TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO TRAVEL GUIDE
Trinidad and Tobago is a dual-island Caribbean nation near Venezuela, with distinctive Creole traditions and cuisines. Trinidad’s capital, Port of Spain, hosts a boisterous carnival featuring calypso and soca music. The country is the most industrialised and one of the most prosperous in the Caribbean. Overall, tourism is not a major industry (though the island of Tobago has proportionally more), leaving the islands replete with natural unspoiled beauty not found in most other Caribbean countries.
Trinidad offers the thrill of a glitzy holiday destination with dance floors thumping to steel bands as well isolated stretches dotted with beautiful beaches where you can forget all about city life. The vivid culture and artistic expression experienced best during carnival time, has made Trinidad a favourite holiday destination.
A slice of perfection – sheltered palm-fringed beaches, astounding marine life, lush verdant forests – Tobago is the ideal getaway.
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TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO QUICK FACTS
- Capital: Port of Spain
- Currency: Trinidad and Tobago dollar (TTD)
- Area: 5,128 sq km
- Population: 1,39 million (2018)
- Language: English (official), Hindi, French, Spanish, Chinese
- Religion: Roman Catholic 29%, Hindu 24%, Anglican 11%, Muslim 6%, Presbyterian 3%, other 27%
- Electricity: 115/60Hz (North American plug)
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TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO
TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO PUBLIC HOLIDAYS
- 30 March, Spiritual Baptist Day
- 30 May, Arrival Day
- 19 June, Labor Day
- 1 August, Emancipation Day
- 31 August, Independence Day
- 24 September, Republic Day
- 26 December, Boxing Day
Also, Good Friday, Easter Monday, Corpus Christi, Eid al-Fitr, and Diwali.
FESTIVALS IN TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO
- Trinidad Carnival - With roots in both West Africa and Europe, Carnival is the ultimate indulgence before the sober disciplines of Lent – and everyone’s welcome to participate in this big daddy of Caribbean festivals. Information is available from the National Carnival Commission of Trinidad & Tobago and the exhaustive Trinidad Carnival Diary. On Carnival Monday and Tuesday, tens of thousands parade and dance in the streets, accompanied by soca trucks with DJs and steel bands. On Monday, players don’t wear full costumes, instead hitting the streets in T-shirts or self-made bling. It isn’t as glittery and majestic as the Tuesday mas, but it’s arguably more of a party. Carnival Tuesday sees revellers decked out in full, glorious costume in a sumptuous and ecstatic display.
- Tobago Goat Racing - Easter weekend is a huge deal in Tobago, when everyone flocks to Buccoo for a series of open-air parties and – the highlight of it all – goat races. Taken very seriously, goat racing draws more bets than a Las Vegas casino. The competing goats get pampered like beauty contestants and the eventual champion is forever revered. The partying stretches throughout the weekend and the big races happen on Tuesday.
BEST TIME TO VISIT TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO
As a result of their southerly location, Trinidad and Tobago experiences two relatively distinct seasonal climatic types: tropical maritime from January to May with warm days and cool nights with relatively low rainfall. The rainfalls at nights are mainly due to daytime convection; and modified moist equatorial climate between June and December, characterised by hot humid days and nights, low wind speeds and increased rainfall, due to convection and equatorial weather systems. These two climate types result in two distinct seasons, a dry season from January to May and a wet or rainy season from June to December.
The best time to visit Trinidad and Tobago is from January to May when the skies stay clear. Although the islands aren't on the hurricane belt, afternoon rain showers are daily occurrences from June to December. Hotels lower their rates to account for rainy weather during this wet season. At least the weather stays pleasant year-round: There's little humidity and average temps hover around 30C (85F).
SPORT & ACTIVITIES
HIKING & CYCLING IN TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO
The best months for outdoor activities in Trinidad and Tobago, are from January to May when it's driest and the skies are clear. Afternoon rain showers are daily occurrences from June to December. There are some fantastic hiking routes to be found here.
BEACH OPTIONS IN TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO
Trinidad and Tobago enjoy a hot, tropical climate suitable for beach going all year round. The driest months are typically from January to May, so these are best for enjoying the beaches. From June to December there are usually daily afternoon rain showers.
SURFING IN TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO
The prime time for surfing in the Caribbean is from November to April. Trinidad and Tobago is not the best known surfing destination, but it does get some pretty good surf! The most popular surf spots are situated in the north and north-east of Trinidad island near Toco and the southwest coast of Tobago, Mt Irvine Beach and also a spot called Crazy's.
KITESURF IN TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO
Tobago is a world ranked destination when it comes to both windsurfing and kite surfing and is considered an ideal location for beginner and intermediate riders. There are good winds for kitesurfing in Trinidad and Tobago from December to July, with the most consistent winds from December to April. The premier location for windsurfing in Tobago is at Pigeon Point. Some other spots for kitesurfing include Pigeon Point, Lambeau, Tobago, Manzanilla, Mayaro, Los Iros, and Moruga.
HEALTH RISKS IN TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO
Be aware of possible health risks in
Trinidad and Tobago
Yellow fever - The yellow fever virus is found in tropical and subtropical areas of Africa and South America. The virus is spread to people by the bite of an infected mosquito. There is no medicine to treat or cure an infection. To prevent getting sick from yellow fever, use insect repellent, wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants, and get vaccinated.
Zika Virus - Zika is spread mostly by the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito. These mosquitoes bite during the day and night. Zika can be passed from a pregnant woman to her fetus. Infection during pregnancy can cause certain birth defects. There is no vaccine or medicine for Zika.
Dengue - Dengue is spread mostly by the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito. These mosquitoes bite during the day and night. About one in four people infected with dengue will get sick. For people who get sick with dengue, symptoms can be mild or severe.
TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO TRAVEL COSTS
Trinidad and Tobago are not particularly tourist oriented, so there are many good-value options and is almost inexpensive in comparison to other islands. Public transportation and street food are cheap and good.
The Caribbean is not cheap, but there are ways to get the most bang for your buck with a little forward planning and some savvy choices.
Here are some of the best ways to save money:
- Travel in groups Bring your friends and other couples along with you and rent a villa.
- Book far in advance For high season deals.
- Book at the last minute For incredible deals as hotels dump empty rooms.
- Follow the divers They demand great value near beautiful waters.
- Ride buses and ferries You meet folks and may have an adventure.
- Live like a local Save money while having a more authentic visit.
- Travel in low season Prices can drop 40% or more.
TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO TRAVEL TIPS
If you're staying in Port of Spain, Trinidad, you'll be able to rely on the taxis and your own two feet. If you're planning on visiting Tobago, a rental car is a must (as the island's transportation is as developed as its cousin's). When renting, ask for a vehicle with four-wheel-drive — the roads can get rough.
Taxis look like regular passenger cars with one main distinction: license plates start with the letter "H." You can catch a ride at your hotel, but your fare will probably be more expensive. Instead, go wait at one of the taxi stands marked on street corners or hail a cab directly off the street. Taxis aren't metered so be sure to agree on a price before getting into the vehicle. You should pay the equivalent of $1 USD for most one-way trips.
The islands' Public Transport Service Corporation operates bus routes that serve Trinidad's major cities. However, the buses follow set routes, and there is no set timetable. Tickets are available at most bus terminals and you should keep in mind that drivers don't accept cash or credit cards. Tobago also has an inexpensive bus service, but these can be unreliable. Routes start in Scarborough's bus terminal, a short walk from the ferry terminal, and run to Crown Point, Plymouth and most villages on the island starting around 6 a.m.
The Port Authority of Trinidad and Tobago offers express ferries for inter-island travel. The trip takes a little less than three hours with a one-way fare costing about US$8. Cheaper conventional ferry service is also available for about US$6 but this trip takes nearly six hours. Trinidad's ferry dock is located in Port of Spain; Tobago’s is in Scarborough.
SIGHTS & HIGHLIGHTS OF TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO
Trinidad has several beaches, but it's Tobago's shores that are more renowned for their variety and beauty. Its pristine beaches line almost every side of the island and they range from crowded to desolate and festive to romantic. Trinidad's main draw is its lush flora and fauna, particularly its scarlet ibises — the blood orange flamingos that call the island's jungles home. But starting in late February, the island does a 180 when it pours on the glitter and turns up the volume for one of the best Carnival parties in all the Caribbean.
Surrounded by four bodies of water – the Caribbean (north), the Atlantic Ocean (east), the Gulf of Paria (west) and the Columbus Channel (south) – each coastline is a little different. The bustling capital of Port of Spain sits along a wide bay on the gulf, and most of the country’s better-known attractions are within an hour’s drive. In fact, you could drive from one side of the country to the other in around three hours, maybe less if you’re a pro at bumpy, winding roads. Unlike Tobago, Trinidad is not known for being a resort destination and has a limited number of accommodations, most of which are located around the capital, Port of Spain.
The explosive development of recent years has done much to make Port of Spain the absorbing place it is today, with an urban insouciance and metropolitan verve that set it apart from the average Caribbean capital. There may not be many designated ‘tourist sights’ to tick off, but there’s plenty of atmosphere in the ruler-straight downtown streets, with their market stalls and shady squares, while the outlying neighbourhoods of St James and Woodbrook harbour a host of restaurants and bars. Port of Spain is also home to Fort San Andrés, which was built in 1785 by Spanish settlers to protect the city.
Winding north from Port of Spain, Saddle Rd becomes the North Coast Rd, climbing over the jungle-slathered mountains of the Northern Range and descending to the Caribbean coastline at Maracas Bay. The road then hugs the seafront for about 15km to the small settlement of Blanchisseuse, after which it passes over a small bridge and narrows into impassability. Maxi-taxis and route taxis travel to Maracas Bay, but transport to Blanchisseuse is far less frequent; you’ll need a car to explore.
Trinidad’s east coast is wild and rural. The mix of lonely beaches with rough Atlantic waters, mangrove swamps and seaside coconut plantations creates dramatic scenery. It’s deserted most of the year, except for holidays and weekends, when people flood in to Manzanilla and Mayaro for beachside relaxation, packing coolers with food and splashing about in the gently shelving waters. You get here by way of bustling Sangre Grande (pronounced Sandy Grandy), from where minor roads head down to the Manzanilla–Mayaro Rd.
Despite the ruggedly beautiful coastline, waterfalls, hiking trails and swimmable rivers – and the leatherback turtles that lay eggs on the beaches – tourism remains low-key along the Northeast Coast. Inaccessible from Blanchisseuse, where the north-coast road ends, this quiet region is bounded by Matelot in the north and Matura in the southeast. It’s accessed via the busy little village of Valencia, a short way beyond the end of the Churchill Roosvelt highway, from where the Valencia Main Rd makes a T-junction with the Toco Main Rd, which hugs the northeast coast. Getting here is easiest by far in a taxi or with your own vehicle.
(Loads more location information and points of interest are available in the above map)
Tobago draws more tourists than Trinidad because of its famously beautiful beaches. While Trinidad booms with industry and parties all night, tiny Tobago (just 42km across) slouches in a deck chair with a beer in hand watching its crystalline waters shimmer in the sun.
Most of the white-sand beaches and tourist development are centred on the southwestern side of Tobago, starting at Crown Point and running along a string of bays up to Arnos Vale. The lowlands that predominate in the southwest extend to Tobago’s only large town, Scarborough. The coast beyond is dotted with small fishing villages and the interior is ruggedly mountainous, with thick rainforest. Divers and snorkelers, and those seeking mellow days, visit the easternmost villages of Speyside and Charlotteville, while bird-watchers head for the Tobago Forest Reserve and the nearby uninhabited islet of Little Tobago.
The stretch of coastline from Mt Irvine Bay to Plymouth has several lovely beaches, a few sizable hotels and a slew of fancy villas hugging the greens of the golf course. Slightly out of place, Black Rock’s tiny Pleasant Prospect is right in the middle. It’s a teeny surfer haunt: a cluster of cheap unofficial accommodations, eateries and a few good places to lime.
About a 45-minute drive from Plymouth, Castara is a working fishing village that’s popular with tourists not wanting the inundated Crown Point scene. People love the wide, sandy beach, relaxed atmosphere and picturesque setting, but the village is on the cusp of feeling overcrowded itself during high season. North of Castara, the road winds past a stretch of coast that’s punctuated by pretty beaches and villages, unhurried places with cows grazing at the roadside. The best place to stop is Englishman’s Bay, a superb undeveloped beach shaded by stands of bamboo and coconut palms, which draws snorkelers to its gentle waters – a coral reef lies 20m offshore.
Scarborough is the island’s only city, a crowded port with bustling one-way streets and congested traffic. Tobagonians come here to bank, pay bills or go shopping, and though there are some good places to grab a bite and a neat public market, most visitors will want to push onward.
East of Scarborough, Tobago’s Windward coast is the more rural part of the island, less appealing to tourists thanks to its rough dark-sand beaches. The Windward Rd, which connects Scarborough with Speyside, winds past scattered villages, jungle valleys and white-capped ocean. The further east you go, the more ruggedly beautiful the scenery becomes. Although much of the road is narrow and curvy with a handful of blind corners, it’s easily drivable in a standard vehicle. Journey time from Scarborough to Speyside is 1½ hours.
WHAT TO PACK FOR TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO
The Caribbean islands are casual, so bring light, comfy clothes: a bathing suit, T-shirt and shorts will be your wardrobe. Add long pants or a dress for nights out.
Sun hat Buying at home ensures a better fit.
Quick-dry towel A small one, for when the whim to swim hits.
Flashlight For night-time reading, blackouts.
Resealable bags / Drybags Essential for keeping things (cameras, air tickets, passports) dry on boat trips.
Snorkelling mask with corrective lenses Suddenly, reefs are in focus!
WHAT TO EAT IN TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO
Port of Spain has some truly excellent restaurants, and street food is a big deal here too, with Trini treats available from dusk until late into the night along Western Main Rd in St James, Ariapita Ave in Woodbrook and the south-eastern corner of the Savannah.
You'll find crab and dumpling on many menus, but some writers suggest you try some roti (flat bread stuffed with chicken, fish, goat or curry) instead. Wash it down with a planter's punch, a popular local drink made with fruit juices, grenadine, Angostura bitters, curaçao and rum.
In the Pigeon Point area of Tobago one of the best places to each lunch is at the row of food huts opposite the beach at Store Bay, where local women serve delicious dishes like roti, crab and dumplin’ and simple plate lunches (TT$30 to TT$60). There’s also a cluster of fast-food places at the junction of Milford Rd and Pigeon Point Rd.
These dishes can be found across the Caribbean:
- Callaloo - A creamy thick soup or stew blending a variety of vegetables (eg spinach, kale, onions, carrots, eggplant, garlic, okra) with coconut milk and sometimes crab or ham. The base can be spinach-like.
- Roti - Fiery chutney sets off the curried chicken, beef, conch or vegetable fillings in these burrito-like flat-bread wraps.
- Conch - Look for farm-raised versions as conch in the wild are endangered. This large pink mollusc is cooked with onion and spices in a stew, fried up as fritters, or sliced raw and served with a lime marinade.
Take time to meet the locals by doing what they do – you’ll enjoy a more affordable and authentic experience.
- Eat at lunch wagons or stalls. The local fare is cheap and often incredibly good.
- Drop by a local bar – often the de facto community centre. Besides a drink, you’ll get all sorts of useful – or wonderfully frivolous – advice.
- Look for community fish fries or barbecues in the Eastern Caribbean.
WHERE TO STAY IN TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO
Port of Spain holds the bulk of Trinidad’s accommodations, and as most of the country’s better-known attractions are within an hour’s drive, it’s quite feasible to stay here and explore the whole island. During Carnival season, most places offer packages for a set number of days, and raise rates to twice the regular room price.
In Tobago as in Trinidad, there are many good-value options. Crown Point in Tobago has the majority of places to stay, and competition keeps prices low.
A 10% service charge and a 15% value-added tax (VAT) can add 35% more to your bill. Most advertised accommodations rates include the tax and service charge, but not always.