One of the most fascinating and surprising countries we visited on our boat-hitchhiking trip across the Atlantic was definitely Trinidad and Tobago. I immediately fell in love with the combination of Caribbean lifestyle, Indian heritage and European legacy. For a second, my partner and I could even imagine to live & work here for a longer time.
What is it that makes Trinidad and Tobago so irresistible but still a not so known travel destination?
Read on why you should definitely include Trinidad island of the 2-island state in your upcoming travel plans.
Trinidad & Tobago consists of 2 islands and we only got to visit the main, larger one: Trinidad which holds the capital Port of Spain and the business hub of the country.
Many travellers overlook Trinidad island and head straight to Tobago because of its paradisiac beaches.
However both islands couldn’t be more different:
Trinidad island is all about executive business, the oil industry and the language strongly varies between the 2 island.
Trinidad island is a real cultural melting pot due to historical upbringings and heritages. One third of its population is Hindu. You’ll find hundreds of Hindu temples and mosques along the roads, right next to churches.
Tobago is mostly Christian and famous for its pristine beaches and lush nature.
However there are many reasons why you shouldn’t skip Trinidad island.
Geographic situation: twin island sovereign state that is the southernmost nation in the Caribbean. High-income economy, primarily industrial economy with an emphasis on
Language: English. But main spoken language is either of two English-based creole languages (Trinidadian Creole or Tobagonian Creole)
Currency: Trinidad and Tobago dollar (TTD)
How to get there: By airplane to Port of Spain Airport. I recommend renting a car as public transport hardly exists. Check prices on rental cars.
Activities: One of the wealthiest in the Caribbean. Economy is strongly influenced by the petroleum industry. Tourism and manufacturing are also important. Tourism is growing , although not as important as in many other Caribbean islands. Agricultural products include citrus and cocoa.
Where to stay in Trinidad, Trinidad & Tobago
|Hotel Normandie Limited|
Trinidad Gingerbread House
|Ramela's B&B (very helpful client service, nice neighborhood, great manager)|
|Hyatt Regency Port-of-Spain|
1. Trinidad Carnival
Carnival is the largest festival in Trinidad and Tobago with thousands of people attending each year. It was introduced by the French and was strongly influenced by the culture of African slaves who turned it into a vibrating party. Especially the music (Soca, Pan and Calypso) was strongly influenced by the African community on Trinidad island.
Carnival season usually starts in January and finishes at Ash Wednesday. The most important events within the Carnival season in Trinidad include Steel Pan competitions (“panorama”), Kings & Queens competitions and parties for the kids.
The official start makes “J’ouvert”, where people wear old clothes and dance from 3am the entire day. The red and blue devils blowing out fire are typical of Trinidad’s J’ouvert.
The most important day of Trinidad’s carnival is Mardi Gras, Carnival Tuesday where the girls parade in the most colorful and spectacular costumes. Months of preparatory work went into each costume and they vary from year to year. Dancers and music groups take over the street and fill it with a positive energy nobody can resist.
If you want to attend carnival in Trinidad and Tobago, read on the in-depth guide to “How To Play Carnival in Trinidad & Tobago”.
2. Beaches of Trinidad Island
Who says that all the beautiful beaches are in Tobago island?
Indeed Trinidad has many gorgeous beaches too. What I loved about them is that they all have a very different vibe and character.
Maracas Beach, the most famous one, is known for its party mood and delicious “Bake’n Shark” sandwiches. (Nowadays most sandwiches have king fish or flying fish for sustainability reasons) There are plenty of activities that make this beach the perfect get-away with kids: ducking, body-surfing, jumping and boogy-boarding… When heading to Maracas Beach, you’ll surely pass along the Maracas Bay viewpoint, where you can enjoy delicious fresh fruit snacks.
Las Cuevas Beach is right next to Maracas Bay, but has a more laid-back and pristine vibe than the sister beach. Waves may be quite strong sometimes but the natural surrounding invite for long walks along the beach. It’s the perfect place to spend a lazy, relaxing day.
The beaches near Blanchisseuse figure among the most scenic one of Trinidad island. They are quite secluded and if you decide to go for a hike from Blanchisseuse you may end up finding a totally empty beach like we did in Paria Bay. But please be careful with the strong tides! The beaches near Blanchisseuse are characterized by a rugged shoreline.
Even though the beaches of Chaguaramas peninsula may seem very attractive due to their proximity to the capital and being surrounded by forest, you should keep in mind that the peninsula hosts the main harbor of the country and several large fabrics. Petrochemical and oil industries may contaminate these beaches.
The only exception is Macqueripe Beach, which is tiny but very secluded thus protected from eventual pollution. There is an entrance fee and the beach was quite full when we visited. On clear days you can even spot Venezuela. There is a fun activity of zip-lining at Macqueripe Bay as well.
Most popular beach in the Northeast are Balandra Bay, Sans Souci and Grande Rivière.
The south of Trinidad island of is usually calmer than the northern part of the island. I really liked the laid-back vibe of Vessigny Beach.
Further south you’ll have the beautiful beaches of Columbus & Cedros bay which are absolutely stunning with views to Venezuela.
3. Trini Food
The food of Trinidad and Tobago should have a full post on its own! Trini food is so varied and delicious that I cannot compare it with any food I ate so far on my travels.
Part of the richness of Trini’s rich food culture are the numerous cultural influences. The Indian & Pakistan people, the African and Europeans (mostly French & Spanish) brought the best of their very own gastronomy blending it all to a firework of tastes.
Trini food is very affordable, uses a lot of fresh products and is the best at the numerous food stalls that you can find along the road.
Here some of the food that you MUST try when visiting Trinidad Island:
- Doubles: they have light bara bread sandwiching tender curried channa (chickpeas) finished with tamarind and a variety of chutneys, including coconut or mango, and some pepper. It’s usually eaten for breakfast and probably the most famous Trini food.
- Chow: chunks of fresh fruit mixed with lime juice, hot pepper, salt, garlic and cilantro. Highly addictive and healthy snack
- Saheena: A roll-up of callaloo (similar to spinach) and split-pea batter, deep-fried, with a spoon of tamarind or mango chutney on top
- Bake’n Shark Sandwich: Can mostly be found at Maracas Beach. Consists of a fried flatbread ("bake") filled with fried pieces of shark meat and various other ingredients and sauces. Before frying, the shark meat is either seasoned with a herb blend and breaded. You can optionally add some topping like lettuce, coleslaw, tomatoes or pineapple. Nowaday shark meat is often replaced by more sustainable alternatives such as king fish or flying fish.
- Chicken Roti: One of my favorites too! Roti is an Indian flat-bread brought over by the Indian workers in the 1880’s. It is very light and you take it to wrap around all kind of food like beef, chicken, potatoes, pumpkin and dip it in delicious chutneys. You can taste it during this Mini island-tour.
- Soups: I am huge soup lover, especially for dinner and you’ll be spoilt for choice in Trinidad when it comes to soups. Cowheel soup, corn soup, dumpling soup and of course the traditional, mouth watering callaloo soup
4. Waterfalls of Trinidad Island
Trinidad island is the land of waterfalls. There are dozens of them and each time we spoke to a local, they pointed out a new one. The waterfalls of Trinidad are the perfect hiking destination. The hikes and the waterfalls themselves differ a lot throughout the island and there seems to be a waterfall for every taste.
Here some of the waterfalls you shouldn’t miss when traveling to Trinidad and Tobago.
- Maracas Waterfall: Otherwise than suggested by the name this waterfall is not directly located at Maracas Beach or the bay. You need to take the Eastern Main Road, opposite the Mosque in St. Joseph. Abercomby Street becomes the Maracas Royal Road. After approx. 8km you turn to Waterfall Road and drive to the end of the road at the car park. From here it’s only a 2.4km hike to the waterfall
- Avocat Waterfall: Close to the peaceful Las Cuevas Bay and only a short hike through the rainforest, you'll arrive at the 100-foot (30-m) Avocat falls, a sight so beautiful it might as well have been plucked from your dreams. It's pure bliss to swim in the large pools around the falls.
- Angel Falls: It is located in the foothills of the El Tucuche mountains and the waterfall is about 15 m high. The water does not falls directly into a plunge pool but cascades along the rock into 2 basins. It is perfect for non-swimmers and kids. Looking up from the rocks, the reason Angel Falls gets its name becomes very clear: sunlight shines through the mist at the waterfall's top, an almost celestial glow is produced against the backdrop of the lush surrounding vegetation.Getting to Angel Falls requires a one-hour hike from Zorro Trace just off the North Coast Road, between Maracas and Las Cuevas.
- Paria Waterfall: only experienced hikers can get here, but the waterfall is absolutely worth it. The hike starts in Blanchisseuse and takes you along the breathtaking shoreline and beautiful Paria Bay. It’s in total 3-4hours to the waterfall
- Rio Seco Waterfall: Probably the most scenic waterfall in Trinidad island, even though it is no the tallest. It is most loved for its wide deep basin filled with emerald green water, which is ideal for swimming and photography. The hike to Rio Seco is only 35 minutes and the path is very clear.
5. Pitch Lake in La Brea
The Asphalt Lake is one of the largest natural deposits of asphalt in the world, being one of only three natural asphalt lakes in the world.
It has been created thousands of years ago when the Caribbean continental plate was forced under another one. Since its discovery, more than 10 million tons of asphalt have been extracted. Its pitch was even used to asphalt Westminster bridge and the terminal of JFK airport.
Visiting the Pitch Lake of La Brea (pitch in Spanish) village is a fun activity. Although the smell is quite terrible, many people swear to take a swim in the lake due to its therapeutic effect.
You can also play a bit by putting a stick through the liquid asphalt and remove the liquid tar. Our guide even told us about the prehistoric trees and other objects that had been found in the pitch lake.
Although you can walk on the black, viscous and semisolid pitch surface, we decided to go with a guide. There were just too many stories of people that got caught in the pitch lake and couldn't get out anymore...
The guide is provided at the entrance door of the pitch lake and costs about 10€. Book your tour here.
6. Hindu Temples
The Hindu temples and the culture of Trinidad island are probably the main reason why I fell in love with Trinidad and Tobago. It is just such a surprising thing to see colorful temples and the shape that you usually associate with India and not with an Caribbean country.
Like most Caribbean countries, Trinidad and Tobago is a melting pot of several cultures and heritage of the African, Caucasian, Chinese and Amerindians. But the Indian influence definitely add the space to the cultural mix of T&T.
Most Indian people in Trinidad and Tobago are descendants of the workers that were brought from East India by the British in the 1880’s.
Besides colorful festivals and the food, the Indian influence becomes obvious when driving on the roads of Trinidad island. The Indian temples are full of intricate details and often very colorful.
Some of the most prominent Hindu temples on Trinidad island are the following:
- Dattatreya Yoga Centre in Carapichaima with 85 ft. Hanuman Murti statue, the tallest outside India
- Temple in the Sea in Waterloo close to the Dattatreya Yoga Centre
- Triveni Mandir in Gasparillo in South Trinidad
- Lakshmi Narayan Mandir Temple in central Trinidad
7. Visit SteelPan Panorama
A panorama is a music competition of steelbands in Trinidad and Tobago which are usually held in carnival time.
The steelpans or steel drums is the national instrument of Trinidad and Tobago and are a legacy of the African culture. As African drum music got banned by the French colonialists, they took pans and oil barrels to make music.
There exist hundreds of steelbands on Trinidad island who can have over 100 members. They all gather together for the annual musical competitions during the carnival period. They consist of 3 rounds: the preliminaries, the semi-finals and the final round.
During the panorama, the bands come in and play in front of the crowds and the jury. They play an arrangement of a current calypso. The sound is very particular and will definitely make you dance.
They are open to the public and you can buy your ticket at the entrance door. People usually pay good money to assist a panorama. We assisted a preliminary round, but tickets were sold out already.
But no worries: many Trinidadians take a panorama as an opportunity to lime’, chilling in the park where the panorama is taking place.
You want to attend a panorama or want to experience the steelpan? Have a look at this steelpan & Calypso experience.
8. Visit former Plantations & Cocoa estates
If you’re interested in history, a visit of a former plantation on Trinidad island is definitely a must!
Trinidad and Tobago has a significant slavery history and I think it’s important to learn about what happened decades ago. After all, it makes us understand cultures and see current problems from a different point of view.
The land of Trinidad island is very fertile, thus loads of different fruits and vegetables could grow here in a large scale. The French people started the sugar industry which was finally exploited by the British.
After slavery was abolished, the British brought laborers from the East Indies, China and the Madeira in 1845. It was the sugar cane industry which is mainly responsible for Trinidad’s melting pot as we can still experience it today.
The most prominent one is the Sugar Heritage Village in Couva/Point Lisas which aims to preserve the memory of T&T’s sugar industry by incorporating sporting, recreational, environmental, educational and commercial facilities. The Sugar Heritage Village can be visited today but is still under construction. It includes an Heritage Village, a museum, a cultural centre, sporting facilities, a petting zoo, restaurants and guest houses.
Cocoa beans were another important export of Trinidad island. Still nowadays some of the best cocoa is grown on the 2-island state. There are several chocolate shops which make unique chocolate creations, but you can also visit one of the numerous cocoa estates which respect a fair-trade, ethical business model.
Here you can learn about the chocolate-making process:
- Velaja Estate in central Trinidad
- Manchuria Estate in Brasso Seco
- San Antonio Cocoa Estate
- Lopinot, 10km in the north of Arouca. The estate house has been made into a small museum and is surrounded by a very scenic park. The village of Lopinot is quite secluded and I love the absolute tranquility here. When in Lopinot you can’t leave without visiting the
- Mariposa Gardens. This family house turned into a restaurant is a true oasis of peace with hundreds of colibris flying around. They only serve slow-food with fresh herbs and fruits straight from the surrounding garden. They incorporate the cocoa beans in many of their meals and it was definitely one of the most creative/delicious meals we had on Trinidad island.
9. Birdwatching in Trinidad
During many years, birdwatching was one of the main reasons why travelers visited Trinidad island. Even though birdwatching is quite a niche in the travel sector, Trinidad island managed to attract birders from all over the globe due to its extremely large variety of bird species.
After all, there are more than 500 recorded bird species
Trinidad is an attractive birding destination all year round. The most prominent sites for birdwatching are the Asa Wright Nature Centre, the Caroni Bird Sanctuary and the Pointe-a-Pierre Wildfowl Trust.
Asa Wright Nature Centre is nestled in the mountains and rainforest of the northern part of the island and is very popular for it numerous hummingbirds and its diverse flora including wild orchids.
The Wildfowl Trust is located in a wetland habitat within an oil refining complex.
One of the most important areas for birding is the Caroni Swamp and Bird Sanctuary. It is home to the national bird, the scarlet ibis. It is a magical experience to watch the scarlet ibis fly over to Venezuela at sunset. The Caroni Bird Sanctuary is located at a stone’s throw from the capital Port of Spain. You can also spot boas in the trees, different snails and crab species. Other bird species that can be seen in the Caroni Swamp (there are more that 100 species here!) are the tropical screech, common potoo, flamingos, osprey or the red cap mask cardinal.
Even though I am just a novice when it comes to birdwatching, I really enjoy it for being such a relaxing experience. It’s all about watching how nature happens.
10. Trini Fashion in Port of Spain
The fashion scene of Trinidad was one of the most surprising things when visiting the island.
Indeed the fascinating cultural mix resulted in a unique, bold and vibrant fashion scene that is hard to find in the rest of the Caribbean. Most of the local designer can be found in Port of Spain.
The fashion of TnT is wearable and most of the items combine bright colors. The fashion of TnT is a celebration of life and the cultural melting pot mixing ethnic designs from many cultures. Of course, the Carnival of Trinidad is always a major source of inspiration for new designs.
Many efforts have been made to support local fashion designers.
In this context, the Fashion Week of Trinidad & Tobago was created in 2008 and showcases local designers. In 2013 the Trinidad Fashion Company Limited (FashionTT) was created in order to facilitate and stimulate the export the work of fashion designers of TnT.
11. Visit Tobago Island
A visit to the 2-island state wouldn’t be complete without visiting the “little” sister island of Trinidad: Tobago. It only holds a 4% of the Trinidad & Tobago population.
Many authors have written about the differences between the 2 islands and apparently Tobago is the perfect complement of Trinidad island.
Tobago is all about the laid-back Caribbean vibe, pristine beaches, no hustling, whereas all the executive business, industries and city life are stationed in Trinidad. Pace of life is calmer in Tobago and there seems to be a peaceful co-existence with nature.
Tourism is also the most important sector in Tobago whereas Trinidad is still a bit “rough” when it comes to receiving tourists. Locals explained us that for a long time, Trinidad didn’t really see the point of investing in tourism as they already had so many oil resources. Indeed many people were surprised to see us, travelers, in some parts of Trinidad and often we had to make long detours to find the places we wanted to visit.
Tobago is famous for its gorgeous beaches and some of the most popular one are Pigeon Point, MT Irvine, Bucco, Grange, Story Bay and Canoe Bay.
There is a direct ferry connecting Port of Spain, Trinidad to Tobago.
I hope some of these, admittedly very personal, highlights of my visit to Trinidad Island, could convince you to include gorgeous Trinidad and Tobago in your travel plans.
Have you been in Trinidad and Tobago? Did you enjoy it? I would love to hear about the things you loved (or loved less) in the comment form.
Map: Highlights of Trinidad Island
Before You Go: Top Tips for your Trip
- Don’t forget to pack a pair of lightweight and comfortable walking shoes. I have traveled with shoes similar to these by Columbia, boots by Adidas and trekking sandals by Teva.
- You'll be snapping tons of photos during your trip. Rather than relying on your mobile phone to capture the sights, upgrade to an actual camera for higher quality photos. I travel with a FUJI XT2 (mirrorless, takes amazing photos) and our Action Camera GoPro HERO5 Session (takes beautiful photos in the most extreme situations, sim & lightweight) – all of the cameras are wifi enabled so you can share your trip pics to social media in real time!).
- Travel insurance is essential! If you haven’t already obtained travel insurance for your trip, travel protected against all odds with World Nomads.
Activities to do in Trinidad Island:
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