Whoever said “good things come to those who wait” was certainly referring to the rather protracted, almost 24-hour-long journey to the Caribbean island nation of Trinidad and Tobago (part of the Lesser Antilles island group, just off the coast of South America) from India. But once you make contact with T&T’s lush green terra firma, all ill-will is forgotten. The unhurried island life relaxes you instantly.
From the rhythms of the native soca music to the vibrant food scene peppered with exotic dishes, it is a treat for the senses. While the main island of Trinidad that is home to the country’s capital city of Port of Spain off ers a more energetic, urban island experience, it is the quieter Tobago that seems to have it all from the blue water to some great diving and trekking options. So, all you need to do is pick the activity that suits you best and let your hair down.
The raucous revelry that defines the carnival experience in T&T is a spectacle with bursts of colour interspersed with soca music and an energetic local dance called winein. The carnival is a weekend-long celebration that takes place all over Port of Spain and is usually held in February or March. It marks the start of the Christian period of abstinence called lent. Rumoured to rival the legendary Rio de Janeiro carnival in Brazil, the T&T version sees floats, tableaux and dancers take to the streets in a wild party. Special carnival characters like Midnight Robberand the fire-breathing Jab Molassie entertain the crowds that throng the Queen’s Park Savannah, the nerve centre of the carnival. Copious amounts of Caribbean rum-laced cocktails and beer are consumed.
There is an abundance of places and monuments worth seeing in Port of Spain. Chief among them is the National Museum of Trinidad andTobago that is home to a large collection of works by local artists and a number of exhibits on the cultural history of the islands. Another place worth visiting is Fort San Andrea. It is the last surviving fort from the period of the Spanish occupation of Trinidad, which came to an end in 1797 with the capture of the island by the British. A way to incorporate some calm into your day is to pass through Royal Botanic Gardens, which has 700 exotic species of trees, 13 per cent of which are indigenous to this part of the world.
As a protective haven for the scarlet ibis, the Caroni Swamp sanctuary, a little out of Port of Spain, is a great place to commune with nature. A boat tour down the swamp gives you a glimpse not just of the habitat of the scarlet ibis but also of snakes, spiders and other swamp critters. In 1962, when T&T became an independent nation, the scarlet ibis was selected as the national bird gaining total protection, which meant that it could no longer be hunted. Under the stewardship of Winston Nanan, Caroni Swamp has become a premier tourist attraction with hourly tours departing from the sanctuary’s pier through the day, right up till 4pm.
Hang out at pan yard
The Trinbagonians (as the denizens of the island nation refer to themselves) take hanging out, simply called limein’ in local parlance, very seriously. And the best place for a spot of limein’ is the pan yard—a sort of community centre where steelpan bands practise, almost every day, honing their skills for the carnival. As the national musical instrument of T&T, the steelpan is made from oil drums hammered on one end and divided into grooves and notes. The steelpan also bears the distinction of being the only acoustic musical instrument to be invented in the 20th century.
Another popular way of limein’ is by indulging in one of T&T’s greatest loves—food. From blue food made up of tubers like dasheen which is like cassava to a leafy vegetable stew called callaloo and rotis stuffed with goat or chicken curry to crabs and dumplings (a Tobagonian speciality), there is a lot on off er here. A must-try local Trinidadian favourite is ‘bake and shark’, best had at Richard’s shack at Maracas Bay. Composed of a piece of fried shark fi llet wedged between fried dough bread (roti) called ‘bake’, it is a sandwich featuring lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, coleslaw, and pineapple slices, doused in condiments and sauces like tamarind, mustard, ketchup and shado beni chutney (shado beni is a leafy Trinidadian herb also known as culantro or Mexican coriander), with a Thousand Island-like dressing. For a poshed-up meal featuring the likes of salmon blinis with caviar, head to The Seahorse Inn Restaurant and Bar in Tobago, which is well-known for its Caribbeanised version of fine dining.
Tobago is the perfect place for water sports. From paddle boarding, canoeing and windsurfing at Pigeon Point beach to diving and snorkelling at Buccoo Reef, there is a wide variety of activities that one can indulge in. But the best of all is the Nylon Pool—a sand bank in the middle of the ocean that is so shallow that the water reaches only up to one’s waist, making wading through its crystal clear, warm waters a complete treat.
Hunt for cocoa bean
Learn all about how the world’s favourite indulgence—chocolate—gets made at Tobago Cocoa Estate, a little distance away from the three-tiered Argyle waterfall that you can trek up to. Established in 2005 by Tobagonianborn Duane Dove, this estate was bornout of the need to revive the cocoa industry on the island. Tobago has in the past made signifi cant contributions to not just T&T’s cocoa production but also to that of the world. Cocoa is one of the major crops grown throughout Tobago. Here, on his daily tours, Duane not only shows you how cocoa beans are grown, but also how they are harvested and processed into some of the finest, organic chocolates. And one can even pick up some goodies at the attached shop.
Unwind at Fort King George
At the end of your day in Tobago, enjoy the colours of the setting sun from Fort King George in Scarborough. Built in the 1780s, this is Tobago’s best-preserved historical site. The early prison, bell tank, barracks and officers’ mess are located within well-manicured grounds with magnificent coastal views. A perfect end to your T&T sojourn.
Unfortunately, there are no direct flights from India to T&T and one needs to fly to Port of Spain via New York or London on airlines like Jet Blue and Caribbean Airlines. Travelling from Trinidad to Tobago is easy with several air taxi services operating short, hourly 25-minute fl ights linking the two islands. Indian nationals do not require visas to visit T&T.
When to visit
The beauty about the Caribbean—T&T in particular—is that it is an all-year round tourist destination with temperatures hovering around 28°-32° C. But from a fun quotient point of view, the carnival period, usually in February or March (the carnival this year is on March 3 and 4), is the best time to be in the island nation.
Both Trinidad and Tobago have an excellent selection of hotels to choose from to suit all budgets and tastes. Some of the best value-for-money options are:
In Trinidad Hilton (www.hiltontrinidad.hilton.com) Radisson Hotel Trinidad (www.radisson.com)
In Tobago Coco Reef Resort & Spa (www.cocoreef.com) The Magdalena Grand Beach & Golf Resort (www.magdalenagrand.com)
(In arrangement with SMARTLIFE)