Trinidad and Tobago Travel Guide
The last stop along the chain of Caribbean islands before the South American mainland, Trinidad and Tobago is a beach paradise with a split personality.
Much larger Trinidad is densely populated and the main hub of the country’s tourism industry, while Tobago to the north is much quieter with a protected forest and secluded bays. Everyday culture here is vibrant, with a strong liking for the arts and everything associated with the two principal obsessions, soccer and cricket.
While it’s often overlooked on Caribbean cruises, Trinidad has a great deal of culture, golden sand and rugged mountains that are well worth visiting. It is best known for the hedonistic throes of Carnival that take to the streets early each year, but there are solid reasons for visiting in every season.
One thing is certain: the Trinidad experience is about as authentic as they come in the Caribbean. This is not a culture eroded by tourism. Instead, it’s a place where visitors are always in the minority and have no problem blending into the background, a welcome relief for the right kind of traveler.
Port of Spain is the capital city with the bulk of the island’s facilities. It sits on the southern coast, far from the remote northern mountain range. Port of Spain is where visitors do their shopping and fine dining, but it’s inevitably left behind for the chance to kayak along remote coastlines or go bird-watching in the mountains.
Wherever tourists venture on Trinidad, they’ll find themselves among great hiking, caving and cycling opportunities. Along the way are bungalows, guesthouses and mountaintop monasteries that welcome guests with the kind of hospitality expected in out-of-the-way places.
Why You Should Go
What’s Cool: Sinking a glass of rum the same time as the sun drops below the sea, extremely hot sauce, limbo dancing and calypso, beach cricket, extreme ethnic diversity and goat racing.
What’s Not: High crime in some areas, escalating HIV/AIDS infection rate, overcrowding in areas, intolerance towards homosexuality, drug problems and the recent kidnapping craze.
When to Go
Closer to the equator than other Caribbean islands, Trinidad and Tobago enjoy a tropical climate year-round. Temperature variation throughout the year is negligible, with the weather remaining moderate to hot. Daytime temperatures are typically 84°F, while night-times are cooler at 72°F.
Getting There & Away
Trinidad is well-connected to large cities in North America including Washington DC, New York and Miami, along with Latin American capitals including Venezuela’s Caracas and Guyana’s Georgetown. There are also direct flights to London, the main hub for travelers arriving from Europe. Arrival by cruise ship or yacht is possible, the latter normally for those with a few million to splash around. Transport options on the island are limited to private cars, buses and taxis, along with the cheaper maxi cabs which do circuits around both islands.
By shared car: ‘taxi stands’ are located across major towns like Port of Spain, Point Fortin and San Fernando. Drivers are likely to wait until they have four passengers.
By taxi: private taxis cost more than shared cars, but they’ll take passengers anywhere on the island without trying to pick up another fare. The cars are air-conditioned and comfortable.
By maxi: maxis are something between a minivan and a bus. They travel fixed routes across the island and carry up to 30 passengers.
By car rental: gasoline is cheap on this oil-producing island, so renting a car is not a bad idea. Be forewarned that local driving habits can be a shock to the uninitiated.
Health & Safety
HIV/AIDS is an increasing concern, but is not yet a fully blown epidemic here. The health system is adequate, but some over-the-counter medicines found in the west are not always available. Tales of rampant dengue fever are overblown, however outbreaks do occur so bring some strong repellant and cover up. Crime is a serious problem in some quarters of Trinidad so the usual rules apply—watch out late at night and keep valuables safe. Avoid badmouthing the West Indian cricket team, an offence tantamount to sacrilege with possibly grave consequences.
Food & Hospitality
Just when you thought things couldn’t get any hotter in Trinidad and Tobago, they go and bring out the hot pepper sauce, a local institution squirted on just about everything, and in extremely large doses. Hot sauce virgins should handle the bottle with care. Otherwise, the food is a hotchpotch of Indian cuisine, barbecue and western fare including popular fast-food chains from North America. When it comes to drinking, rum flows almost as freely as water here. The islands have their fair share of luxury accommodation, but cheaper alternatives are available. Nothing is bargain basement though. For low-cost seclusion, Tobago is your best bet.
Trinidad’s robust restaurant scene offers a tantalizing mix of upscale gourmet fare along with affordable food from street vendors. The best Caribbean cuisine is found on Ariapita Avenue, the ‘restaurant strip’ in Port of Spain.
Life here revolves around the beach, which is unsurprising given the powder white sand and azure seas, but there is plenty more to see and do.
- Five days on Trinidad’s northern resorts of Maracas, Tyrico, Las Cuevas, Mayaro and Toco, soaking up the sun and cooling off in the clear seas.
- Two days in the capital Port of Spain, scattered with colonial architecture.
- One day exploring the Tobago Forest Reserve, the oldest in the Caribbean, with hiking trails and opportunities for bird-watching.
- One day at Argyle Falls, featuring three plunge pools to cool off in following the sweaty walk to the top.
- Two days at Asa Wright Nature Reserve, a former cocoa and coffee plantation with lots of bird life, caves and hiking trails.
- One day at Fort King George on Tobago, a 230 year old testament to the islands’ troubled past.
Maracas and Las Cuevas: two great beaches that are very different, the former a long expanse of perfect shoreline and Las Cuevas, a series of caves, which is what the name means in Spanish.
Tobago Forest Reserve: Caribbean environmentalism at its best and the perfect excuse to get over to Tobago for beautiful walks and secluded coves.
Port of Spain: civilization Trinidad style and the best place for shopping and strolling on the island.
Asa Wright Nature Reserve: a favorite of bird watchers and a place to escape from the beach, it’s possible to hike here and take in the interior of the country.
Fort King George: Tobago’s best-preserved historical architecture, featuring cannons pointing out to the turquoise ocean.
Mathura Beach: favorite nesting place of returning leatherback turtles, a dramatic scene of nature which can be experienced courtesy of organized tours.
Argyle Falls: Tobago’s Argyle River plunges down three drops in this scenic piece of island paradise.
Maracas Beach on the north of the island is especially popular because of its ample facilities, including lifeguards and restaurants.
A popular weekend location, Blanchicheusse boasts bungalows and a forested hiking trail that leads to a local waterfall.
Las Cuevas is the best place for swimming along the north coast. You can also step away and explore the onsite caves.
Mayaro Beach on the south coast is the longest stretch of sand on Trinidad. Nets full of fresh-caught fish are hoisted in each afternoon.
Relaxing: Caribbean beaches plus a good book equal the ultimate way to escape the woes of everyday life back home.
Diving: reefs surrounding parts of the islands coupled with crystal-clear seas make Trinidad and Tobago a great diving and snorkeling destination.
Hiking: the islands’ nature reserves feature hiking trails that are not too strenuous with fantastic views of the ocean.
Go to the races: horses or goats, it doesn’t matter in Trinidad and Tobago. Both are taken seriously and enjoyed enormously by the locals.
Golf: Trinidad is gaining prominence as a golfing destination given its fine weather with both nine and 18-hole courses.
Trinidad boasts real cosmopolitan shopping venues like multi-story shopping malls and suburban retail centers. Chaguanas is the central shopping town for locals, but tourists take a greater interest in the carvings and leatherwork sold by artisans at Independence Square in Port of Spain.
Street vendors aren’t as common as on other Caribbean islands, but visitors will still find produce markets and roadside stalls while exploring Trinidad.
It comes as no surprise that an island with such a strong contingency of residents boasts a formidable night scene. Bars and restaurants line the streets of central Port of Spain and are also well represented in secondary towns and cities.
Calypso music originated in Trinidad, and it leads the way in local dance clubs. When going out in Trinindad, be sure to try the local beer. The most popular is Carib, a locally-made lager that often gets mixed with ginger ale to make a refreshing shandy.
Festivals & Events
The people of Trinidad and Tobago like nothing better than a good Caribbean carnival and enjoy varied holidays thanks to the diverse ethnic groups that live here.
February: a carnival straight after Ash Wednesday that consumes the islands even though it isn’t a national holiday, which no one seems to care about.
July: the last two weeks of the month mark the Tobago Heritage Festival, a time of dance, song and stories of the islands’ past.
August: the first of the month is Emancipation Day when slaves threw off their shackles, a major celebration throughout the Caribbean.
October: the World Steel Band Festival is a fun reminder that you’re in the Caribbean, featuring styles from calypso to classical.
October/November: the Hindu community gets into Divali, a festival of candlelight, songs, dance and cultural shows.