Carnival dominates Trinidad and Tobago's annual events calendar for months leading up to its pre-Lenten peak of week-long madness, so get down to T&T anytime during January-March and you can get a least a taste of Carnival experience. Easter week is the time for goat races on Tobago, and the island's broad cultural diversity is celebrated during Heritage Week. Unique in the Caribbean is T&T's huge Divali festival, which highlights the traditions of the islands' Indian population.
They say that Trinis never really stop thinking about Carnival: when they're not making costumes or indulging in the months-long celebration leading up to the start of Lent, they're hitting the gym and making plans for the next year's celebration. Carnival is celebrated across the islands of Trinidad and Tobago, but the main event is in the capital city of Port of Spain. It's the biggest, loudest, and brashest Carnival celebration in the Caribbean and arguably the best in the world: unlike Carnival in Rio, for example, everyone is welcome to take part in Trinidad Carnival, up to and including joining the costumed "road marches" and swaying to the sounds of indigenous soca and calypso music.
More than one-third of the population of Trinidad & Tobago traces their heritage back to India, and one of the traditions they carried from their homeland to the Caribbean more than a century ago was the Hindu celebration of light, divali (also spelled diwali). Celebrated in October and November, Divali is marked by a five-day festival featuring the lighting of lamps (filled with, appropriately enough for the Caribbean, coconut oil) to welcome Lakshmi Mata, the goddess of light. The peak of this family friendly religious festival, Divali Night, is celebrated with light displays (deeyaas), singing, and Indian food in all East Indian communities but especially the town of Felicity, Chaguanas.
The annual Tobago Heritage Festival starts in mid-July and peaks on Emancipation Day, Aug. 1, with a Carnival-style j'ouvert celebration. The festival focuses mainly on African music, dance and traditions, including a traditional (mock) old-fashioned wedding ceremony in the village of Moriah that honors the melding of African and European traditions. Like everyone else on the island, you're welcome to join the wedding procession!
The Santa Rosa Carib Festival takes place in August during the week leading up to T&T Independence Day, Aug. 31, and honors the indigenous First Peoples who populated Trinidad and Tobago for thousands of years before European settlement. Highlights include the crowning of a Carib Queen, a church procession, and performance of traditional music and ritual smoke ceremonies and prayer.
John Legend, Brandy, and Earth, Wind & Fire are among the recent headliners for the Tobago Jazz Experience, a week-long international music festival held on Tobago's beautiful beaches each April, including the incomparable Pigeon Point. In addition to jazz you'll hear soca and reggae, sample local food like dirt oven bread, and experience the legendary Buccoo goat races on Easter Tuesday.
The summer blockbuster season may be over, but the cinematic action is just heating up in September in Trinidad & Tobago. The island's annual Film Festival showcases Caribbean cinema as well as feature, short and medium length films and documentaries from around the world. The program also includes free screenings and panel discussions.
Blue Food Festival
If you thought blue food only appears in old Star Trek episodes, you obviously don't know about dasheen, a Caribbean root vegetable that turns blue when cooked. Tobago’s Blue Food Festival, which takes place each October, features cooking demonstrations and competitions involving local chefs and indigenous cooks who create a variety of azure dasheen dishes that visitors can sample guilt-free (dasheen is low in sodium and gluten-free).