Once you have your dates mapped out, start looking at Accommodations ASAP. While flights are often very low in cost as the dates open, your number one priority should be obtaining housing. It is one of the most challenging aspects of planning for Trinidad Carnival. Carnival veterans often book their housing before they leave the year before. Many vets have dropped off their deposits for the next year at their guest houses before they left for the airport. Therefore, each year it is a race to find available rooms that were not pre-booked or wait for cancellations at popular guest houses.
I would suggest staying directly in Port-of-Spain, in Guesthouses or Boutique Hotels located within walking distance to D'Savannah. You can easily figure this out by putting the address in Google Maps to gauge distance. Being in walking distance and in the center of town is helpful and convenient come Carnival Monday & Tuesday. It is also key for costume & Jouvert pickups. Some of the neighborhoods you should be looking at include: St.Ann's, Woodbrook, St. Clair, Cascade, Mucarapo, and of course Downtown. I'm not as familiar with areas outside of POS, but I'd say that housing near the airport is too far, and when all else fails you can use D'Savannah as a vantage point of distance. Many events are held within Port of Spain.
The other challenging part about looking for housing is that Trinidad, while being one of the largest Carnivals in the world, is not a typical tourist destination in the off season. Therefore, much of the accommodations offered are guest houses. A guest house is very similar to a Bed & Breakfast establishments. Many of them offer some sort of Caribbean breakfast daily. Most places offer double or twin sized beds. Often for the Carnival season there are minimum stays. I've seen anywhere from five, seven, to fourteen day requirements. Often, email responses are slow, and websites are inadequate for these guesthouses. Most guesthouses and hotels block off the carnival dates in their online booking tools forcing you to email or call. Let me repeat that, you may have to risk international costs to call these places. It's less than ideal but I found it to be totally necessary. In the past I've spent many moments on the phone calling from the United States fielding for availability. You can call a guesthouse on a Monday, and they may say rates are not yet available, and call them on Friday for an update and they say sold out. Be patient and diligent!
For the Carnival season, these establishments often accept cash payments only, usually on a payment plan through Western Union or Money Gram. Be prepared to spend at least $1000 per person and that is being conservative. Prices can easily creep to $1500 a person for a 7 night stay depending upon the Guest house. Therefore, have your deposits ready and discuss budgets with your travel mates VERY early on. Be sure to read reviews before you book.
Here is a short list of potential Guesthouses for your stay. Feel free to comment with additions to this list.
- The Inn at 87
- Monique's Guest House
- Heritage Inn
- Forty Winks Inn
- Savannah Maison Guest House
- Thanna's Place
- Melbourne Inn
- Shalom Guest House
- Kiskadee Korner
You might be wondering why I haven't mentioned hotels yet. The reason is that there prices are even higher than the Guesthouses. Now this is not to deter you from staying there. My budget simply does not allow it. Some of the popular International chains, such as the Hyatt, can average about $500 per night for double occupancy during the carnival season. They also may require full payment upfront. While expensive, this is a great option for nervous newbies who would like the security and comfort of a traditional hotel. There are also some in-between options like Kapok Hotel, which I would consider Trinidad's version of a Boutique hotel.
- L'Orchidee Boutique Hotel*
- Kapok Hotel
- Coblentz Inn Boutique Hotel*
- The Normandie Hotel
- Hilton Trinidad
- Radisson Hotel
- Courtyard by Marriott Trinidad
*Though they are listed under hotels, I think their size and accommodations are akin to a Guesthouse.
If you are just tuning in check out Part I of the series focusing on budgeting.
Tune in for Part III: Flights! & Itinerary Basics