Your Guide to Caribana

Posted on behalf of International Student Support as part of the International Perspectives blog series and archive.

by Shane Latouche

Caribana is one of Toronto’s staple events. Every year, millions of people gather in Toronto to celebrate the local Caribbean community. The carnival tradition comes from Trinidad and has been celebrated in Toronto for over 40 years.

I’ve been going to Caribana ever since I was old enough to walk. As my parents are from the Caribbean, it was only natural for them to bring me to one of the biggest Caribbean carnivals in the world. Connecting with other Caribbean people was very important for my parents when they were recent immigrants from Trinidad.

So, as a seasoned Caribana attendee, here are five guiding tips to make sure your carnival experience is the best it can be!

The Costumes

One of the biggest aspects of Caribana are the costumes. If you aren’t “playing mas” (mas is short for masquerade), you’ll definitely want to. While my finances haven’t allowed me to play mas as of yet because the costumes can range anywhere from $100-$300, I’m hoping to in the future! The mas experience is well worth it. You get to dance with tons of friendly new people, have food and drink, wave your flags, and have a great time!

The Crowd

Being in the crowd isn’t for everyone, but it’s something you should experience at least once. Somehow I always end up in the crowd- either my friends drag me in or there’s a particular soca song that I like and we end up jumping the fence.

The Food

Caribbean food is great and Caribana is a wonderful excuse to pig out on jerk dishes, curry dishes and many others. Personally, I look for the corn-on-the-cob and cane juice vendors. If you can find food vendors with authentic Caribbean food, try it! But don’t eat and then dance right after. Let the food digest before you get down to good soca.

The Music

Start listening to soca before Caribana so you don’t feel completely out of sync with what everyone is dancing to. I recommend tuning into G98.7 FM to help you get up to date with the latest soca tunes. You can also search “2015 soca” or look up well-known soca artists such as Machel Montano and Patrice Roberts on Youtube to get acquainted with their music. I personally like to go to the local flea market and purchase a soca mixtape or two right before the carnival so I can hear what’s going to be played at the parade.

Water, Flags, and Bags

I always carry water in a small backpack with me to Caribana because I know that I’m gonna get thirsty. I also pack a little towel which Caribbean people call a “rag” and my country’s flag to wave around during the parade. It doesn’t sound logical when I try to explain it, so you’ll have to see the rags and flag waving for yourself! It’s a lot of fun.

Safety First

ALWAYS go in a group of friends, never go by yourself. Don’t bring any expensive belongings because the chances are they could get lost and you will have a very hard time finding them in a crowd of over one million people.