Opposites Attract . . .
The unique sister islands of Trinidad and Tobago (T & T), are very different but together they combine their distinctive features to make the perfect alternative Caribbean holiday destination . . .
Trinidad and Tobago are the southern most pair of islands in the Caribbean chain of the Lesser Antilles. Trinidad’s South Western Icacos point is just a few kilometres from Venezuela in continental South America. In fact, just ten thousand years ago they were joined together but shifting tectonics plates opened up the channel that now separates them. It is for this reason that the Republic boasts one of the most diverse ranges of flora and fauna amongst the Caribbean.
The most cosmopolitan society in the Caribbean with a vibrant colourful cultural diversity that has produced carnival, Calypso and amazing food, art, music and friendly, fun-loving people.
Both islands were both originally populated by peaceful, agrarian Arawaks from South America. Then around 1000AD the belligerent Caribs joined them. When Columbus encountered the island in 1498, he named it Trinidad after the three peaks of the Trinity hills. It was permanently settled by the Spanish in 1592 and then followed a very Caribbean model of history, exploitation and decimation of the native population, skirmishes with the British an influx of French planters and slaves but uniquely also mixed race landowners. The island was taken over by the British in 1797, when it became a Crown Colony. Around that time there was increasing lobbying for the abolition of slavery, which was enacted in 1807. Many former slaves moved to urban areas, leaving a shortage of agricultural labour on the plantations. To overcome this, the British allowed the immigration of labourers from India. Their status was little different from the African slaves before them. When they finished their indenture, many East Indians stayed on in Trinidad. Other incoming populations included Chinese, Black American soldiers (from the British/American war of 1812) who were given land rights as a reward for supporting the British. The 1800’s also saw the arrival of Portuguese labourers. There is also a small but significant population of Syrian/Lebanese.
The British gave Tobago to Trinidad in 1899. The twentieth century brought with it a number of riots and strikes as Black, East Indian and people of mixed race challenged the hegemony of the White planters. T & T was granted independence in 1962. Since that there have been ups and downs. The discovery of huge oil reserves off the coast in the early 70’s led to a time of affluence but this prosperity was short lived and the drop in oil prices in the 80’s led to a recession, rising unemployment and high inflation. With help from the IMF the country recovered through increased oil revenues. By today’s standards, T & T has the healthiest economy in the Caribbean bolstered not only through its oil but also through the exploitation of its vast natural gas reserves. The Republic is the fifth largest exporter of liquefied gas in the world.
As you move northwards, the undulating slopes near the south coast give way to the Caroni Plains. Trinidad is a twitchers paradise: on the west coast, is the Caroni Swamp and Bird Sanctuary, roosting place for Trinidad & Tobago’s National Bird, the Scarlet Ibis. Bird Watchers gather in the late afternoon to catch sight of the birds flocking in to roost. Their intense red plumage soon overwhelms the green of dense mangroves. To the east, on the Atlantic Coast is the internationally recognised wetland, the Nariva Swamp and Bush Wildlife Sanctuary. Continuing north, the landscape dramatically changes as the northern range soars upwards to its highest peak the 941 metre “El Cerro del Aripo”. These craggy mountains are enveloped in lush moisture dripping rain forest. In the middle of all this is the jewel for birdwatchers, The Asa Wright Nature Reserve. Descending down the other side of the mountains will bring you down to Blanchisseuse and the small inviting coves and beaches amidst the towering cliffs. Here are some of the best beaches in Trinidad with Maracas Bay being the most popular amongst the locals. Sundays are bust as streams of cars leave Port of Spain the capital and negotiate the hair-raising mountain road, so that they can enjoy the beach, perhaps a couple of Bake and Shake sandwiches and indulge in a good ‘Lime’.
But, for a taste of real beach life, Tobago has to be the preferred destination. This island is much smaller, (only 300 square kilometres as opposed to Trinidad’s 5000 square kilometres). It has the oldest rain forest reserve in the western hemisphere, covering a large chunk of the mountains interior. All around the coast are pretty crescent shaped beaches and secluded coves. Some are quite developed for tourist, whilst others relatively untouched. With the surrounding coral reefs enriched by sediments by the mighty Orinoco River, Tobago is a great destination for snorkelling and keen scuba divers.
Trinidad has to be the party capital of the Caribbean. It is famous of course for it’s great carnival and Trinis take the festivities so seriously that they start preparing for the next year as soon as one finishes. If you can’t be there for the actual event, which takes place on the three days before Ash Wednesday, you can still get a flavour of Carnival, from Christmas onwards by visiting one of the Pan Yards or Calypso Tents to watch them rehearse. Carnival is only one of many festivals that this multi-cultural society celebrates. There always seems to be an excuse to party on this island. Not only do Trinis party during religious festivals but they also have a great tradition of fabulous music festivals.
If cricket’s your thing, then a game at the Queens Park Oval may give you a new insight in crowd behaviour. Once again, its just one great big party or ‘Lime’. Group B games during 2007 Cricket World Cup was played here.
Both islands cater well for the Eco-tourist, apart from bird watching; the nature reserves offer the chance to see other wild life such as Manatees, Caymans, Agouti, Red Howler Monkeys and Anacondas. They take their conservation very seriously and this is probably most apparent in their turtle-watching programme where they guard the leather-backs as they come ashore to lay their eggs and supervise the hatching’s return to the ocean. If you fancy doing a guided nature trail through the rain-forest of Tobago then contact the expert guide David Rooks: (639 4276).
Tobago is a unique isolated Caribbean island with the immense diversity of flora and fauna of a huge continent. For instance Trinidad has 210 species of birds, in 116 square miles of land that gives Trinidad one of the highest concentration of birds anywhere on the globe.
There’s some interesting architecture to be seen in Trinidad around the Savannah, in Port of Spain. The ‘Magnificent Seven are a mixture of styles from high colonial to Victorian follies. It’s worth a trip to the gulf of Paria to see the Waterloo Temple, which has been built in to the sea. Gingerbread and chattel houses with their pretty fretwork are found throughout the island.
Whilst Trinidadians make their way down to Tobago to recover from the excesses of Carnival, the lower key Tobagonians are gearing up for their annual Easter goat and crab races. These take place at Buccoo. As part of the training regime you will see trainers taking their goats swimming in the ocean in the hope of achieving ‘the most outstanding goat’ prize. They take place on the Monday and Tuesday after Easter Sunday. Whilst you are down in this part of Tobago you can take a glass-bottomed boat out to the Buccoo Reef and have a swim in the crystal waters of the nylon pool. Some of the best water sports such as scuba diving can be arranged in Speyside at Blue Waters Inn. You might even get to ride on a ‘Tobago Taxi’ better known as a Manta Ray! Both islands offer deep-sea fishing for Marlin, Sailfish, Tuna and Dolphin fish (not the mammal). (Trinidad and Tobago Game Fishing Association, Tel: 624 5304).
Wine, Dine & Lime
With its wide mix it’s no surprise that the cuisine is one of the great diversity and wonderful surprises. There are road stalls everywhere offering wonderful snacks and fruits. Doubles are flat fried Bara breads sandwiching a delicious filling of chickpea curry and all spiced up with hot pepper sauce and other chutneys. Big round Roti flaps, chicken, lamb, channa, potato, prawn – you name it. These flat Indian breads are then neatly folded into the perfect parcel. But you get far with it, as you will probably eat it straight away. Try one at the Hot Shoppe or Mrs. Kanai in St. James. Port of Spain or sit under a straw parasol at Mount Irvine Bay and enjoy a prawn Roti, as you listen to the waters breaking on the Tobago shore.
Down at Store Bay perhaps a flying fish sandwich or curried crab and dumplings might tempt you. Back in Trinidad as the evening ‘Lime’ gathers speed you can pick up your strength with a steaming cup of corn soup, split peas vegetables and chunks of corn on the cob, flavoured with chandon beni (coriander like herbs).
More substantial, although much of the street food is pretty rib, sticking you might be lucky enough to sample a traditional Creole dish of fish broth, curry goat or oxtail at Veni Mange or The Verandah. New restaurants are opening all the time in Port of Spain and nowadays you can experience a wide choice of international cuisine as well as the local food.
If you are feeling daring at the end of the night then venture down to Smokey and Bunty’s for a late night drink, you may feel brave enough to sample some highly spiced black pudding, or a souse of pigs tails and trotter or chicken feet! With all the possibilities of eating, what better to accompany the many tasty treats than a ‘beastly’ cold Carib beer – a light lager drunk straight from the bottle?
Like all Caribbean islands, rum is consumed in generous quantities, often neat but also mixed with Coke, tonic or coconut water and invariably enhanced with Angostura Bitters the island’s local cure all. Best brands include Old Oak, Vat 19, and Royal Oak. The local rums are quite smooth and weight in at 40%. Another highly consumable drink is rum punch. Whilst there is no definitive recipe it is a mixture of fruits, syrup, ice and rum and finished off with a pinch of nutmeg. But a good guide is our sour, two sweet, three strong and four weak, though most people nowadays tend to say no weak!
Where to Stay – Trinidad
Prices are quoted for double or twin rooms including room tax (10%) and service charge (10%) and Continental Breakfast. Rates rise by about 100% during carnival season.
Coblentz Inn, 44 Coblentz Avenue, Cascade. Tel: (868) 621 0541 Fax: (868) 624 7566.
The only hotel in Trinidad that is anywhere near a boutique hotel. Pretty colourful rooms with some quirky furnishings in the common areas. Great Restaurants and rooftop terrace with Jacuzzi.
US$100-150 / US$200 and above.
Crews Inn Hotel & Yachting Centre, Point Gourde, Chaguaramas Bay. Tel: (868) 634 4384, fax: (868) 634 4542, email: inquiries@ crewsinn.com. Part of a complete yachting centre, which includes a 68-slip marina and a deep-water port in Chaguaramas Bay, a natural harbour set against the backdrop of Trinidad’s northern range of mountains. A lovely view plus all the modern conveniences of a corporate hotel. US$140.
Alicia’s House, 7 Coblentz Gardens, St. Ann’s. Tel: (868) 623 2802, Fax:(868) 623 8560. Comfortable homely guest house near to the Queen’s Park Savannah, with swimming pool, sun deck and Jacuzzi. US$35/US$200.
Outside of Port of Spain.
Grande Riviere is well worth the two hours plus drive, especially in the Turtle season.
Mount Plaisir Grande Riviere, Tel:(868) 670 8381, Fax (868) 670 0057. Mt. Plaisir estate is the only true beach hotel in Trinidad. Located on Grande Riviere Bay along the Caribbean northeast coast. The rustic boho chic hotel has great food and also hosts on of the worlds largest colonies of the endangered leather-back turtle, which nest here by the thousands every year between march and August. US$60.
Asa Wright Nature Centre, P O Box 4710, Arima, Tel:667 4655, email:email@example.com. One hour’s drive from Port of Spain. Originally a coffee, citrus and cocoa plantation set in acres of virgin rain-forest. Heaven for bird watchers. Quaint great house with a spectacular viewing balcony and cottages within the grounds. Prices include a free tour of the estate with a guide, three meals a day plus a tea and free rum punch each.
Where to stay – Tobago
Coco Reef Resort and Spa is at the top end of the market. A luxurious resort with a fantastic spa, man-made beach and lagoon, providing complimentary water sport for its guests. It has a Spanish feel to it, which is highlighted with its distinctive choice of Cuban art. All the usual features for a luxury resort. Prices range from US$224 for a single room per night.
Blue Waters Inn, Batteau Bay, Speyside. (868) 660 4341. Set amidst 46 acres of lush tropical grounds, well away from the island’s main tourist areas and tucked away in their own private horseshoe bay, this resort is the perfect retreat for nature lovers, scuba divers and bird watchers. Aquamarine Dive Ltd. is a PADI Gold Palm Resort Training Facility located at the Inn. The only dive shop located on Tobago with a docking facility enabling divers to board the dive boats with ease. Prices range from US$120 – Standard Room – US$580 for a Blue View Bungalow.
Half Moon Blue Hotel, at the Donkey Cart House, Bacolet Bay. Tel: (868) 639 3551. If you like unusual then this is the place for you. It’s a hybrid really, part restaurant, part apartment block and part boutique hotel. The reception is like something out of Alice in Wonderland, very eclectic and quirky, to say the least. The dining room is open at the side and very airy, with huge comfy cane armchairs. It also has a very pretty intimate bar and swimming pool. Prices start from US$160 for double occupancy per night – US$320 for Superior Penthouse Loft.
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