While on my birthday trip to St Maarten for SXM Carnival, I learned that Tobago would be hosting its Inaugural Carnival in October. I haven’t been to Trinidad since 2019 and Tobago since our family trip back in 2015 so getting the chance to visit family and celebrate carnival in one trip was a no-brainer for me to go.
Tobago Carnival’s aim was to provide an intimate cultural experience and keep old traditions alive while simultaneously embracing new trends.
Tobago hosted 4-5 days of jampacked events leading to the carnival under the theme Ritual, Revelry, Release ending with Pan & Powder, j’ouvert, mud mas, night mas, and the parade of the bands during the last weekend in October (October 28-30).
Well, it’s been some time since I went to Tobago Carnival and I’m excited to share my Tobago Carnival recap. If you’re thinking about playing mas in Tobago, here’s my full Tobago Carnival 2022 review and some tips for attending next year.
Important Things To Know
When I came back from Tobago last week, I received a lot of questions from people wanting to know more about Tobago’s Carnival. Here are some important things to know for those attending next year.
- This Carnival is separate from Carnival in Trinidad which is held during the traditional Lenten Season (the Monday and Tuesday before Ash Wednesday).
- To participate in any of the main events (night mas, j’ouvert, or pretty mas), you need to register with a masquerade band and pay for a costume.
- Tobago Carnival 2023 is scheduled for October 27-29
- For official Tobago Carnival updates, follow Tobago Carnival on Instagram and Facebook
Band Registration and Costume Pickup
Since this was my first time playing mas in Tobago, I relied on one of my cousins who has been involved in the carnival industry since her teens, and my own research to find mas bands and fetes.
As mentioned in my Tobago Carnival Guide, I played j’ouvert with Fog Angels, the leading band in Tobago Carnival, and pretty mas with Jade Monkey Mas a new band from the most popular Bar and Casino in Tobago that partnered with award-winning Ronnie and Caro, the Mas Band for costume design and production.
We arrived in Tobago early on Carnival Wednesday morning. My initial plan was to be in Trinidad & Tobago from October 26-Nov 1, spending time in Tobago for the Carnival on the 27-31, but with limited flight and ferry service being available after the official Tobago Carnival launch in August, I extended the trip.
This gave us the opportunity to participate in some carnival events while also visiting family, and catching up on some much-needed rest. Due to the extension, we stayed at three different properties: Doris Guesthouse, The Comfort Inn & Suites, and Carolina Point Resort.
TIP: Make sure to secure your flight and hotel early as these options will sell out quickly. The best area to stay in is Crown Point as most of the nightlife is in this area.
We checked into Doris Guest House in Crown Point and walked over to Jenny’s for some breakfast where I had a smoked herring and a sada roti while my mother had bake and saltfish.
After checking out the neighborhood and a much-needed nap, I walked over to Chill Out Bar to pick up my costume for j’ouvert but ended up getting it Friday due to bad weather and delayed ferry services from Trinidad to Tobago.
Wednesday night, we walked over to Milford Rd where Jade Monkey Bar hosted a Pavement Lime with live music, giveaways, drinks, and good vibes. We decided to eat here and I had shrimp and roasted potatoes for dinner.
Thursday we got a ride to the Comfort Inn & Suites, Tobago’s newest 4-star hotel in Scarborough. The rate included breakfast, and access to amenities like the spa, gym, restaurant, outdoor terrace, rooftop pool, and laundry room. When it came to certain events for the carnival, this was the perfect location and a bonus was bumping into local soca artists throughout the day.
@msjoannae ?Comfort Inn & Suites Tobago #hoteltok #tobago #bagotok #caribbeantiktok #trinitok #tiktoktravel #traveltiktok #joannaetravels #tobagocarnival #suitesoca #carnivaltok #tobagocarnival2022 #tobagotiktok ♬ Sensual Seduction – Snoop Dogg
After picking up my media pass from Welcome to Bago, I went back to Crown Point to pick up my costume from the Jade Monkey Mas camp. The pickup was very streamlined and a committee member even helped me load my backpack in the taxi. I was missing my leg bands but got them the next day after getting my j’ouvert costume from Chill Out Bar.
I received a mix of snacks, tampons, pepper sauce, a rag, wristbands, drink cups, and a string backpack in the goodie bags between both bands.
That night we had dinner at the hotel where I had a seafood risotto and my mom had scallops. We then went downstairs to check out the Suite Soca on the Terrace event for Pan & Kaiso with RBC Redemption Sound Setters Steel Band Orchestra.
Tobago Carnival Fetes
One thing that Tobago Carnival showed me was that it is possible to have fun and grieve at the same time. Before my trip, I secured tickets to several fetes including Burna Boy at the TOMAC Festival on Thursday, Floats and Bikinis, Pan & Powder, and Vibes with Voicey on Friday, and Eden Garden Party on Saturday.
Unfortunately, I did not attend any of them after hearing about the death of a close family member. In fact, the day I heard the news I wanted to go back home, but I pushed myself to attend the events that I went to.
The Suite Soca on the Terrace events at the Comfort Inn and Suites allowed me to still enjoy part of the carnival experience from Thursday-Saturday night as I saw live performances by Sekon Sta, Zan, Kernal Roberts, Preedy, and more. There were even tents set up on the terrace so we could attend despite the rain.
TIP: Tobago Carnival is held during the rainy season. Heavy rains will affect some outdoor events and boat rides. It is also possible the event venue will change.
Tobago Carnival J’ouvert
To ensure I made it to the meet-up point before the roads closed, my driver took me to Chill Out Bar for Fog Angels’ pre-j’ouvert lime at 2 AM. When I got there, they played DJ Jel’s Fog Angels Mas Tobago Carnival Mix and later brought on a live DJ who played some soca I hadn’t heard in 5-10+ years.
When speaking with one of the workers at my hotel, he informed me that Chill Out Bar does this regularly, so if you like hearing more than new soca music, you can go there to lime.
After having a cup of corn soup provided by Fog Angels at around 4/4:30 AM we were ready to move. I filled my drink cup with White Oak and Coke and started following the truck down the road.
Fog Angels’ Security was on point with managing the crowd and as a participant, I was able to move in and out to get my drinks without any issues.
When we got on the road, the crowd and trucks moved for an hour until we came to a stop throwing paint and wining for a good two hours as we chipped down Milford Road. Fog Angels had two music trucks and for different parts of the morning, I followed one or the other depending on the music playing.
While the local and international DJs played soca music, I found a crew or two to vibe with and happily drank and wined down until we got to the junction by Milford & Pigeon Point Roads.
I went for a dip in the water to clean off my paint-filled body at Swallows Beach while the truck continued down Milford Road towards the mud festival. At around 10 AM I met the band for their beach lime, got a bake and saltfish meal to go, and met my driver to head back to the hotel.
Getting Ready for The Road
Jade Monkey Mas’ theme for Tobago Carnival was “A Tribute to Blaxx”, the soca artist that passed away earlier this year with sections named after some of his popular songs “Tustee”, “Mashup” and “Breathless”.
I was drawn to the colorful wings in Mashup and chose the frontline curvy option. To compliment the feathers from the backpack, I wore my costume with these sneakers from Amazon. After finishing my makeup, I packed my fanny pack with road essentials and a poncho in case it rained, put on my costume, took some photos, and was finally ready to hit the road on Sunday.
Tobago Carnival Parade of Bands
The parade on Sunday started at around noon at Shaw Park which was across the road from my hotel. There was some miscommunication on where to meet the band on Sunday (the band’s Instagram story said to meet at the I Love Tobago Sign, but when we got there, masqueraders were told to go to Shaw Park Cultural Complex).
At the meet-up point, everyone looked really good in their carnival costumes and we were all ready to hit the road. Announcements instructing us where to get food, and drinks, and get out of the way were pretty clear and I grabbed a drink for me and some water for my mom before we went our separate ways.
As we chipped down the road, there were many media houses taking photos and videos while others interviewed masqueraders and spectators during this historic moment for the island of Tobago.
Everyone young and old was enjoying themselves and it was great to see people in their elaborate costumes, Monday wear or dressed as traditional characters for mas like jab jabs, moko jumbies, minstrels, sailors, Tobago Ole Time Wedding characters, and more.
Some parts of the parade route weren’t completely closed off, but the smaller crowd of masqueraders made it easy for security to manage and vehicles were able to go through. As we got closer to the judging point, we organized into each of our sections and crossed to Blaxx Mashup.
Getting drinks from the drink truck was so easy and we had more than enough space on the route to jump, wine, and enjoy being on the road again as we paraded along parts of the Atlantic Ocean coastline. The DJs played a variety of old and new soca music from other Caribbean islands like Grenada, St. Vincent, Antigua, and Barbados, but naturally, Trini soca dominated.
The vibes got much better for me as I gained more freedom after giving my backpack away shortly after crossing the judging point. Snacks like chips and peanuts were given in between drinks throughout the day and I had a tasty chicken and rice meal with salad during our lunch break /rest stop.
After sweating off my makeup, the trucks stopped their music at 6 PM and the parade ended with fireworks. I headed back to the hotel for a bit of the Fog Angels VIP Celebrity/Influencers party before showering, having dinner, and going back to the fete.
How Much Was Tobago Carnival?
The cost of any carnival depends on the type of traveler you are (budget to luxury) and is subject to change based on the bands, fetes, flights, and other factors. Something that has helped me through my many years of travel is having a separate bank account just for my travel needs. This allows me to pay for flights, lodging, activities, and other additional costs without dipping into my regular checking and savings for bills, everyday necessities, and emergencies.
Below is a breakdown of estimated costs and how much I spent for Tobago Carnival.
$400-600+ roundtrip (from major US, Caribbean, Canada, and the UK). The time you purchase your flight also plays a factor. Book earlier to save more. I booked my flights at the end of August. It was 35,500 JetBlue TrueBlue Points and I paid $62.27 roundtrip in taxes and fees for a direct flight from New York City to Port of Spain and $48 roundtrip from Trinidad to Tobago.
Average $70-150/night for guest houses and Airbnb, $120-250+ /night for hotels, villa rentals, and resorts. We spent an average of $150/night for 9 nights and 10 days in Trinidad & Tobago at 4 different properties (we stayed in a hotel in Trinidad our first night).
Some Early Bird fete tickets started at $65 USD and upwards depending on the type of fete, regular or VIP, and what’s included (food, drinks, etc.). Some all-inclusive fetes started at $85+. I paid around $95 each for the fetes.
Costumes started at about $240+ for male and female backline and $500+ for frontline depending on the band. I paid $513 for my frontline costume with Jade Monky Mas (backpack included) and $104 for j’ouvert with Fog Angels.
Tip: Make sure to add online registration fees to your budget when for paying for costumes and fetes.
I found my driver Michael who is a retired bus driver via my hotel and we paid for pickups and drop-offs with some stops in between depending on what we were doing for the day and included tips. Driving to and from the airport we spent $10 USD including tip and for smaller trips from the taxi stand in Scarborough we paid between $1-5 USD. The total taxi cost for the private driver was around $200-250 USD after negotiating a price. We stayed 9 days in Tobago but did not use him for the full trip.
Budget $30-$60+ a day for food, drinks, sightseeing, emergencies, etc.
If you go to Tobago Carnival from Thursday to Monday and plan to do 2-3 fetes, I’d budget for $1500-1800 minimum. I paid for both myself and my mother so my total was more than what I would’ve if it were with friends.
If you’re in a group and split the costs, prices for transportation, food, and lodging would be less so I can say Tobago Carnival is a great price for someone looking to do Carnival on an under $3k budget.
Overall Tobago Carnival Experience
For Tobago to host its own carnival separate from Trinidad, I really had a great time even with my personal mixed emotions throughout the trip. I loved that there was space to roam the streets with and without my backpack and there weren’t many stormers.
With every new venture, there are some kinks and Tobago Carnival absolutely had some. I didn’t expect everything to be perfectly ironed out, but I appreciated people asking for my opinion about my carnival experience when we were leaving the airport.
The only things that bothered me were communication with the bands and masqueraders (I received most information via social media and expected more email communication) and being on the road for 6 hours wasn’t enough for me.
Next time, I’d love for the parade to start a bit earlier or end later for more time on the road. Tobago Carnival for me honestly gave the same vibe as Trinidad Carnival with a lot more space on the road and less money spent.
This trip was my mother’s first time visiting Tobago and attending a carnival since immigrating from Trinidad to the US and she said it was great to see the evolution of carnival while also seeing some of the old carnival tradition being practiced.
@msjoannae #tobagocarnival #traveltiktok #tiktoktravel #trinitiktok #caribbeantiktok #tobagocarnival2022 #tobagotiktok #carnivalsweetliketobago #joannaetravels #paradeofthebands #jademonkeymas ♬ To Be Gonian – Shurwayne Winchester
If you’re interested in the full carnival experience on a more intimate level, save the dates for Tobago Carnival 2023: October 27-29. I’m already trying to recruit some of my cousins and friends to go next year. If you want to experience the greatest show on earth that is Trinidad Carnival, plan your trip for Trinidad Carnival 2023.
If you found my Tobago Carnival 2022 recap helpful, share it with your social community and pin it for future reference.