The Caribana Survival Guide

Two weeks ago, I played mas in Caribana Carnival. It was amazing, I had so much fun! A group of friends and I bought costumes, and had the time of our lives. Caribana is a celebration of Caribbean carnival in Toronto, Canada. It happens every year, in late July or early August. It’s like a parade. There are many bands, and each band has a particular theme, which dictates their costumes.

I chose to play mas with the Toronto Revellers. In plain English, “play mas” means “you’ve chosen a masquerade band to participate with and you’ll be chippin (a march/shuffle/dance combo step) alongside mas goers with similar costumes” [Source]. “Mas” is short for “masquerade,” and “mas goers” are your fellow band members who will be dressed up in costume like you.

Caribbean Carnival happens all over the world wherever West Indian people live, though in the Caribbean it happens in February, the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday (aka “Mardi Gras” for Americans or Europeans). In Canada, it’s way too cold to have any sort of celebration in February lol. Caribana weekend is an amazing time to visit Toronto. There are so many parties happening that weekend, including Drake’s OVO Festival. I decided to create a guide for anyone who’s interested in going – you will have an awesome time!

  • Buy your costume early. Check out the costumes of every band 2-3 months beforehand and decide which costume you want. Buy it at least a month in advance. I played mas with the Toronto Revellers before in 2014, I liked the band, they were an organized crew, and so I decided to go with them again this year. Toronto Revellers is also usually the first band on the road, which is important to me. I like to be the first to cross the stage in the morning so I can enjoy the rest of the day. Have a look around and see what your options are. Costumes sell out fast!

  • Buy makeup, face gems, & body glitter. Carnival is all about the glitz and glam! As a wise woman on the road said, body art and “makeup bring out the beauty of the costume.” Some people even henna their hands. Whatever makeup you wear, make sure you prime your face, your lips, your eyelids. You want your makeup to stay on allll day, not melt off with the sun. A make-up setting spray is a great idea too. Also – remember to wear sunscreen on your body and your face. Yes, even if you’re brown or black! Don’t get sunburn on your bum or your tits because you forget to put on sunscreen.

  • Try your costume on and make sure you have everything you need in your band kit. Most bands will have a pick-up date for their participants to collect their costumes. When you pick up your costume, it will be in a box. Look through your box as soon as you get it, and make sure you have everything you need. When you get home, try on your costume to see if it fits. Do you have your headpiece? Do you have two leg pieces? Two arm pieces? Does the bra fit properly, or are your breasts popping out (& not in the good way…)? You will want to know this now so that you can buy fashion tape in advance instead of panicking the day of Caribana. Bands will also fix up up with a few extra things, like sunscreen, sunglasses, deodorant. Costumes and your carnival kit can run from $200 to $600, depending on whether you want to jump up in basic or extremely extravagant beads. I usually buy the basic package (top + bottom) and fancy it up by buying a little something extra like a pretty head piece.

  • Read the instructions that come in your costume kit! This has crucial information in it. What time do you need to arrive to the mas camp? (In plain English, the “mas camp” is the starting point of the parade.) Where is the mas camp? Will food and water be provided at the end of the parade or throughout the carnival?

  • The day of carnival, bring a clutch to carry your ID, credit card, chapstick, and cash. I borrowed my friend’s sequined Coach wristlet. Some girls carried mini backpacks or even wore blinged-out fanny packs. The point is, you want to travel light, and you only need the essentials. Your band will have trucks driving alongside you with food, water, and trash bins. Your band leader will know where all the restrooms are along the route. All you need to do the day of is show up your little booty on time, have your ID, some money, and any primping tools you need.  Also a good idea to bring an emergency tampon. You may not have your period, but your friend or another girl on the road may get pleasantly surprised by Aunt Flow. Be a shero (she + hero 😉). Walk with an emergency tampon.

  • Wear your wristband. No wristband, no entry into the carnival as a masquerader. Your wristband will also have your meal tickets on it. Water doesn’t require a a ticket, but food does.

  • Bring your flag!!! Need I say more? Everyone (and I do mean everyone) will be representing their country and proudly waving their flag as they dance. There will be vendors selling flags, but they’ll be expensive and if you’re not from an island, chances are they won’t have your flag.

  • Eat light the days before you play mas. So…I didn’t follow this rule haha. I ate salad most days, but also gorged on fries and veggie burgers. I came to Canada to be on vacation, and I planned to eat accordingly! But if you want to look as slim as possible the day of carnival, workout daily the week before, eat salads, drink green juices, etc., etc.

  • Play mas with friends! The first time I was in Caribana was in 2014. My friend Monique, who I went to school in London with, played mas all over the globe and invited me to be in carnival in her hometown, Toronto. Travel (which I love) + friends + soca + dancing in the street? It was an offer I couldn’t refuse! You want to experience these beautiful moments with your friends. You also want to make sure that when you’re wearing nothing more than a bikini on the streets of Toronto, someone has your back. (On that note – make sure you take a cab or catch a ride to the mas camp in the morning. Public transportation is a no.) Although truth be told, you find yourself talking, dancing, and laughing with people you never knew before, as if you’ve known each other forever. You’ll help a girl whose feathered backpack is sliding off her shoulders, give water to the guy who looks like he’s dehydrated from all that loud singing, and wine and wave with people you’ve never met before. People of all ages – from 16 to 76 – spanning all the beautiful sizes – from petite 00 to a curvy 30 – come to play mas with the same intention: to have a great time & to look fabulous doing it!

  • Let loose and have fun! Carnival creates a unique camaraderie and inspires intense positive vibes that I haven’t felt in any other environment. It brings people together of all nations – Caribbean and otherwise – as one, in celebration of West Indian heritage, the beauty of the body, the delicious syncopated beats of soca, and the pleasure of dancing, wining, waving and misbehaving! Release your inhibitions and let your spirit enjoy the bacchanal!

  • Last but not least – don’t just go to Caribana – go to all the events too! Caribana is always on a Saturday.  There are literally multiple parties every day, from that Thursday through Monday. Lebrun James’ official 2016 championship celebration was the Friday before Caribana, Drake’s OVO Fest was that Friday through Monday, and the biggest soca stars from Machel Montano to Kes the Band (who I saw 😊) to Patrice Roberts (who I also saw at a boat party 😀 – pictured below) perform and enjoy the carnival alongside the masqueraders. Plan to go as many of these events as you can, and have the time of your life!

 I hope this information is helpful to you if you’re considering going to Caribana Carnival (my advice: you should GO! ^_^ ). Another resource that really helped me the first time I played mas was this guide for Carnival Virgins.

Do you dream of dancing in the streets on Carnival Day? If so, take my free Carnival Crash Course. Every day, for 4 days, I’ll share with you what to pack, how to live your best life on carnival day, and even how to interpret some Trini Creole lingo. I’ll also send you a free one-page mini-guide on how to stay safe so you can focus on what matters most: the joy of the fête!

If you’d like a little extra help getting organized for Carnival, I created a Carnival Prep Guide. It’s a 6-page workbook, and every page is dedicated to a specific step in preparing for the celebration. There’s a table to help you start creating your budget, a page for brainstorming which band to choose, guidelines on deciding where you want to stay, a page planning out your transportation, and more.  To purchase the Carnival Prep Guide, click here.

Throughout all the hype and singing and wining and waving, be sure to leave a day to unwind. I went to the beach on Centre Island with my friends the Sunday after Caribana. We biked, walked, relaxed, and just chilled. Til next time. If you have any questions, feel free to ask. 😉

Happy Reveling!

7 Comments

  1. Thanks for the blog! Very helpful. I’m going to Caribana 2017 next week. I’m debating between wearing sandals or tennis shoes….as I’m in the parade. Any recommendations? I feel like sandals would be cuter, but tennis shoes would be more comfortable.

    1. Hey Sheena! So sorry that I’m just now seeing this. I hope you went with the tennis shoes! They will keep your feet clean, comfortable, and allow you to dance as much as you want in the streets. Hope you’re having fun today! 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *