Trinidad and Tobago is a small Republic twin island in the Caribbean with a big heart and big culture! We’re an ethnic melting pot, in a tropical paradise filled with raw talent and a spirit that makes our country and it’s people unique.

Our Carnival festival is like no other. We call it “The Greatest Show on Earth” because honestly there is absolutely no question why our festival is always found on the “Top Carnivals in the World” and “Once-in-a-Lifetime Experiences” lists (as well as on multiple online and travel guide bucket lists).

Every year one and a half million people come together to partake in this two-week festival. What makes the Trinidad and Tobago Carnival special is that unlike carnivals in Rio and Venice (which are mostly spectator events) here in “sweet T&T” you can be part of the magic (and I do mean magic!) by being in it.

There is no feeling like being part of the energy and pulse of the hundreds of thousands of revelers that pour onto the streets in Port of Spain (on the Monday and Tuesday before Ash Wednesday) each year.

The rhythm of our music is infectious. Moving with the crowd to the beat of the drums while “wining” your waist to the command of the singers and performers (all while dressed in colorful costumes full of feathers and beads) is what makes being part of this spectacle and festival of the bands special.

You’re probably wondering who I am at this point and why Carnival means so much to me, so let me introduce myself; my name is Shannon Hutchinson. I am a pilot with Caribbean Airlines, an award-winning artist, and entrepreneur, but on Carnival Monday and Tuesday, I put on my costume and become one of the “Queens of Carnival” in the Parade of the Bands!

My first Carnival Queen experience was when I was three years old, (yes, I typed that right). I was the “Mother of Pearl” in ’86 and I thought the Calypso Tiny Winey” by Arrow (about a girl from the country) was written just for me. I didn’t play Carnival again until ’99 when I turned 16 years old, and I’ve played most years ever since.

Carnival’s History

To understand why Carnival is so ingrained into Trinidad and Tobago’s DNA you’ll first need to explore its history. The festival dates back to the 1800’s when French Catholics merged into the society, both in the aristocracy and into the slave and freed slave groups. Back then (from December to Lent) is when Carnival was born into its infancy – with all classes mimicking each other with masks and costumes, parties, and festivals.

The African slaves also celebrated their heritage at the end of the sugar harvesting season (near the end of August) with the “Camboulay” (patois for “Cannes Brulees”) with the burning of the sugar cane. These celebrations also had “Calinda” – which is a form of martial arts called “Stick Fighting”.

After the abolishing of slavery, the Camboulay and Calinda were banned as it was deemed dangerous and a bad influence. In 1884 things came to a head with the Camboulay Riots, which forced the British (who owned the islands until our independence in 1962) to concede their position on Camboulay.

This merged it with the Carnival festival in order to allow all the classes to celebrate together. Since then the festival has represented a celebration of freedom and togetherness.

Carnival Today

Although the festival traditions have evolved over the years, today we still get to see “every creed and race” (part of our national anthem) come together in the street and share nothing but love. This festival has brought us all together in a way that is truly special.

Every year I cross the stage with goosebumps and tears in my eyes as I get to party and celebrate with Trinis and visitors alike.

Speaking of special, 2018 is the first year that I will be sharing my own personal Carnival Queen experience with others. This year I have my own section with a Carnival Band (producers of costumes for the festival of bands) called Entice Carnival as well as with their sister band Fantasy Carnival!

Ladies, if you want to travel to T&T and celebrate like a Carnival Queen, email me for more information on my section, Zenobia. You can also see more about it at Entice Carnival. Gentlemen don’t think I forgot you! You too can check out both Entice Carnival and My Carnival Fantasy.

Don’t make the mistake to come to Trinidad for Carnival and not be in costume. “Get in yuh section!” as we say in Trinidad.

T&T Travel Advice

If you want to experience Carnival you have to book early! This isn’t a last-minute affair for the non-revver. Get that annual leave, and book your flight and accommodations by December or January at the latest. Carnival is usually in February or March. This year it’s February 12-13th.

Get your costume early, because they will sell out quickly! You can play with my Carnival Band by signing up online, or instead, you can try your luck buying un-claimed costumes from the ‘Mas Camps’ the Sunday before Carnival.

Carnival Secrets

Here’s what I suggest you do to get the most out of your Carnival experience.

  • Get comfortable shoes! Looking good is great, but being able to party all day is even better.
  • Sunscreen is your best friend – apply lots of SPF. There’s lots of sun where we are, so plan ahead and save your skin.
  • Most Carnival parties include food and drink, but you should never forget to keep “vex money” on hand. This is just enough cash to get you home after a party! No seasoned Carnival reveler leaves home without it.
  • Ladies, here’s my biggest pro tip for you… keep your makeup looking perfect all day with just a little bit of hairspray!

The Food

People know us for our amazing food! So while you’re here, I suggest that you be sure to taste your first doubles before you leave the airport and make your way to your hotel. Have some coconut water (out of a freshly cut coconut) on the Savannah, and then head over to Maracas Bay to try some of our Bake and Shark.

This TripAdvisor “best sandwich” is featured on many food and travel network television shows, and is “the most delicious sandwich” Bizarre Foods host Andrew Zimmer has ever tasted! Don’t forget to garnish it with tamarind and chandon beni sauces like the locals do.

After the party’s over, hop over to Tobago during the “Carnival cool down” (Ash Wednesday and onward) to have some crab and dumplings in Store Bay. Tobago is also a huge eco-tourism destination. It has the largest brain coral in the world along with beaches that’ll take your breath away. Don’t forget to take a glass bottom boat to the Nylon Pool before you leave.

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Travel is in my blood (I’m also the daughter of a pilot!), so I hope you got some great T&T travel tips as well as a great travel destination suggestion. Keep up with me right here on ID90 Travel, because in the next few months I will be taking you on some of my adventures in the Caribbean.

There’ll be more travel tips, hot spot suggestions, and must-see places for your next non-rev vacation! You can also find me on social media (both on Facebook and Instagram) or follow my adventures via the hashtag #TheFlyingArtist. Coming to Trinidad for Carnival? Let me know!

***Cover photo via: Fantasy Carnival by Gary Jordan Photography (Instagram)***

Author: Shannon Hutchinson

Shannon Hutchinson is a member of the 2017 ID90 Travel Interliner A-Team. A pilot with Caribean Airlines, Shannon is also an award-winning artist, entrepreneur, and Carnival Queen from Trinidad and Tobago.