Trinidad and Tobago, the southernmost of the Caribbean islands, is situated only 10km (7mi) off the coast of Venezuela and geologically an extension of South America. Trinidad is situated north of and opposite the mouth of the Orinoco River and is separated from the South American coast by the Gulf of Paria. Tobago is 33 km (21 mi) northeast of Trinidad. Area of Trinidad, 4828 sq. km (1864 sq. mi); area of Tobago, 300 sq. km (116 sq. mi); total area of the country, 5130 sq. km (1981 sq. mi).
Trinidad and Tobago is the ideal vacation spot for those seeking a warmer and more welcoming climate; a variety of fun activities and distinctive Caribbean cuisine. Below are some of the activities and events that make Trinidad and Tobago a unique and enjoyable holiday destination:
Carnival is an extraordinary celebration that brings together every aspect of life in Trinidad and Tobago – history, music, art, and culture – in a unique and spectacular way. Trinidad & Tobago’s carnival is in a class by itself and like no other carnival in the world.
Carnival is not just a two-day event but a season that actually begins from the launching of the bands in September and goes right up to the Monday and Tuesday before Ash Wednesday (in February or March.)
Carnival can best be described as a fusion of music, mas, colour, and splendour. Anyone who has had a taste of parading in costume, partying until dawn, stick fighting or playing a steel pan, is guaranteed to come back for another Trinidad and Tobago ‘mas.
What sport makes Trinis feels like its Carnival when it is not? The answer is simple – cricket. Once a distinctly English pastime, cricket is one of the most popular games in Trinidad and Tobago – and indeed the wider Caribbean.
Cricket is more than just sport; it is integral to the culture and way of life of Trinidad and Tobagonians. This is evident in the esteem in which they hold the country’s very own, and the world’s best batsman, Mr Brian Charles Lara. So great is the appreciation and adulation for Brian Lara, a portion of the capital city was renamed in his honour – the Brian Lara Promenade on Independence Sq.
Cricket is a sport of passion that unifies the all Caribbean people and provides a sense of identity and pride. Nothing is more enjoyable than sitting in the stands and witnessing the chants of the crowd as wickets fall and boundaries are celebrated. Anyone will tell you – wherever there is cricket one is bound to find a Trini.
Caribbean people are known in the world for their unique, exotic and creative sense of style.
In Trinidad & Tobago, fashion has become a burgeoning industry with top local designers such as Heather Jones, Claudia Pegus, Meiling, Peter Elias – and most recently, Anya Ayoung Chee, gracing the international stage as well as the market.
Trinidad and Tobago’s fashion influence can also be seen in top outlets such as Millhouse and Radical Designs. Where else can one find an ensemble that reflects so distinctly the Caribbean personality but right here on the runways of our local fashion shows?
Tobago, Trinidad’s sister isle, maybe small in size but not so when it comes to activities and events.
The island has had a particularly colourful history – having being won and changing hands 31 times during colonial wars by the French, Dutch, and British – all of which adds to the rich culture Tobago is known to have.
A visit to Tobago would be incomplete unless one experienced the mystical tales of the villages; explored the forts – remnants of the colonial era; swam in the Nylon Pool at Buccoo Reef; visited the legendary unknown tomb and consumed the local delicacy crab and dumpling.
Tobago is rated amongst the top ten in the world for number of species of birds per sq. kilometre. Indeed, Tobago is a self-contained paradise appealing to everyone from the adventure and eco tourist, to those just interested in relaxing and enjoying the sun, sea and sand.
Trinidad and Tobago is made up of a blend of many races such as Africans, East Indians, Chinese, Syrians and a mixture of races. Our traditions, religious rituals and celebrations, sites and attractions and even our food are all heavily influenced by our multiculturalism – making the country ideal for heritage tourism
East Indian Influence
The East Indians arrived in Trinidad as indentured labours to work the sugar estates, after the emancipation of African slaves, bringing with them their culture and traditions. The richness of East Indian traditions alive in Trinidad and Tobago today derives from the fact that the indentured labourers were allowed to freely practice their religion and culture.
Every Trini knows that you have not had a good breakfast unless you have eaten an aloo (potato) pie or doubles, which is spicy curried channa (garbanzo beans) with fried flatbread (called bara). These delicacies are two of this country’s most popular street foods introduced by the East Indians. Roti – a wrapped sandwich with a variety of spicy meats and vegetables is another popular delicacy.
Hosay, which is an Islamic festival, is observed by the Shi’a (Indian Muslims). It runs for four days, with processions through the streets of St James and celebrations at various sites throughout the country during the months of April-June.
Eid-ul-Fitr, another festival also celebrated by Islamic Indians. It starts with a fasting period called Ramadan which lasts forty days and ends with the celebration of Eid.
Divali and Phagwa are both Hindu festivals. Divali is known as the festival of lights paying homage to the mother of wealth Mother Lakshmi. And Phagwa is the celebration of the Hindus New Year.
It is important to note that because of our diversity these festivals are not participated by East Indians only but by the entire nation.
The religion, Hinduism, brought by East Indians to this country has resulted in the construction of some of the most original and architecturally beautiful temples in the hemisphere. Most famous are three – the Temple in the Sea, the Hanuman Temple (where the largest statue of the Hindu god, Hanuman, outside of India resides) and the Triveni Mandir.
Africans were brought to the Caribbean as slaves. While they were not free to practice their religion and culture, they were able to maintain some of their traditions – while others were a derivation of African and European cultures combined and evolved as a result of the plantation society into which they were thrust.
Carnival, Calypso and Steel Pan:
Carnival was created when the slaves began to mimic their slaves masters and in particular their elaborate masquerade balls. Slaves were of course forbidden to participate in these activities and so created their own fancy dress parties. Many traditional mas characters today have their origin in these forbidden celebrations. Once slavery was ended the former slaves took their celebrations to the streets and Carnival began to evolve into what we know it today.
Calypso, the music of Trinidad and Tobago, is also mainly African in origin. It was a way to tell stories and to discuss news on the plantation – taken from the African tradition of storytelling through music and song. It evolved as a cultural expression – music and dance into what it has become today with many variations – soca, chutney soca, groovy soca to name a few.
The steel pan is heartbeat of music and culture in Trinidad and Tobago. The only new musical instrument developed in the 20th century, the steel pan has distinct African roots. Percussion formed the basis of music for the slaves and led to the evolution of the steel pan from the oil drum.
Trinidad and Tobago is one of the few countries in the world where there is a public observance and celebration of the end of chattel slavery. The celebration of Emancipation also allows for reflection on the state Africans in the Diaspora and what needs to be done to uplift the community even more. In Trinidad the huge parade or Kambule through the streets of Port-of-Spain on August 1st – the culmination of the celebrations – attracts African leaders, royalty and entertainers as well as tourists from around the world.
Spiritual (Shouter) Baptist Celebrations:
Even though colonial rulers attempted to supress the religious and cultural beliefs of the enslaved classes – many African rituals survived the plantation era. Former slaves combined many of their rituals and beliefs with those of the Europeans. The result was the emergence of the syncretic religions such as the Spiritual Baptist faith. In 1996 the Government of Trinidad and Tobago granted a public holiday to the Spiritual Baptist faith, to be celebrated on March 30, called Spiritual Baptist/Shouter Liberation Day. Trinidad and Tobago is the only country that celebrates a public holiday for the Spiritual Baptist faith.
Callaloo – a type of spicy gumbo made with the leaves of the dasheen plant, ochro (okra) and meats (crab and pigtail) is a popular Sunday side dish and part of African influence on our local cuisine. Other dishes such as coo coo (corn meal and ochro), pig foot souse, ground provisions – popular on the tables of many a Trinidad and Tobagonian today – point to an African legacy.
The Chinese community in Trinidad and Tobago is small compared to the East Indian and African communities; however their influence is as strong – particularly in the area of food. Chinese food is extremely popular and Chinese restaurants are abundant. Chinese festivals and events are less prevalent, but there are a few that warrant mention, including the Chinese New Year and Lantern Festival; Double Ten (the national day of the Republic of China, which is celebrated not only in Taiwan, but in other parts of the world, including Trinidad and Tobago) and the Dragon Boat Races. The legacy of the Chinese in Trinidad and Tobago is for the most part under the stewardship of the Chinese Association – the group that works for the advancement of cultural, social, educational and economic upliftment of the Chinese community in Trinidad and Tobago
Other influences– European and even Middle Eastern (Syrian, Lebanese) – can be seen in the food, religion, language, trade and commerce and the laws and government of Trinidad and Tobago. Carnival is a derivation of the French masquerade balls; our government is based on the British Westminster model; a large percentage of the population is Christian and many public holidays are Christian – including Christmas, Easter and Corpus Christi; many of our corporations and retail business were started by Syrian/Lebanese immigrants. Middle Eastern foods such as kibbi and kebabs are also quite popular.
American Airlines, United, British Airways and Copa Airlines all have a presence at Piarco International Airport in Trinidad. Regional airline, LIAT, also maintains a presence in Trinidad, operating flights to various Caribbean destinations.
Tobago’s Arthur Napoleon Raymond Robinson International Airport is the port for Virgin Atlantic and British Airways.
The national airline, Caribbean Airlines (CAL – www.caribbeanairlines.com) operates in Antigua, Barbados, Venezuela, Guyana, Jamaica, Suriname and St Maarten. Caribbean Airlines also operates out of Ft. Lauderdale, Miami, and New York’s JFK International Airport in the US, London Gatwick Airport in the UK and Toronto Lester B Pearson International Airport in Canada.
CAL also services the airbridge between Trinidad and Tobago. Flight duration between Trinidad and Tobago is 25 minutes and visitors are advised to allow a minimum connecting time of 20 minutes for domestic flights, and one hour for international flights.
Once here, getting around is easy enough. There are rental cars, taxi services and a bus/mini bus terminal.
Just remember – in Trinidad and Tobago, we drive on the left!