The Trinidad and Tobago is also known as the home of carnival, calypso, limbo dancing and Angostura Bitters, Trinidad and Tobago’s worldly contributions have always been an assault on the senses. From Hindu to Hispanic and from Muslim to Christian, this diverse little nation mixes a raw cosmopolitan vibe with a wondrous line-up of festivals and punches way above its weight in the scenery stakes too.
Gluing all this together are the Trinidadians themselves. They’re a relaxed, ingratiating people specialising in liming (talk for talking’s sake) and often masters in the other national pastimes of football, cricket, dancing and partying hard.
Port of Spain, surrounded by verdant rolling hills, is the main city on oil-rich Trinidad. Bazaars throng beneath modern skyscrapers and mosques rub shoulders with cathedrals, all of which bounce to the beat of Carnival, arguably the planet’s greatest parties. Beyond the capital beckon volcanoes, a self-replenishing asphalt lake and magnificent bird reserves.
Tobago, 32km (20 miles) northeast of Trinidad, is an altogether wilder isle. Recently voted world’s best ecotourism destination, this is a place to explore coral reefs, watch turtles nest, hike lonely mountain trails or dive crystalline waters. Easy choice, really.
Things you must not miss in Trinidad and Tobago
Trinidad’s most extensive cave system sits, appropriately perhaps, beneath its highest mountain, El Cerreo de Aripo. The stalactites and stalagmites here are sublime. Speleologists will also be intrigued by the Tamana Caves, boasting 11 species of bat, and, on the islet of Gaspar Grande, the subterranean treasure trove of Gasparee Caves.
Take a dip at one of Tobago’s fine beaches. Each has its own flavour, from the brown pelicans at Turtle Beach to fantastic snorkelling at Man O’War Bay. Store Bay, Mount Irvine, Bacolet Bay and Pigeon Point are also well worth a visit.
There’s something very special about Buccoo, in south-western Tobago. Mainly this is due to the jaw-droppingly beautiful coral reef that stretches around the coast from the island’s highest point, Pigeon Point, to the arcing Buccoo Bay. There are some 40 types of coral here, and you can take a glass-bottomed boat tour out to see this underwater extravaganza. But Buccoo is also home to some of the best cultural events in the country, including the Sunday School Street Party (weekly street food, steelpan music and dance) and even a goat race (see events).
Carnival in Port of Spain
Celebrate Carnival, Trinidad’s most wildest and most magical event. The world-renowned festivities climax at the beginning of Lent, although the run-up to Carnival starts immediately after Christmas when the Calypso tents open and the Calypsonians perform their latest compositions and arrangements. All this means January through March are usually taken up with the preparations and festivities: they don’t call in carnival season for nothing.\
Comprising the entire peninsula which juts out to the west of Port of Spain, this is one of the best places in the country to try your hand at kayaking, with sheltered Williams Bay a great place to start. You can book a tour of the isles peppered off the coast here: visiting a lighthouse, cave systems and a (former) leper colony.
Fort George, built in 1804, is, on the western side of Port of Spain, one of the nation’s most important historical buildings. The most interesting feature is a signal box designed by an African prince. It yields superb vistas of the city and the mountains of northern Venezuela. High above the city, it’s a good chance for a spot of fresh air and, indeed, bird-watching.
Fish for Spanish mackerel, wahoo, kingfish, bonito, dolphin fish, yellow tuna, grouper, salmon and snapper in the islands’ abundant waters. Both deep-sea and freshwater fishing are rewarding and there is an increasing number of boats available for hire.
Head to Trinidad’s mellow southwest for one of the weirdest phenomena the nation can boast. Pitch Lake is the largest natural deposit of asphalt anywhere in the world and is self-replenishing to boot. You can swim here in sulphur pools if accompanied by a guide.
Port of Spain
A hefty dose of cosmopolitan life in all its colourful shapes and forms is the reason to make the Trinidadian capital Port of Spain a must-see. It’s a far more diverse city than most visitors expect: bazaars throng beneath modern skyscrapers and mosques rub shoulders with cathedrals. The architecture of the city incorporates a mixture of styles from Victorian houses to Stollmeyer’s Castle, an imitation of a Bavarian Castle. Port of Spain is also, of course, home to the carnival for which the country is most renowned.
Speyside and Little Tobago
Speyside is the diving capital on an island famed for its diving. Head to north-eastern Tobago to this colourful beach settlement. From here you can take a trip out to Little Tobago, aka Bird of Paradise Island, a bird sanctuary and an essential stop-off for twitchers. Those wishing to spot the Scarlet Ibis, Trinidad & Tobago’s national bird, should visit the Caroni Arena Reserve on Trinidad.
Tobago is far more isolated than larger, more cosmopolitan trinidad, and as such dropping in on some Tobago villages is a cultural eye-opener. On the Atlantic (windward) side of the island are many tiny villages including Mesopotamia and Goldsborough, the town of Roxborough and several beautiful bays. On the north coast are the beautiful villages of Castara and Parlatuvier.
Turtle-watching on Tobago
On the back of being voted top ecotourism destination by the World Travel Awards in 2009, immersion in nature has never been so popular with visitors, and the most magical activity of all has to be turtle watching. Three types – the giant leatherback, hawksbill and green – frequent the coast. The animals are legally protected, but you can take a guided tour to see the Leatherbacks come ashore on Black Rock, or the Hawksbills in the northeast of the island. March to August is the time of their infamous mating rituals.
Take advantage of the excellent watersports facilities at the beaches along the north and east coasts of Trinidad, and all around Tobago. Speyside and Buccoo Reef, just off the southwest coast of Tobago, which has some of the Caribbean’s finest reefs, offer exciting scuba-diving. Trips in glass-bottomed boats are very popular.