Trinidad and Tobago are an intriguing pair of islands, with a mix of Indian, Asian, English and African cultures, unique flora and fauna, and a vibrant nightlife that has produced calypso, soca and steel drum music. Home to the biggest Carnival celebration in the Caribbean, the country has the strongest economy of any in the Caribbean, and the capital is a bustling city of a half-million. Trinidad has incredible wildlife, while Tobago remains a small jewel unspoiled by mass tourism.
Basic Travel Information
Location: Between the Caribbean and the Atlantic, northeast of Venezuela
Size: Trinidad, 850 square miles; Tobago, 16 square miles.
Capital: Port-of-Spain, Trinidad
Language: English, French, Spanish, and Hindi widely spoken
Religions: Catholic, Protestant, Hindu, Islam, Jewish
Currency: Trinidad and Tobago dollar; U.S. dollar widely accepted
Area Code: 868
Weather: Rainy season June-December Average temp 82 degrees. Located outside the hurricane belt.
Activities and Attractions
Port of Spain is a big, bustling modern city of 500,000 and the epicenter of the nation's annual Carnival celebration. get out into the country and you’ll find natural attractions and wildlife. One fascinating spot is Pitch Lake, 100 acres of soft, sticky tar that’s the source of much of the world’s asphalt. Trinidad and Tobago are known for their incredible diversity of wildlife, especially birds. You can see the national bird, the scarlet ibis, at the Caroni Bird Sanctuary. The pace is a bit slower on Tobago.
Top activities here include diving to see the world’s largest brain coral, and deep-sea fishing for big-game fish.
Although Trinidad has a large number of beaches, they are not as picture-perfect as Tobago’s. Those on the north shore, including Balandra Bay, are best for swimming. Maracas Bay is popular with locals, has good facilities, and is home to the famous Bake and Shark stands. On Tobago, Pigeon Point Beach is particularly charming; Great Courland Bay has crystal-clear water and unspoiled Englishman’s Bay is somewhat wild — most likely, you’ll have all of it to yourself.
Hotels and Resorts
Many visitors to Trinidad come on business, so the majority of hotels on this island cater to them and are near the capital, including the Hilton Trinidad and the sleek Hyatt Regency Trinidad. One exception and a recommended option for nature lovers is the Asa Wright Nature Centre Lodge, a bird-watching facility that’s a true wilderness retreat. Tobago is more of a tourist destination and has some upscale resorts like Le Grand Courlan Resort & Spa and the Magdalena Grand Beach Resort, as well as less expensive guesthouses and villas.
Restaurants and Cuisine
The cuisine on these islands is a happy melting pot of African, Indian, Chinese, English, French and Spanish influences. You can sample roti, a sandwich consisting of soft tortilla-like wrap and a filling; spicy meat and vegetable vindaloo dishes from India; and pelau, chicken in coconut milk with peas and rice. Be sure to wash it all down with a native fruit juice or a cold Carib beer. On Tobago, try Kariwak Village Restaurant, which has an especially appealing Friday and Saturday buffet dinner.
History and Culture
The Spanish colonized these islands, but they later came under British control. Slavery was abolished in 1834, opening the door for contract laborers from India. Oil was discovered on Trinidad in 1910; the islands became independent in 1962. The ethnic mix of these islands, mainly African, Indian, and Asian, makes for an especially rich culture. This is the birthplace of calypso, the limbo and steel drums. The islands also claim two Nobel prize winners for literature, V.S. Naipaul, a native Trinidadian, and Derek Walcott, who moved there from St. Lucia.
Events and Festivals
Trinidad’s Carnival, which takes place in either February or March, is a huge festival and one of best reasons to head to this island. The Tobago Heritage Festival from July to August celebrates that island’s music, food, and dance.
As you’d expect of the country that gave birth to such Caribbean musical traditions as calypso, soca, and steel drum, the nightlife — particularly on Trinidad in the vicinity of Port-of-Spain — offers extensive options. Bars, nightclubs, hanging out at rum shops, dancing and listening to music are some of the options. Try 51° Lounge for dancing or Trotters, an English-style pub, if you’re in the mood for a beer and sports. The nightlife on Tobago tends to center on the resorts.