I am so fresh off of the plane from Trinidad that I have not even gotten off the carnival high yet. I still hear soca music playing in my head while trying to focus on solving these equations for school. First off, let me say that even though I crossed Trini carnival off of my bucket list, it has since made its way back on there. I definitely NEED to go back and do it all over again plus more. I grew up around Caribbean carnivals and have been going to them my whole life but I have definitely never experienced one like this.
Before we jump right into this, let’s talk about cost. I made a budget of under $800 for flight and hotel (please keep in mind that I was flying from South Florida) but Carnival can cost well over $1000 for flight and accommodations if you do not book early. One pro is that you will not have to shell this money out in one setting. I split the costs up by paying for my hotel first then booking my flight months later. If this is your first time and you really plan on going, I suggest you start planning from now because everything sells out FAST.
Where to begin:
Everything about Trinidad carnival is about who you know. So the absolute first thing you want to do is see if you have any Trinidadian friends. It really helps if you can have a connect in Trinidad that can help you with booking a guest house or even with taxi rides because hotels can get pretty pricey. I found Trinidadians to be very helpful and accommodating when it came to carnival so do not be afraid to ask. The first thing that sells out for carnival is housing in Port of Spain so that is what you would want to secure first. I was fortunate enough to have my best friend’s big sister be a veteran carnivalista so she and her friends already had a guest house in a good location. We split the cost of $1,000 each room for 4 nights, Friday night to Tuesday morning. Granted, the rooms we booked were probably not even worth 3 stars but it got the job done. I was there for carnival, not to sleep. Besides, when I was looking into carnival hotels before I found my savior, the lowest price was twice that for the same amount of days so I was definitely counting my blessings.
When looking for accommodations your first time around, you want to start as early as possible and look for hotels close to Aripita Ave (nicknamed “di Ave”). By close, I mean walking distance because you definitely do not want to rely on a driver to take you back and forth (another bill and headache) or renting a car (Caribbean drivers are SAVAGES). Other ideal locations in Port of Spain would be close to Queens Park Savannah and in Saint James. Those are locations where you can walk to see the parade and still be in the midst of the events. Di Ave is where the night clubs and hangouts are and where most of the food vendors will be. This is where the main stage and all of the masqueraders are located so it is the heart of the carnival route.
As soon as you get your accommodations squared away the next step is to book your flight. Keep in mind that flights from South Florida (Orlando on down) are usually cheaper using Caribbean Airlines. The two main days of carnival are the Monday and Tuesday before Ash Wednesday but events and parties start a week or two before.
When I looked at flight prices in May of last year it was $250 roundtrip on Caribbean Airlines from Orlando. The time frame was for the Friday before Carnival to the Wednesday after (Ash Wednesday). When I finally found people who were willing to go with rooming accommodations it was in December and the flights had gone up. It was now $250 for a one way ticket on Friday and $180 to come back Tuesday evening. I chose Tuesday evening because the flights were a good $200-$300 less than Wednesday and Thursday and I was adamant on sticking with my budget. Flights prices did not start dropping until the Friday after and I did not have all that time off. For my second year, I probably will take a whole week off from Thursday to Thursday and enjoy Tobago for a day before flying out.
Be prepared for a long immigration line once you get off the airplane in Port of Spain. Because I flew out Tuesday evening, the wait time was not that long but Wednesday and Thursday lines are a different story so get to the airport at least 2 or 3 hours before.
Trinidad carnival is one of those trips that you have been saving your flight miles and hotel and credit card points for. They definitely come in handy when booking and can make your pockets happy. The dates for carnival for the next couple of years can be found here.
Be on the look out for Part II: How To Turn Up!