Introduction Nudging the South American mainland they were once attached to, Trinidad and Tobago (usually shortened to T&T) form the southernmost islands of the Lesser Antilles chain and the most influential republic in the Eastern Caribbean. They are the most exciting, unexplored and uncontrived of Caribbean islands, rich in indigenous culture. A cultural pacemaker best known as the home and heart of West Indian Carnival, the nation can ...
Nudging the South American mainland they were once attached to, Trinidad and Tobago (usually shortened to T&T) form the southernmost islands of the Lesser Antilles chain and the most influential republic in the Eastern Caribbean. They are the most exciting, unexplored and uncontrived of Caribbean islands, rich in indigenous culture. A cultural pacemaker best known as the home and heart of West Indian Carnival, the nation can boast the most diverse and absorbing society in the region.
Trinidad and Tobago remain relatively inexpensive, and are well-geared to independent travellers without being fully fledged tourist resorts. Natural reserves of gas and oil twinned with a strong manufacturing industry have ensured economic independence, and you'll find the islands refreshingly unfettered by the pretensions of the tourist trade. Visitors are not corralled in all-inclusives or holed up on private beaches, and - though you could easily spend two weeks exploring seashores, which range from palm-lined white sand fringed by translucent waters to secluded, wave-whipped outcrops - you'll find there's far more to T&T than suntans and snorkelling.
These are among the richest destinations for eco-tourism in the Caribbean, combining the characteristic flora and fauna of the region with the wilder aspect of the South American mainland. You'd be hard pressed to come up with anywhere that offers such a variety of habitats in such a compact land area (Trinidad covers no more than 4830 square kilometres, Tobago just 300).
In Trinidad, you can hike through undisturbed tropical rainforest where towering canopies of mahogany, teak and balata bedecked with lianas and epiphytic plants shelter opossums, red howler monkeys and ocelots. The wetlands and mangrove swamps harbour all manner of exotic wildlife, including the endangered West Indian manatee and the giant anaconda, while leatherback turtles lay eggs on remote and rugged beaches. Huge blue emperor butterflies flit around the cool water of innumerable inland rivers and waterfalls, and the birdwatching - with more than 430 brilliantly hued species - is among the world's best.
Though Tobago boasts the oldest protected rainforest in the western hemisphere, the smaller island is better known for its stunning coral reefs, declared third best in the Caribbean by Jacques Cousteau and favoured by graceful seven-metre manta rays and shoals of technicolour tropical fish.
Vital, crowded and dynamic, T&T's towns and cities are equally absorbing, unique showcases for the architectural, religious and cultural traditions of their cosmopolitan populations. Fretworked townhouses, Georgian-style mansions and barrack-house complexes built for plantation workers sit side by side with temples, mosques, Catholic cathedrals and Anglican churches. The varied ethnic groups brought to labour in the islands after the slaves were freed in 1834 have given rise to an unimaginably varied populace, hailing from India, China, Portugal and Syria as well as Africa, England, France and Spain. Though racial tensions are inevitably present, Trinbagonians (as they're collectively known) generally coexist with good-humour, and are proud of the multiculturalism that has so enriched the life of the nation. Nowhere is this more visible than in a lively music scene that rivals even that of Jamaica. The steel drum was invented in the Port of Spain suburb of Laventille, while calypso, first developed in African communities, evolved into contemporary soca. That in turn has spawned the Indian-influenced chutney soca and the danceable beats and politically conscious lyrics of rapso, the nation's newest musical creation.
Trinbagonians have a less harrowing past to contend with than many of their Caribbean neighbours. Neglected by the Spanish for most of their three centuries of rule, Trinidad experienced full-scale slavery for only fifty years, while the Dutch, French and English were too busy fighting over Tobago to turn it into a giant plantation. Consequently, the national psyche is characterized by a strong sense of identity and a laid-back enjoyment of the good things in life. This ethos is best displayed in the local propensity for liming, taking time out to meet friends, talk, and sink a Carib beer or a rum. Thirteen public holidays and numerous local festivals are mere limbering up for the republic's most famous party, the annual pre-Lenten Carnival, when the no-holds-barred small-hours abandon of Jouvert is followed by two days of pure joy as five-thousand-strong bands of intricately costumed revellers take to the streets in a celebration of life.
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Check out our authors' picks of must-see sights, local hangouts and unforgettable activities.
Maracas beach on Sundays
Port of Spain's closest beach is a Sunday institution: wear your smartest swimwear, brave the waves, and partake of a Carib and some marvellous shark and bake from Richard's or Natalie's beachfront restaurants.
Sunday School at Buccoo
Though it's nothing to do with religion, the faithful revellers at this fabulously lively and permanently packed beachside party go about their drinking, wining and wooing with rather evangelical fervour.
A half an hour walk through dense rainforest leads to the spectacular ninety-metre Maracas Waterfall; halfway down are three idyllic pools for swimming, including a rock curve that provides an excellent natural jacuzzi.
The Desperadoes are T&Ts most famous exporter of pan music and they practice weekly in a centre in Laventille; a community affair that's an excellent way to meet fellow music lovers.
If you're not playing mas (shame on you!), the best place to view proceedings is from the Queens Park Savannah stands, where masqueraders put on their best performances as they cross the stage.
A ride to Seedas Sadhu
From Port of Spain, the drive out to the Hindu shrine, Seedas Sadhu, in the Gulf of Paria takes a picturesque route through the old sugar plantations, palm tree lined roads and estate houses of Central Trinidad.
The Breakfast Shed
From fresh shark and bake and a steaming cup of hot chocolate, to kingfish in coconut milk with calalloo, macaroni pie and vegetable rice, the Breakfast Shed is as good for lunch as it is breakfast, and the prices are as no-nonsense as the ambience.
Crab and dumplin' at Store Bay
Tobago's unofficial "national dish" - delicately curried crab with tasty flat dumplings - is best bought from Miss Jean's shack on the beach at Store Bay and teased out of its shell while lounging on the sand at sunset.
Produce market, Scarborough
A visceral whirl of sounds, sights and smells, Tobago's main market at Scarborough sees earth- encrusted yams, purple dasheens and luscious tropical fruits jostling for space with fish vendors who advertise their wares by tooting on conch shells.
Tobago Forest Reserve
Laced with easy walking tracks, the Western Hemisphere's oldest protected rainforest, the Tobago Forest Reserve, provides a home for a squawking population of colourful, exotic birds.
Part One Basics
Getting there from Britain and Ireland
Getting there from North America
Getting there Australia and New Zealand
Red tape and visas
Money, banks and costs
Information and maps
Communications, post and phones
Trouble, harassment and drugs
Food and drink 33
Festivals and public holidays
Outdoor activities and adventure tours
Part Two The Guide
Chapter 1: Port of Spain and the Western Tip
Port of Spain
Maraval and Paramin
Diego Martin and Petit Valley
Chapter 2 The north
Las Cuevas Bay
The north coast bench trail
The Arima -Blanchisseuse Road
Asa Wright Nature Centre
The East-West Corridor
Mount St Benedict
The Northeast Tip
Chapter 3 Central Trinidad
The west coast
Caroni Swamp and Bird Sanctuary
The Central Plains
The Arena Dam and Reservoir
Navet Dam and Reservoir
The east coast
Chapter 4 San Fernando and the south
The southwest peninsula
La Brea and the Pitch Lake
Cedros and Erin
Galeota Point and Guayaguayare
Trinity Hills Wildlife Sanctuary
Chapter 5 Tobago
The Runway to Store Bay
Fort Milford to Crusoe's Cave
The windward coast
Little Tobago and Goat Island
The leeward coast
Tobago Forest Reserve
Part Three: Contexts
A brief history of Trinidad
A brief history of Carnival
Flora and fauna