Home to the largest carnival celebration in the Caribbean, birthplace of the limbo and the world famous steel pan, Trinidad and Tobago is also ranked the happiest nation in the Caribbean by the United Nations’ World Happiness Report. I too was pretty cheerful on a recent visit to these quintessential Caribbean islands with their endless underdeveloped beaches, rich culture and award-winning eco attractions. Also, if you’ve still got the energy, a fantastic place to party! Here are a few of my highlights.
Fiddle Tree, Lime Tree, Shady Mango and Bird Song are all names of rooms at Castara Retreats a unique form of rustic luxury on Tobago’s North West coast. This is the place to come if you’re looking for a true Swiss Family Robinson experience, although the resort perched on a hillside is only really suitable for those who can cope with a large number of steps. Trinidad and Tobago also offer the classic Caribbean all-inclusive experience (in Tobago I can recommend the Magdalena Grand Resort with the largest swimming pool on the island and a 18 hole PGA designed championship golf course. However, I’d encourage you to not just stick to the hotel offerings but to get out and about to sample some of the top foodie experiences that both islands offer.
Having changed hands more than 30 times, Trinidad and Tobago’s food culture is one of the most diverse of the Caribbean, featuring a melting pot of influences, with Caribbean, African, Spanish, Portuguese, British and Indian flavours all present. Banish the cutlery, curried crab and dumplings is a finger licking Tobago tradition. A row of huts including Miss Alma’s, Miss Jean’s and Miss Trims facing Store Bay Beach in the North of the island offer this inexpensive, tasty treat. There’s also one Trinidad culinary experience that’s an absolute must do – a shark and bake on Maracas Beach. This substantial fried shark (Lion Fish) snack is served in a highly calorific split baked roll (like a fried doughnut) then topped with salad and sauces of tamarind, chadon beni, garlic and hot pepper. Finally, doubles are the tastiest street food ever – a soft, spicy delicious mouthful of curried chickpeas in a roti.
Liming or ‘hanging out’, chatting, drinking and generally socialising is part of island life. ‘To lime’ stems from ‘limey’ – slang for the British sailors who headed ashore to make merry and took back limes to keep scurvy at bay during their voyage home. One of the best liming experience happens at Tobago’s Sunday School where locals and visitors sip rum, dance and listen to impromptu jamming sessions. While Tripsters (Trinidad hipsters) head to Trinidad’s Ariapita Avenue in the capital Port of Spain for a liming experience.
There are no shortage of beaches with pristine white shores on the Caribbean side and darker, volcanic sands and rougher seas on the Atlantic coast. These are a few of my favourites. Tobago’s Englishman’s bay is a sheltered and deserted ‘Robinson Crusoe’ beach that typifies what Tobago is all about. Whilst on Trinidad’s North Coast, Maracas Beach was a pleasant surprise on an island not known for its beaches, a crescent curved bay with swaying palms and gentle waves. Parlatuvier Bay on the North Western end of Tobago was another under-developed gem with not a sun lounger in site. However, if you’re looking for a beach with more facilities and where the majority of hotels are located, world famous Pigeon Point is often considered Tobago’s most beautiful beach and justifiably so.
Tobago Cocoa Estate & Argyle Waterfall
Tobago Cocoa Estate is a 47-acre working cocoa plantation which was established just over a decade ago by international award-winner chocolatier Duane Dove. It’s a great place to learn about Tobago’s cocoa history or more importantly for chocoholics to enjoy chocolate tasting sessions. Whilst nearby Argyle Waterfall (the highest waterfall in Tobago), a cascade of cool, and crisp water is a perfect spot for a refreshing dip.
Lopinot is a former cocoa estate but still relatively undiscovered. It got the big thumbs up from our tour group ranging in age from 25 to 65 and would be equally appealing to both garden and bird lovers. Located near Arouca on Trinidad, Lopinot was originally developed in 1806 as a cocoa estate by a French count, Charles Joseph de Lopinot, who had fled to Trinidad in 1791 to escape the Haitian revolution.
The whole area is exceptionally picturesque and peaceful, watch hundreds of hummingbirds feeding at Cafe Mariposa but don’t even try to attempt to photograph them, impossible! Cafe Mariposa is an open-air restaurant, surrounded by lush greenery and beautiful flowers.
Throughout February the streets of Trinidad and Tobago explode with colour, music, revelry and creativity for carnival with its mixture of masquerade bands, spectacular costumes and pulsating music. Steel pans (the only acoustic instrument invented in the 20th century) form an essential part of carnival. A visit to a pan yard listening to a steel orchestra rehearse will give you a small taste of what carnival has to offer. Hearing Beethoven’s 5th being played enthusiastically by 30 steel pan players, was as far removed from a single steel pan player knocking out jingle bells in Oxford Street as you could get and was the high point of a memorable week.
The islands are somewhere that I would recommend for the nature lover or the party animal, with the main carnival dates taking place this year on 27 and 28 February.
For general information on Trinidad and Tobago visit gotrinidadandtobago.com/
For travel to Trinidad and Tobago Silver Travel Advisor recommends Saga Holidays.