Most Caribbean island nations have focused on their natural beauty and friendly inhabitants to create a tourism-based economy, but Trinidad, the largest island in the Lesser Antilles, has taken a different approach that has served it well.
The twin-island nation of Trinidad & Tobago has many of the same assets as its Caribbean brethren, but while Tobago remains a laid-back vacation paradise, the main island of Trinidad has built a wildly successful petroleum-based economy. The government is taking steps to diversify into financial and maritime sectors, but aside from the world famous Trinidad & Tobago Carnival held every February or March, Trinidad does not have the great reputation it deserves as a destination to enjoy.
The island is small enough for the business traveler to take time out to enjoy the vibrant culture, delicious cuisine, and natural beauty.
The capital of Trinidad & Tobago, Port-of-Spain, offers world-class accommodation for the business traveler, including a waterfront Hyatt hotel that offers a resplendent breakfast buffet and surprisingly reasonable drink prices, and is just footsteps from important government ministries, the Trinidad & Tobago Stock Exchange, and a water taxi that runs to San Fernando, the island’s petroleum operations capital. Elsewhere, the Hilton Trinidad has more of a resort feel with a large pool, adjacent shops, nearby movies and botanical gardens, and a scenic view of the cityscape.
Trinidad & Tobago shares a unique heritage that draws from cultures across the globe, but is influenced primarily by a fusion of African & Indian ancestry. This leads to some of the best, authentic Indian cuisine outside of India—but taking advantage of Caribbean and South American ingredients. The most renowned example of this is Apsara, a full service restaurant that business visitors from India acclaim as “the real thing.”
Another eclectic choice is Jaffa’s, located in the Queen’s Park Cricket Club stadium complex. This upscale but relaxed venue is owned by a British expat who was assigned to Trinidad as a hotel chef two decades ago, but fell in love with both Trinidad and a “Trini” (as Trinidad locals call themselves), and stayed. Offering an expansive lunch buffet, a full-service dinner and Trinidad’s only British high-tea on Thursdays, Jaffa’s is located in Trinidad’s Queen’s Park Oval, the stadium home to the national sport, cricket. One can catch a cricket match, dine at Jaffa’s and then explore the country’s sporting heritage downstairs at the Cricket Heritage Museum.
Even though Trinidad offers ample white-tablecloth options, to sample the food the country is famous for, leave your suit or blazer behind and dress casually, because the ubiquitous Trini double is eaten with your hands—and it can get messy! The double is a vegetarian street sandwich of Indian barra bread and a seasoned chickpea dahl filling that will leave even a hardcore carnivore stuffed and ready to nap. Foods like roti stuffed with assorted ingredients, callaloo—cooked taro leaves, seafood, including famous curried crab & dumplings, and fruits exotic even to the rest of the Caribbean abound. Foodies have been known to visit Trinidad just to try the world famous “bake & shark” in this fish sandwich’s capital: Maracas Bay Beach on the North Coast. On the way, stop at the Maracas Bay lookout for a spectacular view and some “Chow,” essentially a vegetarian fruit ceviche flavored with “shadon beni” the local name for culantro or recao, a herb with a similar but stronger flavor to cilantro. The North Coast Highway continues past Maracas Bay between the lush green mountains and the ocean, eventually passing through scenic Blanchisseuse, a beachside hamlet at the mouth of the Marianne River. This is home to the Blanchisseuse Beach Resort, actually a small, rustic guest cottage run by Gottfried, a charming elderly German expat.
Like anyplace with a lot of personality, Trinidad & Tobago has its very own local language. To “lime” is to hang out, bar hopping, in other words, to enjoy the night life. Again, Trinidad offers several options. For a structured cultural experience, there is the Academy for the Performing Arts, a modern, striking facility for theater productions, visiting artists, and Trinidad’s own invention and national instrument, the steel pan drum.
Trinidad & Tobago patois lingo:
- Lime (verb) = to hang out, bar hopping, etc.
- Fete (noun or verb) = Party
- Dasheen (noun) = Taro plant, sometimes known by the Spanish name, Malanga
- Callaloo (noun) = dish prepared with dasheen leaves, not to be confused with Jamaican callaloo, which is the amaranth plant.
- Chow (noun) = A fruit salad with herbs and an acid, prepared similar to ceviche
- Wine (verb) = to dance in a provocative way
- Vex (noun or adjective) = angry, or to upset someone
- Dred (noun or adjective) = friend, cool
- Chutney = A traditional music indigenous to Trinidad, with distinct Indian origins
- Calypso = A traditional music indigenous to Trinidad, with distinct African origins
- Soca (from “Soul Calypso”) = a modern, up-tempo music indigenous to Trinidad, the island’s most modern, popular form of music which has now spread throughout The Caribbean and North America
One of the most popular nightlife destinations in Trinidad is “The Avenue:” Ariapita Avenue, in Port of Spain’s Woodbrook neighborhood. There the reveler can pass from fete to fete in a bar-hopping atmosphere. Restaurants, bars, and clubs are everywhere, and there is no shortage of street food vendors, especially gyros, roti, and of course, doubles. For those who want a nautical experience, the Coral Vision Cruise Boat is a floating disco that leaves the Breakfast Shed dock, next to the Hyatt Regency, several nights a week, returning in the early morning hours.
For a completely different experience, hire a driver—or if you are a fitness fanatic, take the hike, and climb the winding road up Mount St. Benedict. Above the college town of St. Augustine and adjacent Tunapuna sits The Abbey of Our Lady of Exile, a tranquil, functioning monastery and landmark with spectacular views of the interior of Trinidad. There is a lookout area open to the public, and the grounds are open daily to all. It’s the perfect place to gather your thoughts and contemplate your next visit to Trinidad & Tobago.
- To add to the often challenging traffic conditions, driving is on the left. The roads are generally well maintained, but if you are not accustomed to driving in left-hand traffic, hire a driver or taxi.
- Use common sense. Though crime is trending downwards, Trinidad is an urbanized island with the same challenges as any big city. Don’t take unnecessary risks.
- Most people own their own cars, so buses and taxis are not as ubiquitous as in some other islands.
- The airport is located several miles from downtown Port of Spain, and rush hour begins early in Trinidad, so allow ample time to arrive to the airport and clear customs.
- Major hotels will exchange money, but the best rate is at the airport after immediately clearing immigration and before clearing customs.
- Retail stores are typically closed Sundays. If you plan to do any shopping, keep this in mind! Restaurants generally remain open.