An insider’s travel guide to Trinidad and Tobago

An insider’s travel guide to Trinidad and Tobago

Here at JFC, we’ve built a great remote team from around the world. While this is great for us as a company, we’re also happy to offer our local expertise so you can get the insider’s scoop on how to enjoy our team’s hometown best! As a true 'Trini to the bone,' I've lived in Trinidad for most of my life with very frequent trips to Tobago. I'm happy to share all the tips I have on experiencing Trinidad and Tobago to the fullest.

Please note: While there are specific businesses and companies mentioned here, we receive nothing from recommending them, I’ve just found them a great resource.

A little bit about the history of the islands

Located just off the northern coast of South America, at the tailbone of the Caribbean arch, the twin-island of Trinidad and Tobago (casually known as T&T) has both the vibrant Caribbean city life while still enjoying the region's signature sand, sea, and sun. Both islands are known for offering a wide variety of natural landscapes and wildlife. It’s a tad different from what you might find on other islands in the Caribbean as it was physically connected to South America in ancient times. 

In Trinidad, you'll discover savannahs, waterfalls, isolated beaches to see giant leatherback turtles, and tropical rain forests - where you might spot howler monkeys or ocelots. Tobago is known for its beaches and coral reefs filled with a variety of fishes and manta rays, and the Tobago Forest Reserve, one of the oldest protected forests in the world. There are also over 472 known species of birds - enough to keep avid bird-enthusiasts busy while on the island.

Trinidad and Tobago is known for creating some of the musical genres often associated with the Caribbean, like Soca (or ‘Soul of Calypso,’ the most popular), calypso - a fusion of spoken word with music and steel pan (also known as steel drums) - an instrument made from oil drums. It's also home to the largest carnival celebration within the region. Trinbagonians are happy-go-lucky people with a party-centric culture where there's never a bad time to go "liming" (hanging out with friends and family usually with food and alcohol)

While it's possible to experience Trinidad and Tobago on a budget, it requires a bit of planning - the average daily budget for a two-week trip is TT$1000, or US$160. However, if you're okay with staying at budget-friendly accommodations and using public transportation, it can be brought down to TT$500, or US$80, per day. 

Although most places accept US dollars, having the local currency TT dollars, especially in small notes like $5s, $10s, and $20s, will come in handy when using public transport and buying from street vendors. You'll find foreign exchange bureaus at both Piarco and Robinson airports, but they don't always offer the best rates, and since bureaus are scarce around the islands, the best way to exchange large amounts is through the banks. For smaller quantities, using an ATM is your best bet as most major credit cards are recognized in Trinidad and Tobago. I recommend informing your provider about your visit beforehand to prevent the card from being blocked for strange activities, which tends to happen when using credit cards in a new location far away from home. In this guide we'll cover:

  • Best time to visit 
  • What to pack 
  • Where to stay 
  • How to get around 
  • What to eat
  • Things to do 
  • Festivals to aim for 

Best time to visit 

The temperature on both islands is warm year-round, but if you want the best beach-experience, the drier seasons from January to April are your best bet. December is still an option if you're planning a trip around Christmas time, but you might want to pack a small umbrella that can fit in a handbag as the rainfall is short but unpredictable. From experience, the chances of it raining on Christmas day are quite high! 

The wet season runs from late May to November and peaks between August to October while the hurricane season runs from June to October. As both islands sit outside of the hurricane belt, we're less likely to experience a hurricane and mostly worry about the passing tropical storms that come with flash flooding in certain parts of the country, like Port of Spain. The Floods usually last a day or two, then it's back to business, or as Trinis say, "We're jammin still."!

What to pack

Bathing suits, bathing suits, and more bathing suits (I’m only half kidding)! The weather can get pretty hot and humid. Locals tend to wear light colors made of natural fibers like cotton and linen; you can’t go wrong following their lead! You'd need lots of sunscreen, remember reef-safe sunscreens or sunscreen containing mineral sun-blockers (they're safer for the environment and preserve the beautiful seaside). Insect repellants are a must-have as the mosquitos and sandflies can get a little too friendly, especially during the wet season. If you plan to go snorkeling, most tour companies provide snorkeling gear, but it’s recommended you bring your own. 

For electronics, T&T's electrical current runs on 110 or 220 volts, and the plug pins are the same as an American 2 or 3 pin, so it’s best to plan for up to 220 volts. It's also a good idea to pack a multi-outlet extension cord as they always come in handy. Other items to pack include breathable sneakers, flip flops, and a small purse to carry essentials while liming.

Where to Stay

Trinidad

In Trinidad, unlike many Caribbean islands, you'd be hard-pressed to come across a resort. This is mainly due to Trinidad's economy being focused on the oil, gas, and manufacturing sector rather than tourism. Where to stay in Trinidad depends mostly on your planned itinerary. For watersports, ziplining, and golfing, head to the Crews Inn hotel located in Chaguaramas on the western side of Trinidad. This hotel sits conveniently on a marina, and their hotel staff is happy to arrange activities for you. If birdwatching is more your speed, the Palms hotel situated on the east-west corridor is close to popular bird sanctuaries like the Caroni Bird Sanctuary, Asa Wright Natural Center, and Yerette Hummingbird Sanctuary.

A favorite of many well-known visitors is the Hyatt and Radisson hotels, located in downtown Port of Spain, and the Hilton hotel on the upper end of Port of Spain. They offer walking proximity to the city center where most activities take place. However, you can find many guest houses on Booking.com and Airbnb for much lower prices.

If you're planning a trip around the carnival season, be sure to book well in advance as prices for accommodation climb up 20 to 100 percent during this period. 

Tobago

Tobago's economy is much more geared towards tourism and offers more conventional hotel resort accommodations. Crown Point is the central tourist hub where you can find a variety of accommodations to suit different budgets. The Kariwak Hotel is an excellent option for environmentally friendly travelers. They grow a large portion of food on-site and are known for their efforts to minimize their carbon footprint. Sandy Point Beach Club is a timeshare property suited for larger groups with rooms for up to ten people and hosts daily activities and sightseeing tours.

Resorts like Magdalena Grand Beach Resort and Grafton Beach Resort offer the all-inclusive resort experience. However, you may need to hire a car for activities outside the resort.

If you're looking for a no-frills place to stay in Tobago, under the radar guesthouses offer simple accommodation for TTD 350/ USD 50 or less per night. You wouldn't find these guesthouses on travel booking sites as they prefer to operate using Facebook. Try searching for ‘guesthouses in [location]' on Facebook to find them. To avoid any issues, choose a guesthouse that lets you pay on arrival.

What to eat 

Like many aspects of the country, the Trinbagonian food scene is a melting pot of Indian, African, Chinese, and Middle Eastern influences. Some must-try food while on the islands include:

 

                                                                       Doubles pictured above

Doubles - As a tourist, be prepared to be asked by everyone you encounter, "Have you tried doubles yet?". Doubles, or sometimes triples if you're hungry, is the ultimate Trinbago street food. It's made with two or three fried flatbread (hence the name doubles and triples) called bara, curried chickpeas (curried chana), and garnished with mango, shado beni, cucumber, chutney or pepper sauce.

There's a running joke that asking for light pepper usually means medium to heavy pepper depending on the doubles man, be sure to mention no pepper for the less spicy variation. After a few tries, most people stick with an order that works for them. My go-to doubles is ‘everything with slight pepper’ for the most spicy serving. Asking who serves the best doubles is a sure-fire way to start a lengthy debate. However, many will agree that Sauce doubles in Curepe is the most popular.

Bake and shark - ‘Shark burger,’ as Maroon 5 coined it, is a signature Trinidadian meal that's a must-try if you’re anywhere near Maracas beach. The sandwich is made up of bake (fried dough) and filleted kingfish (the name heralds back to the days when eating shark was more commonplace.)

Pelau - The unofficial Trinbagonian party food. There's always a plate of pelau at gatherings, both large and small. The African-influenced one-pot dish consists of rice, pigeon peas, meat (or chicken), cooked with green seasoning and coconut milk. It pairs well with Zaboca (avocado) when in season. Pelau can be easily found in any creole restaurant.

Curried crab and dumplings - It may not be the most picturesque of meals, but it is very filling. Be prepared to get your hands, napkins, and, inevitably, your clothes messy as the easiest way to eat this is with your hands. The best place to find authentic curry crab and dumplings is at Ms. Trimms located down on Store Bay.

Trinidad and Tobago, like most islands, has abundant seafood and meat-based cuisine. While you’d find options for vegetarian, pescatarian, and halaal diets in most restaurants, it may be challenging to find other specialty diets. Most hosts/hotels are willing to make necessary adjustments when told upfront.

How to get around

It's relatively easy to get around the islands. Renting a car is only necessary for extended stays or if you wish to explore the islands alone, especially in the countryside. However, the cost of car rentals on both islands can add up very quickly at TTD 250/ USD 36 per day.

The public transportation system consists of maxi-taxis (color-coded passenger vans) and h-licensed taxis, which are regular cars that have been approved by the government for taxi use, the h-license refers to the license plate number which usually starts with the letter “H’’. Catching a taxi works well for short or off-route distances. You can also download Drop, PinkCab, or the TTRS apps, which are the island's version of Uber. For longer distances, the maxi-taxi operates on a fixed "bus-route" similar to train routes. The fare varies on the distance but is usually between TTD 5/USD 0.74 and TTD 20/USD 3

For travel between the islands, flag carrier Caribbean Airlines offers round trip flights TTD 300/USD 59, and only takes 20 minutes.

The local ferries offer a more budget-friendly option at TTD 100/USD 15 round trip. It comes twice a day at the jetty in Independence Square, Port of Spain, and three times a day from the cruise ship complex in Scarborough, but can take up to 3 hours.

Things to do

Pigeon Point Beach

Visit the beaches 

While you won't find Trinidad's beaches on the most beautiful beach list, the waters are bluey-green but also lively, which makes for excellent surfing and watersport conditions.

The most famous beach in Trinidad is Maracas Bay, but if you're looking for a less crowded experience, grab your bake and shark from Maracas and head to Las Cuevas beach just a few minutes' drive away. Blanchisseuse, Columbus Bay, and Mayaro beach are also worth a visit.

In Tobago, you will find the more picturesque beaches of T&T, with the most popular being Pigeon Point Beach. Keep in mind there's an entry fee of TTD 20/USD 3. There are many other beaches to explore around the island - like English Man's Bay, Castara, Pirate's Bay, Mt Irvine, Speyside, Store Bay, and Bloody Bay. Many of Tobago's beaches are unspoiled, and each beach has its own historical significance.

 Pump up your Adrenaline 

There are many popular activities for thrill-seekers across Trinidad like ziplining, mountain biking, hiking, and watersports. 

Most hiking trails in Trinidad lead to a waterfall where you can cool off. For new hikers, there are plenty of choices: Avocat waterfront, Rio Seco, Maracas Waterfall, and Bamboo Cathedral are relatively easy hikes. For more experienced hikers, Paria Bay, Turure water steps, and El Tucuche (Trinidad's second tallest mountain) might be worth the challenge. It’s not far-fetched to come across a wild animal on some of these hiking trails - for safety reasons, solo-hiking is not recommended on the islands. There are many hiking groups like The Island Hikers that have group tours on the weekends if you need someone to go with.

Jet skiing, wakeboarding, paddleboarding, and dolphin boarding are only a few of the water sports you'd find on the islands. You can find water sports companies on Pigeon Point Beach or in Chaguaramas, or pre-book with Liquid Adrenalin, a specialty watersports company.

Go bird watching 

Not everyone’s cup of tea, but with over 470 indigenous bird species and winter migrant birds from across Europe, North America, and South America, Trinidad is a favorite destination for birdwatchers. The best place to spot many of the species is at the ASA Wright Nature Center in Arima. The Caroni Bird Sanctuary is the place to be if you're looking for the national bird - Scarlet Ibis.

If you only had time for one avian hotspot on your trip, Yerette’s Hummingbird Sanctuary in Maracas is worth visiting to see up to fourteen of the eighteen species of hummingbirds found on the islands. Everyone loves hummingbirds!

Explore nature 

Many tour companies offer island tours around Tobago, which usually includes the Tobago rain forest and as many beaches as possible. These tours can sometimes cost a premium price, but for a budget-friendly option, most guest house hosts are willing to do personal tours once they are told in advance. Buccoo Jemma's SeaView Kitchen, nicknamed Jemma's Treehouse since it's built on a tree, gives you a fabulous view of Speyside Beach. You will want to book early, especially if you plan to visit during lunchtime. I recommend the breadfruit pie. It's delicious!

In Trinidad, check out the stunning views from Fort George and San Fernando hill. Mud volcanoes around the island, like Devil's Woodland and Logan Bouffe, are said to have healing properties when bathed in. Don’t forget about the La Brea Pitch Lake, a UNESCO world heritage site that also holds the title of the world's largest pitch lake. 

If you’re looking for a fun day trip, check out the Bocas Islands, locally called Down De Islands or DDI, which are made of five mini islands between Venezuela and Trinidad. They're accessible by boat rides from Crews Inn in Chaguaramas. While all five islands have their unique characteristics, one of the main attractions is the glowing limestone caverns and caves on Gasparee island.

Enjoy Carnival 

Carnival is the most anticipated festival in Trinidad and Tobago. Preparation usually begins a year in advance, starting from the end of the previous carnival season. It's not uncommon to find revelers booking hotels and flights for the next carnival season before the current carnival is over as prices do tend to rise the closer it gets to the season. 

There's a lot to see and do all over the country during this season, like the Comedy Festival, Calypso Competition, and King and Queen Shows. The Carnival Village at the Queen's Park Savannah in Port of Spain is the home base for most shows and is open 24/7 during this season, with some free concerts during the buildup to main events and lots of food. Ticketfederation.com is the best place to find the latest carnival schedule and book fetes (parties). Budget tip: all-inclusive options may seem more expensive but usually better value. 

Festivals 

There's always something to do in Trinidad and Tobago. Every public holiday comes with its own festivities, and there are many smaller festivals like the Bocas Lit Festival and the Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival that take place year-round. While not an exhaustive list, some of the more prominent festivals include:

Carnival - Takes place in February to early March and is celebrated on both islands. The six-week celebration features cultural showcases, Soca fetes, Children's Carnival, Jouvert, and steel pan competitions, which ends in a massive two-day parade of the band. The Tobago Sailing Regatta, sometimes called the Festival of the Wind, takes place right after the carnival in Pigeon Point. The celebration invites local and international competitors to participate in various sailing competitions like wind and kitesurfing.

Tobago Goat and Crab Racing Festival - Many patrons, gather at the goat racing arena in Buccoo as part of the Easter celebrations to watch really athletic goats compete for a grand prize.

Tobago Jazz Festival - Takes place in late-April and usually lasts for a week. The series of concerts attracts both local and internationally renowned names in Jazz, Worldbeat, Soca, Calypso, Reggae, R&B, and Latin music.

Tobago Heritage Festival - A two-week event held in mid-July to early August, which celebrates Tobago's traditions with depictions of the old-time days like a traditional or as we say ‘ole time’ wedding, Bele dancing, and the Heritage Queen competition. It's also a great time to try local food like the famous crab and dumplings.

Blue Food Festival - Celebrates Tobago's love for local cuisine, especially the blue root, dasheen. During the event, the native starch is used to make creative appetizers, entrees, desserts, and liqueur for a grand prize. The event takes place in October and is held in Bloody Bay, Tobago.

Parang Season - Started as a form of caroling during the Spanish colonial era, Parang music, a fusion of upbeat Soca and Latin sounds, is usually associated with Christmas. However, showcases can start as early as September. Nowadays, the house to house serenading tradition only happens within close-knit rural communities, but Parang can still be enjoyed in most public spaces. The best place to enjoy Parang is in Paramin in Trinidad, during the Christmas season when you can grab some tasty pastelles. 

There are many reasons why I love calling T&T home, but my favorite has to be that there's never a dull moment, you can always find something going on between the islands. Trinidad offers the bustling city experience with lots of parties, hikes, and watersports. It's also the ideal place to be for the carnival season! Tobago, the yin to Trinidad's yang, is more slow-paced, perfect for cooling off or taking a break from a busy schedule. When visiting the islands, be prepared to wine (Caribbean dance style), play, and eat to your heart's content! 

Are you planning to visit? What are you most looking forward to, if you've already visited, what were your favorite experiences - we'd love to see some pics!

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