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Trinidad and Tobago is a republic in the south Caribbean, made up of the two islands from which it takes its name, and 21 smaller islands. The clusters of smaller islands which are part of the republic include the Bocas Islands, the Five Islands and the San Diego Islands. The capital is Port of Spain, a city in Trinidad. In total, the country covers an area of 5128 square kilometres.
Trinidad is the larger of the two main islands, and is situated to the north east of Venezuela. An expanding manufacturing industry makes this island the more modern and bustling of the two, and it has a much larger population than Tobago, where only four per cent of the total population lives. The country’s industry thrives on the manufacture of petroleum.
Tobago is a stone’s throw away from its larger neighbour. If time is tight, you can fly across in just fifteen minutes. A ferry can take you between the islands in about two hours.
The official language of Trinidad and Tobago is English, although the country gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1962. The republic has a rich cultural heritage, and this is reflected in the languages you will hear. While English is dominant, the country’s days as a French colony have left behind a patois version of French. Spanish has also crept across from the Spanish speaking South American country Venezuela, which is less than ten miles away. A similar diversity can be found in the religion of the country – it is primarily Christian, but with Middle Eastern, European and African influences (see the time line below), Islam and Hinduism also thrive.
The currency is called the Trinidad and Tobago dollar or TT, but US dollars are widely accepted. There are between 12 and 13 TT dollars to the British pound. For an accurate and up to date instant currency conversion, see www.xe.com.
Trinidad and Tobago’s history
- Pre-1498 – Trinidad and Tobago inhabited by the Carib and Arawak peoples
- 1498 – Trinidad and Tobago discovered by Columbus
- 1400s-1797 – Trinidad is primarily Spanish
- 1400s-1814 – Tobago ruled by a host of European countries including Spain, France and Britain
- 1797 – The British arrive in Trinidad
- 1802 – Trinidad is named as a British colony
- 1814 – Tobago is named as a British colony
- 1889 – Britain officially unites Trinidad and Tobago into a single administrative entity
- 1962 – Trinidad and Tobago gain independence from Britain
- 1976 – The country becomes the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago
There are two distinct climatic stages during the Trinidad and Tobago year. For the first five months of the year, from January to May, the country has its dry season. During these months, the sun shines and the islands live up to their reputation as a paradise, with an average temperature of 28 degrees celsius. Occasional showers punctuate the sunny weather during the dry season, and with the evenings comes a more comfortable cooler temperature.
The rainy season starts in June, bringing with it wet afternoons which follow sunny mornings. Usually, when the wet season is well underway, a new phase of weather begins which provides a break from the afternoon rain – in September and October, islanders enjoy days on end of uninterrupted sunshine, before the wet season resumes.
Places of interest
The capital city of Trinidad and Tobago, Port of Spain is like many other capital cities – home to high rise office blocks and shops. In fact, if shopping is your passion, Port of Spain (and particularly Independence Square) will impress you with its wide range of shops and low prices. Track down the market at the Normandie Hotel which specialises in local produce, including Caribbean clothes and books. But the city stands out from other capitals because of its distinctly Caribbean culture – it is bustling, lively and friendly rather than crowded, stressful and unwelcoming. The city lies beneath the North Range mountains. Since it is a port, Port of Spain offers sea views, and there is plenty of lush greenery in the form of pretty parks. Queen’s Park Savannah is worth a visit, with buildings dating from the island’s days as a colony of Spain.
Leave the city and travel 12 miles, and you will find a stunning 300ft waterfall, called Maracas Falls near to Maracas Bay, where there is a beautiful sandy beach. Even closer to the capital, about nine miles away, is the Blue Basin waterfall which is on the Diego Martin River.
If it is picture postcard paradise you seek on your trip to Trinidad and Tobago, you will find it in north eastern Tobago, in the little village of Charlotteville. Built around its fishing industry, it is yet to be discovered by the majority of tourists, and remains a peaceful and sleepy haven. Its position is a gift to scuba divers, who can explore the warm sea and its tropical inhabitants.
Scarborough is the capital of Tobago, and is definitely worth a visit, if only to lose yourself while flitting between the traditional arty boutiques and quaint watering holes. As another port, Scarborough’s position made it a valuable city to capture. A visit to Fort King George will give you a taste of its history. Be sure to spend some time in the art gallery and museum, housed in the old hospital building.
A true taste of the natural beauty of the Caribbean can be found at the Asa Wright Nature Centre. Here you can be taken on guided walks and delve into the heart of the tropical rainforest which covers a huge area 50 miles long and 37 miles wide. Enjoy your time here among the 100 different mammals, 400 bird species, 55 varieties of reptile and over 600 hundred types of butterfly.
If you are lucky enough to be in the country the week before Ash Wednesday (a variable date in February or March), you will not be able to miss the highlight of the year – the annual carnival. The islands come alive with calypso and soca music, singing and dancing and bright and beautiful costumes of every colour imaginable. Steel bands play as people wearing feathers and sequins dance through the streets. If you want more information on the carnival, see www.tntisland.com/carnival.
With Piarco International Airport on Trinidad and Crown Point International Airport on Tobago, flying to the country is relatively easy. British Airways flies to both airports from London Gatwick and Virgin Atlantic flies from London Heathrow to Port of Spain. American Airlines and Delta Air Lines also fly from London. Take a peek at flightcomparison.co.uk to compare prices.
To drive in the country you need to apply for an international driver’s permit which can be issued in England, and lasts for 90 days.
There is a bus station in South Quay in Port of Spain for travelling around Trinidad, and Tobago also has a bus service, although it is not as extensive. Taxis are a convenient and not-too-expensive way of getting around – they are marked by the letter ‘H’ on their number plates.
To travel between the two main islands, the cheapest way is the ferry service which runs between Port of Spain and Scarborough and takes around two and a half hours. For more information, see www.patnt.com.
There are plenty of guesthouses on Trinidad and Tobago, and many are cosy private homes. Word of mouth recommendations can’t be beaten, but if you are struggling, have a look on the internet, hosteltraveler.com is a good place to start. Below are two guesthouses on each of the two islands. Contact them and make sure they offer what you are looking for before booking.
Tony’s Guesthouse is in Diamond Vale, around 15 minutes from Port of Spain, so handy for the airport. With an internet café and tennis courts nearby, the location is very convenient. Prices start from around £12, and group discounts are available.
For a decent room and seaside location on Tobago, check out Millers Guesthouse. The prices are excellent – around £12 per night for a single room, including breakfast.
Contact: 14 Millers Street, Buccoo Point, Trinidad and Tobago, firstname.lastname@example.org. Tel 001 868 660 8371.
Another good value Tobago guesthouse is Candles In The Wind Guesthouse. Each of the eight bedrooms is ensuite, and prices start from around £12 a night.
Contact: 145 Anthony Charles Crescent, Crown Point, Trinidad and Tobago. Tel. 001 868 765 5335.
You should have the following vaccinations before visiting Trinidad and Tobago: hepatitis A, yellow fever, tetanus. Protection against hepatitis B, rabies, TB and diphtheria may be required depending on what you plan to do during your visit – ask your doctor for advice.
In the large cities of Trinidad and Tobago, the tap water is safe to drink, although in the smaller more remote areas, it is advisable to drink bottled water which is widely available.
Healthcare is free in Trinidad and Tobago, but it is basic. Health insurance is strongly recommended. There are many companies which offer insurance, including Insure and Go. This website offers an insurance option specifically for backpackers, and allows you to choose between different packages ranging from £24 to £64 for 31 days travelling worldwide. Check the website for current prices and offers.
In the case of a medical emergency, call an ambulance on 990. See below for other emergency numbers.