyllic Caribbean environment, very inviting to those who crave a more relaxing holiday. Places of interest in Trinidad include the North Coast beaches, Fort Picton, The National Museum and Art Gallery and the Botanical Gardens in Port of Spain. Also, the Asa Wright’s Nature Centre, and the Military History and Aviation Museum in the Chaguaramas Peninsula, the area which hosted the 1999 Miss Universe Pageant.

Robinson Crusoe’s Tobago

Called the isle of Robinson Crusoe, Tobago is the place where many Carnival revelers go to recuperate. Tobago’s rainforest is the oldest forest reserve in the Western Hemisphere, dating back to 1776. Other attractions for families include the Botanic Gardens, Fort King George and The Tobago Museum in Scarborough.

Eco-travelers should make a pilgrimage to the seabird sanctuaries on the offshore islands of Little Tobago and St. Giles. Activities include hiking, snorkeling and scuba.

Accommodations are plentiful from the quaint Rovanel’s Resort (868/639- 9666) to Footprints Resort (868/660-0118) to the Mt. Irvine Bay Hotel and Golf Resort (868 639-8871). The Hilton Tobago Hotel (868/660-8500) has a supervised children’s Learning Centre for ages 5-17, making it a fine choice for famlies. The hotel will undergo renovations in 2008 and locals predict it will no longer be a Hilton brand after the refurbishment is complete.

Local Tobagan cuisine is served at its best at the Blue Crab (868/639-2737) in Scarborough and Jemma’s Treehouse (868/660-4066) in Speyside.

For more information contact Trinidad & Tobago Tourism at 800/748-4224, 888/595-4TNT or 868/675-7034.

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