It’s hard to find more colorful and lively Carnival celebrations than in the Caribbean. If you’re mulling over where you should head to celebrate, both Trinidad and Martinique might pop up on your radar. The two islands host their fair share of parades, parties and fun for Carnival but they also vary greatly in personality and attributes. On the one hand, you have Trinidad, a melting pot of Indian, Creole, African, Chinese and British cultures just 7 miles from the Venezuelan coast in the southeastern West Indies. On the other hand, you have Martinique, right in the heart of the Caribbean in the Lesser Antilles and long hailed as one of the region’s most beautiful islands. We’re breaking down the two to help you decide which island is right up your alley.
Pick Trinidad if…
You’re looking for a more off-the-beaten-path Carnival
While Trinidad has been celebrating carnival for centuries, ever since 18th-century French settlers brought the tradition of a pre-Lenten festival to the island, it seems tourism has largely forgotten Trinidad. While Carnival celebrations on the island consist of an eruption of color, sound, and dazzling costumes, the mainstay of the economy is not tourism. Travelers don’t tend to want to mix with Trinidad’s oil refineries and industry, but the island does have its redeeming qualities like pristine mangrove swamps, beaches devoid of hotel development, and rain-forested hills. As a result, travelers can have a largely off-the-beaten-path experience for Carnival. While the occasion brings the island tourists, you can still have a largely local experience for the cultural event.
You can’t get enough of birdwatching
In many ways, Trinidad is for the birds. If you can’t get enough of birdwatching, Trinidad might be the best pick for your Carnival celebrations. You can begin your birdwatching at the Asa Wright Nature Centre. The former cocoa and coffee plantation spreads out across 80 hectares. Located amidst the rainforest of the island’s Northern Range, the nature centre is great for birdwatching and hiking. You can also make a stop at the Caroni Bird Sanctuary while on the island. The sanctuary is the proud roosting site for thousands of scarlet ibis. Bird lovers and even just onlookers can’t get enough of these birds’ almost fluorescent red color. Trinidad also boasts the Pointe-a-Pierre Wildfowl Trust, a wetland sanctuary for around 90 species of birds.
You love a bustling capital city
Trinidad’s capital city packs in the punch in terms of activity. Port of Spain is home to some 300,000 of the island’s 1.3 million residents. The lively commercial center is also filled with other things to do outside of the Carnival celebrations. You can stop at the Emperor Valley Zoo and see native snakes and indigenous red howler monkeys. Also making its home in the city is The National Museum and Art Gallery, where you can gain a sense of the art scene on the two islands of Trinidad and Tobago. Port of Spain is also home to the Botanical Gardens. Built in 1818, the gardens house a wealth of exotic trees and plants, right in the heart of the city. Toss in the fact that Trinidad has a tasty food scene, like at the food stalls in Queen’s Park Savannah, and you have the makings for a fine city break in the middle of the Caribbean.
Ready to explore this bustling, island metropolis? Check out cheap flights to Port of Spain to get you there!
You dance to the beat of steel pan and calypso music
Carnival is one of the best times in Trinidad for a taste of its native music. Steel pan and calypso music originated on the island. Stemming from African music and dance forms, these tunes and moves radiate throughout the island’s annual Carnival events. Trinidad is also the originator of the limbo. How low can you go?
Pick Martinique if…
You want a traditionally rich Carnival celebration
In anticipation of Carnival, Martinique pulls out the stops with parties and Carnival queen parades every weekend. Most of the celebrations take place in the French West Indies island’s bigger towns and cities, especially in Fort-de-France. Martinique varies from other Carnival celebrations in that each day seems to follow a certain theme or tradition with days like Red Devils Day in which the island sees dancing until sundown, largely in brilliant red-devil costumes or the Day of the She-Devils in which everyone wears black and white to mark the end of Carnival.
You’re a beach bum
If there is one thing Martinique knows, it’s beaches. Part of the Lesser Antilles, Martinique boasts a western shore that faces the Caribbean and an eastern coast that laps up the Atlantic. The island features five bays, dozens of coves and miles of sandy beaches, with arguably the most postcard-worthy being Les Salines. The long white sand beach proves ideal not just for sunbathing but also for hikes. You can walk south of the beach to the southern tip of the island which marks the meeting of the Atlantic and Caribbean. Other inviting beaches include Place Anse d’Arlet and the sands of Trinité.
You’re a Francophile
Martinique takes pride in being part of the French West Indies, and as a result, the island feels very much like a slice of France in the tropics. You can find traces of French influence all around the island, specifically in the city of Fort-de-France. With its French Riviera vibe, the city sits basking in Flamands Bay. You can find traces of a French atmosphere around town, specifically throughout many structures like the Bibliothèque Schoelcher, a library that was actually built in Paris. The structure was designed by Pierre-Henri Picq, a student of Gustave Eiffel. Saint Pierre, the former capital of the island, will also regale Francophile thanks to its cobblestone streets and restored ruins of old buildings.
You’re a nature nut
Martinique is all natural. The island boasts countless corners to unleash your natural side beginning at Mount Pelée, its highest peak. The active volcano boasts several hiking paths where you can grab compelling views of the town of Saint-Pierre and the Caribbean coast. Other natural gifts on the island include the Petrified Savannah. The protected geological site lends a moonlike landscape in the middle of the Caribbean. It owes its unusual appearance to an ancient dried marsh that formed on the site of an ancient volcano. Then there’s Diamond Rock. Located just a mile offshore, the high volcanic islet makes for one of the islands most popular dive sites thanks to its interesting cave formations. Toss in all the tropical forests on the island too like Coeur-Bouliki and it’s hard to deny Martinique’s natural side.
Figuring out where to head for Carnival is a tough job but somebody has to do it. Trinidad and Martinique both make for compelling destinations for the celebration. You might find too that you’ll need to stay on a few days longer for beaches, calypso, birdwatching, nature, and much more.
What’s your pick? Share where you want to go for Carnival!