An Adventurer’s Guide To Carnival

Outside Magazine – February 2005

Stash the skis and bust out the sequined thongs—it’s Carnival time in the Caribbean. Tropical adventure and rum-fueled hedonism await.

Trinidad & Tobago
Language: English. Music: Calypso.

Get Down: Join some 250,000 revelers from this ethnically diverse country in the capital, Port of Spain. Sunday after-hours brings J’Ouvert, or Mud Mass, in which women in lacy devil costumes smear men with mud and oil at random throughout the city. On Monday and Tuesday, costumed bands parade the streets behind thumping music trucks. Join the largest band, Poison, for a $300 fee and get an unlimited supply of liquid courage so you too can suit up in sequins and feathers, and grind with the locals for two days. 868.632.3989

Get wild: Take the 20-minute puddle jump from Piarco International Airport in Port of Spain to Crown Point International in Tobago, and enjoy a half-day guided mountain biking tour through dense jungle and along cliffside single-track in the Tobago Forest Preserve, the western hemisphere’s oldest. BWIA Airlines $35,, 800.538.2942. Mountain Biking Tobago : $40/person, including bike rental and lunch. 868-639-9709;

Sleep: The laid back yet cush Coblentz Inn Boutique Hotel, 5 minute stroll from parade routes. Doubles $120/night and up. 868-621-0541;

Salvador de Bahia, Brazil 
Language: Portuguese. Music: Samba.

Get Down: Carnival in this colonial beachtown is a massive spiritualized rave with over three million grooving in the cobblestone streets. Parades peak around midnight on Tuesday, when trios electricos—semis pulling stages with samba orchestras followed by costumed tribes—snake through narrow alleyways and converge at the historic lighthouse for one last, all-out dance party steps from the tropical Atlantic. Keep your ear to the ground and you may also hear rumblings about enormous drum troupes called Afro Blocos who pound out acoustic rythyms and sing African chants in the up and coming Pelourinho District. Performances are rarely publicized in advance and don’t always go off as scheduled, but seek and ye shall find. Olodum, plays three times each Carnaval, and are the best around.

Get wild: Escape the city on a 50-minute flight from Salvador to Ilheus, just outside Brazil ’s forested Itacare region where you can raft class III and IV rapids on the milk chocolate Rio de Contas. Varig Brasil Airlines, $99 1-800-468-2744. Ativa Rafting e Aventuras; $30 price/person. (011)55-47-353-1392;

Sleep: Hotel Redfish, a tastefully groovy guesthouse and art gallery in old town Salvador, short walk from most carnival hot spots. $130/night and up. (011)55-71-243-8473;

Dominican Republic
Language: Spanish. Music: Merengue.

Get Down: Carnival in the DR lasts throughout February and events climax on Feb. 27, their nation’s independence day. For a mellow, culturally rich take on the pagan ritual be a Carnival day-tripper and head to the sleepy mining town of La Vega, high in the interior mountains. Dominicans flock here to get a taste of this 4 th of July meets Halloween celebration where locals of all ages don grotesque demon masks from paper mache, bullhorns, and dogteeth, then parade all day between the two main parks as the merengue beats blast. When night falls wind your way down hill and sleep by the sea.

Get wild: Iguana Mama offers insane Canyoneering tours down steep limestone river canyons. Belay beside epic waterfalls, jump 40 feet into deep, shimmering pools, and thunder down subterranean waterslides. Half day: $64/person, Full day: $85-$100 including gear, transportation and refreshments. 809.571.0908;

Sleep: Natura Cabanas, a lazy, beachside eco-resort and spa on the pristine North coast, 90 minutes from La Vega. Doubles, $140/night and up. 809-571-1507;

Language: French. Music: Zouk.

Get Down: This tiny, butterfly shaped isle kicks off its extended six-day carnival with a nationwide weekend pajama party (hey, it was a French colony) before crowds descend on the capital of Basse Terre. The celebration peaks on Wednesday night with Le Grand Videe. Thousands of locals dressed as wolves swarm the streets in packs for a torchlight processional down Boulevard du General de Gaulle to the beach where there is a Burning Man-like roasting of each pack’s mythical Carnival King.

Get wild: Dive or snorkel in the Jacques Cousteau Underwater Park —site of the legendary oceanographer’s first film—for an aqua safari through sponge gardens and translucent schools of fish. Diving, $42, per person, one tank; snorkeling $35 (both include gear rental). 011-05-90-98-8172;

Sleep: In oceanside Bouillante, 30 minutes by taxi from Basse Terre, Domaine de Malendure delivers stylish loft-suites with ocean views. Doubles $135/night and up. 011.590.590-989212