Trinidad and Tobago

The island nation of Trinidad and Tobago is located in the southern Caribbean just several miles from Venezuela’s north east coast. It includes the islands of Trinidad and its smaller neighbor Tobago. They are the most southerly islands in the Caribbean.

The islands have distinct histories, though both are well known for their Carnival revelry, lush rainforests, friendly local people, beautiful bird life, and excellent diving and snorkeling.

Tobago has retained its culture, and in some ways caters more to tourism. Trinidad is heavily populated, with a busy port capital (Port of Spain), and relies on the oil and gas industries more heavily than on tourism. Nevertheless, thousands upon thousands of people from all over the globe flock to Trinidad each year during Carnival season to take part in the world famous celebrations in all their glittery, gilded glamor.

Trinidad is incredibly diverse, making visitors of almost every background feel welcome and resulting in an exciting abundance of colorful cultural festivals to choose from throughout the year.

People

The people of Trinidad and Tobago are mostly of African descent. The next largest group is of Indian descent. There are also many people of mixed ethnicity, a large number of Chinese, many people of European descent, and other groups from all over the world. Many faiths and religions are practiced on both islands.

The country is extremely diverse, with many people having settled in or been brought to the island as slaves or indentured servants from Africa, Asia, Europe, and North and South America.

This mix of cultures lends to a varied and interesting atmosphere unique to Trinidad and Tobago. The most famous of its festivals is certainly Carnival, which attracts people from all over the world. The largest celebration is in Port of Spain, where thousands of people dress up in elaborate costumes and march together in ‘bands’ to the sounds of calypso and soca music.

Tobago’s Carnival celebrations are laid back compared to Trinidad, and the biggest celebration in Tobago takes place in Scarborough.

The Tambrin drum is a special percussion instrument that developed in Tobago. The drum, similar to a tambourine, is traditionally covered in goat hide. There are several Tambrin bands on Tobago. Tambrin music accompanies annual celebrations, including the Moriah Ole Time Wedding, which is a lively reenactment of how weddings used to take place on the island.

The people of Trinidad and Tobago are laid back, and will take any excuse to party or ‘hang out.’ Family is important, as are traditions and festivals that celebrate the heart and soul of the islands’ multicultural character.

Food

The food of Trinidad and Tobago bears the markings of its fantastically diverse population. African, Indian, Chinese, Spanish, French, British, Portuguese, Caribbean, Middle Eastern and Amerindian influences can all be found in the food of the islands.

East Indian curries, roti, stewed chickpeas and lentil dishes are popular and prevalent. The most popular breakfast dish is called doubles, which consists of thin spiced East Indian flatbread called bara stuffed with channa (curried chickpeas) and topped with a variety of condiments such as coconut, tamarind, chutney, and plenty of hot pepper sauce. Street vendors all over the islands sell this common breakfast food each morning.

Indian food is widely available, both on the street and in restaurants. Rich stews inspired by African cuisine are also popular. Barbeques and cook outs are a regular occurrence, and local food is often a highlight of the many festivals that occur regularly throughout the year.

“River lime” is a fun tradition where friends socialize and “hang out” (called ‘liming’), while a dish of curried duck stews in a pot over open flames by the riverside.

Rice dishes, black eyed peas, lentils, stewed meats such as goat or chicken, and curried vegetables or meat are some things you’ll find on the menu in Trinidad and Tobago. Specialties include ox-tail soup, curried goat or chicken, callaloo, and many Indian sweets.

Trinis like their food spicy, and hot pepper sauce is often served with almost everything. Trini pepper sauce includes garlic, herbs, and very hot peppers blended with vinegar.

Many Chinese restaurants can be found, as well as Middle Eastern, Caribbean, and European eating establishments.

Many dishes have taken on a local “Trini” flair of their own, even those with roots in places like Africa, India, and South America. The food of Trinidad and Tobago is diverse, interesting, complex, and can be extremely flavorful. Trinidadians and Tobagonians are proud of their cuisine and rightly so.

Population

Approx. 1.3 million

Currency

Trinidad and Tobago dollar (TT$)

Language

English (official)

When to Go

Average temperature in Trinidad and Tobago is warm throughout the year – approximately 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Dry season is January to May, and the rainy season runs from about June to December. Many people visit for the annual Carnival celebrations in the spring. February and March are the busiest times of year. Low season is about May to December.

Dress

Dress in Trinidad and Tobago is similar to elsewhere in the Eastern Caribbean. The weather is warm or hot throughout the year. During the rainy season it can be sunny in the morning with heavy afternoon rains, and rainy days may be interspersed with days of sunshine. Shorts, t-shirts, tank tops, and sandals are suitable for most activities.

Bring something to cover up with if traveling during the rainy season, such as a lightweight jacket. Bring good sturdy shoes, a long sleeve shirt and long pants for hiking, and a bathing suit for the beach. Hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen are recommended.

Carnival is an exception to the everyday routine, when everyone dresses up in elaborate costumes which are usually made by hand beginning many months in advance of the event. ‘Bands’ (groups) are differentiated by their costumes, which usually follow a certain theme. The final result is quite a spectacle, with many different costumed bands of hundreds or thousands of members marching joyously through the streets in a blur of sequins, feathers, and creative ensembles.

Travel

Visitors can arrive by boat or by air to Trinidad and Tobago. Both Trinidad and Tobago have an international airport (Tobago’s airport is smaller with fewer incoming flights). The flight between Trinidad and Tobago is only about 20 minutes. It is also possible to travel by ferry between the two islands, which takes about 2.5 hours.

On the islands public transportation is accessible, cheap, and easy to use. Taxis are available for transport from the airport (unmetered). Confirm the price to your destination beforehand and be aware that rates are increased late at night.

Buses are available, as well as minibuses called “maxi-taxis” which are efficient and cheap. Maxi-taxis act like shuttles, transporting passengers around the islands along set routes making frequent stops as needed.

Car rental is an option, and may be a good way to see some off the beaten path beaches, scenic routes, or towns inaccessible by public transportation. Note that during the spring festivals and Carnival season car rental rates are much higher, and in some cases arrangements must be made well in advance.

Health

Travelers should bring sun protection, a hat and sunglasses, as well as bug spray and light weight long sleeve tops and long pants to protect against mosquitos and sand flies. There are many public hospitals and medical clinics on the islands.

Crime is something to be aware of when traveling in Trinidad and Tobago, especially theft in touristic areas, and in certain neighborhoods in Port of Spain. Travelers should find out what areas may be best to avoid, should always be aware of their surroundings, and avoid walking alone at night in certain areas.

Visas

Citizens of the US, Canada, the UK, and many European countries do not require a visa if entering Trinidad and Tobago as a tourist and staying for 90 days or less. A valid passport is required, as well as an onward or departure ticket.

Top 5 Sites

1. Fort King George (Scarborough, Tobago)

2. National Museum and Art Gallery (Port of Spain, Trinidad)

3. Temple in the Sea (Gulf of Paria, west coast of Trinidad)

4. Tobago Main Ridge Forest Reserve (Tobago)

5. Caroni Bird Sanctuary (Trinidad)

Top 5 Things To Do

1. Attend Carnival in Trinidad and Tobago (the biggest celebration is in Port of Spain)

2. Go bird spotting and snorkeling in Little Tobago (15 min from Tobago, departing from Speyside)

3. Experience the authentic local music scene, where talented aspiring artists blend local and global musical styles ranging from rap to reggae and rock and roll to calypso

4. Hike to the top of lofty El Tucuche for well-earned spectacular views of the whole island (Trinidad)

5. Place your bets at the annual goat races in Buccoo on Easter Tuesday (south west Tobago)

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