Tell Dem We Reach! A First-Timer’s Guide to Caribana, Toronto’s Caribbean Carnival


A report by Anquanette Gaspard for Essence.

Summertime means one carnival celebration after another and we’re here for them all! Next up on the massive carnival circuit is North America’s largest Caribbean festival, Toronto’s very own Caribana. Energetic live musical performances, pool parties, all-inclusive boat rides, rhythmic Soca music, next-level J’ouvert events, and a major finale parade are just a few reasons why Caribana (July 30– August 5, 2019) should be on your list of summer festivals to attend. Join the millions of people that flood the streets of Toronto for this epic weekend, but before you head out, get into our helpful guide so that you can navigate Caribana 2019 like a boss.


There are a few ways to get to Toronto. You can book your flight into Toronto Pearson International Airport (YYZ) or Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport (YTZ). There are more frequent flights on major airlines flying into YYZ, meaning flights will be much cheaper. However, prepare for a 35-40 minute drive into the city center. Another option would be to fly into Buffalo, New York, rent a car and drive to Toronto. Choosing this option offers you a bonus highlight to your Caribana experience: a stop at Niagara Falls! Head to Main Street in Buffalo for less expensive car rental options. Purchase plane tickets as early as possible to save on flight costs and expect to pay anywhere between $300-$700 round-trip per person based on your purchase timeline.

Bonus Tip: You must have a passport to travel to Toronto for Caribana 2019. Make sure your passport is valid more than 6 months beyond your departure date to avoid a bad start to your trip.

Where To Stay

The closer you are to Toronto’s city center, the better off you’ll be. Book your accommodations anywhere near or around Yonge Street aka the entertainment district, you’ll find everything you need in walking distance. Hotels such as Courtyard by MarriottDoubleTree by Hilton, Intercontinental Toronto Centre and Chelsea Hotel are ideal locations for your stay. Airbnb is another option to consider, especially when traveling in groups of four or more.

Bonus Tip: The Canadian Dollar (CAD) is the currency used in Canada with a conversion rate that is approximately 1.31CAD for every 1USD. Withdraw local currency from a bank near the Canadian/U.S. border to get the best exchange rate. While the United States Dollar (USD) is widely accepted, it is important to keep local currency with you at all times.

Getting Around

Ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft will be your best bet. Many of the main carnival events take place in or around the entertainment district, which makes using these services cost-efficient. The metro is another great option for getting around. The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) has one of the most immaculate public transport systems in North America, take advantage of it during your trip to get where you need to go and save a few coins along the way.

One Fete To The Next

Caribana 2019 has a jam-packed weekend of events and keeping up isn’t for the faint of heart! Considering that the fetes aka parties will be the highlight of your Caribana experience, it’s important to choose wisely by identifying the established fetes with a solid reputation. Fetes like Scorch Duck Work All-Inclusive CruiseSoca or DieFriday Night Mas and Carnival Bliss Cruise are a few options that are a guaranteed good time. If you fly in on Tuesday, July 30th, be sure to check out Tuesday on the Rocks with Kes the Band. This is one of those Trinidad fete series that has made its way to various Caribbean Carnivals. Fete-goers can “Connect in the 6IX” for this year’s thrilling event hosted by Kes the Band. For an authentic carnival experience, add Pan Alive Panorama to your Carnival Friday lineup. This is Canada’s premier steel pan competition where North America’s best steel pan orchestras compete for the title of best steel pan band.

Bonus Tip: Be sure to double check the address of the various fetes you’ll be attending. While most events take place in or near the entertainment district, some are way out and the cost of a taxi to these areas might be expensive. Plan accordingly.

Local Foods

Toronto is a melting pot of Caribbean nationalities and that means the food options are endless and more importantly, delicious! Doubles, jerk chicken, fish cake, bake, corn soup, griot, pelau, callaloo, and oxtails are a just a few of the flavor-packed Caribbean foods you can get in Toronto. For a plate of authentic Jamaican food head to Simone’s Caribbean Restaurant (596 Danforth Ave). Get your fill of Jamaican patties over at Crumbs (34 – Unit A Yonge St) or Randy’s Take Out (1569 Eglinton Avenue West).

If you’re craving mouthwatering Haitian eats like street-style grio, accra and oxtails, visit Rhum Corner (926 Dundas St W). A general rule of thumb is if the line is long or the restaurant is packed, you’re in a good spot! But you knew that already.


As with most Caribbean Carnival celebrations, it’s not complete without the paint, powder, oil, and water of J’ouvert! J’ouvert (pronounced jou-vay) derives from the French phrase “jour ouvert” meaning dawn or daybreak. Unlike most carnival celebrations throughout the Caribbean, J’ouvert does not take place in the streets of Toronto for Caribana 2019. Instead, massive venues are reserved that can accommodate thousands of people and are typically further away from large residential and commercial areas.  There are two J’ouvert options that partygoers can choose from: Re-Jouvert-Nate is coined as the ultimate powder experience and takes place on Carnival Friday from 7 pm to 12 am.

Enjoy a live performance from international soca group Kes the Band and an all-star deejay cast including Toronto’s Dr. Jay De Soca Prince, DJ Ana, DJ Spice, and Crown Prince. Jab Jab J’ouvert also takes place on Carnival Friday and offers TWELVE HOURS of paint, powder, water, music and nonstop bacchanal from 3 pm to 3 am. There will be live performances from a host of international soca artists like Motto, Lavaman, Blaxx, and Tallpree. Regardless of which J’ouvert option you decide to go with, you’re guaranteed to jump, dance and wave for hours.

Bonus Tip: Wear shoes and clothing you can throw away once J’ouvert is over. Between the mud, oil, paint, and water, anything you wear will definitely get destroyed!

We Ready To Play Ah Mas

Considered the highlight of Caribana weekend, Caribana Grande Parade will take place on Saturday, August 3rd from 10 am to 6 pm. Masqueraders adorn colorful, dazzling costumes and make their way down Exhibition Place, moving east along Lakeshore Boulevard before returning to Exhibition Place. A few masquerade bands that participate in this grand parade include Carnival NationzSaldenah CarnivalToronto Revellers, Atlantic Mas Toronto, Epic Carnival, and Sunlime Carnival. Registration with any Caribana masquerade band includes your costume, entry to the parade, refreshments, meals, music and more.

The cost of your costume depends on the band you chose to play mas with. Women backline costumes range from $165-350USD whereas midline and frontline costumes cost between $400-850USD. Male costumes are usually within the $150-300USD range.

Bonus Tip: Unlike every other Caribbean Carnival, Canadian laws prohibit masquerade bands from serving alcohol at Caribana Grande Parade. Masqueraders are known to find creative ways around this. Be sure to proceed with caution and drink responsibly if you do.

You’re all set to take on Caribana 2019. We covered how to get there, where to fete, what to eat and everything else in between. Remember there is safety in numbers; travel in groups of two or more and be aware of your surroundings at all times. Use the tips and suggestions provided in this guide to make the most of your experience. Tell dem we reach!

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