Sitting pretty just off the coast of the South American mainland it was once part of, the twin-island republic of Trinidad and Tobago (often shortened to “T&T”) is one of the Caribbean’s most diverse and underexplored destinations. The islands boast spectacular rainforests, waterfalls, savannahs and reefs, and the endless undeveloped beaches are some of the prettiest in the region, from palm-lined white sand fringed by limpid waters to secluded, wave-whipped outcrops. As the home and heart of West Indian Carnival and the place where calypso, soca and steel pan were invented, T&T is a cultural pacemaker for the Caribbean and a fantastic place to party.
Trinidad and Tobago’s economy is the most diversified and industrialized in the English-speaking Caribbean, with an average of 151,000 barrels of oil and 40 billion cubic metres of natural gas produced here each year. Because gas and oil are the main economic earners, both islands remain largely unfettered by the more noxious elements of Caribbean tourism, and are well suited to independent travellers without being fully fledged resorts. Visitors are not generally corralled in all-inclusives or holed-up on private swathes of sand and the beaches are enjoyed by locals and foreigners alike, with visitors often in the minority. Sun and sea are by no means the only draw here, however: no other Caribbean island offers such a variety of wildlife and habitats in so compact an area (roughly half the size of Hawaii Island). In Trinidad, there are tropical rainforests of mahogany and teak patrolled by howler monkeys and ocelots, wetlands harbouring manatees and anacondas, and remote beaches where giant leatherback turtles lay their eggs, while Tobago is best known for its stunning coral reefs, favoured by manta rays and shoals of brightly coloured tropical fish. Both islands also offer some brilliant opportunities for birdwatching; with more than 430 recorded species T&T has one of the richest concentrations of birds per square kilometre in the world.
The crowded and dynamic towns and cities are equally engaging, with fretworked “gingerbread” homes sitting side by side with temples, mosques, Catholic cathedrals and Anglican churches. The many ethnic groups brought to labour in the islands after slaves were freed in 1834 have given rise to a remarkably 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 islands. This easy-going mentality is best expressed in the local propensity for “liming” – taking time out to meet friends and talk, usually over food and a beer or glass of rum.
Both islands share a party-hard ethic, and Trinidad has an electrifying music scene that rivals even that of Jamaica. T&T is the birthplace of calypso and the more fast-paced soca, as well as that quintessential sound of the Caribbean, the steel pan; you’ll hear plenty of all three year-round, but especially during the republic’s most famous party, its annual pre-Lenten Carnival. During this unique and explosive event, the no-holds-barred debauchery of the Jouvert “dirty mas” parades is followed by two days of pure joy as 5000-strong bands of intricately costumed revellers take to the streets in a celebration of life.