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Things to Do in Trinidad/Tobago

The islands enjoy a tropical climate with average maximum temperatures of 89°F (32°C). Tobago's temperatures are cooler, owing to the more constant north east trade winds. There is a dry season between January and May and a wet season from June to December. Annual rainfall is about 40 inches (200cm) over most of the country. Trinidad and Tobago lies just south of the hurricane belt.

Tobago and its twin island, Trinidad, are the Caribbean's odd couple. 'Little sister' Tobago is relaxed, slow-paced and largely undeveloped. Trinidad is a densely populated, thriving island with a cosmopolitan population and strong regional influence.

It's famous for hosting the loudest and wildest Carnival in the Caribbean, whereas on Tobago the oceanside hotels are casual, the reefs are calm and protected and the beaches are good. Indulge both the laid-back and the energetic sides of your personality by spending time on both islands.

When to Go

Carnival, two days before Ash Wednesday in either February or March, is the best reason to go to Trinidad. However, if you can live without the big party, you'll enjoy steeply discounted hotel prices and cheaper airfares by visiting in the low season from mid-April to mid-December. During this period, the beaches are less crowded, tourist areas are more relaxed and last-minute bookings are not a problem.

Events

The calendar of special events in both Tobago and Trinidad is dominated by Trinidad's Carnival, the reputed king of all Caribbean Carnivals. Trinidad also hosts a big jazz festival and a plethora of multicultural events; in comparison, Tobago's festivals are low-key and bucolic.

From New Year's Day onwards, Trinidadians begin their obsessive preparations for Carnival, organising themselves into costume-making working bees, testing out the steel drums and rehearsing Calypso. By Carnival Monday (two days before Ash Wednesday, in February or March) the whole island is revved. It all kicks off with a pre-dawn procession into the heart of the city as tens of thousands of revellers from around the world are invited to become part of the swell, and by nightfall everyone is dancing, drinking and carousing in the streets. On Carnival Tuesday, there are competitions for Band of the Year. Most of the larger events take place at the Queen's Park Savannah in the center of Port of Spain.

The Pan Jazz Festival, held in November, brings together pan drummers and jazz musicians for three days of concerts in Trinidad. There are also numerous East Indian festivals that are based on the lunar calendar; the biggest is Divali, which usually falls in November.

Tobago's Heritage Festival consists of two weeks of traditional-style festivities that begin in late July. For something quintessentially local, there's the big goat race in Tobago's Buccoo village on the Monday and Tuesday after Easter.

Public holidays celebrated in Trinidad & Tobago are: New Year's Day (1 January); Eid Ul Fitr (varies according to the Islamic calendar); Good Friday and Easter Monday (March/April); Spiritual/Shouter Baptist Liberation Day (30 March); Indian Arrival Day (30 May); Corpus Christi (ninth Thursday after Easter); Labour Day (19 June); Emancipation Day (1 August); Independence Day (31 August); Christmas (25 December) and Boxing Day (26 December).

Attractions

Port of Spain

The islands' capital, Port of Spain is a bustling metropolitan hub of approximately 300,000 people. It's not the country's tourist centre by any means, since its attractions are limited to a few 19th-century colonial buildings and its hotels are geared toward business travellers rather than tourists. The pulse of the city is Independence Square - not really a square at all, but rather two long streets bordering a narrow pedestrian strip. At Independence Square you can pick up a taxi and find travel agents, banks and cheap eats.

The city is crowned by Queen's Park Savannah, once part of a sugar plantation and now a public park with a race track. Largely an expansive grassy field, the park itself is not particularly interesting but there are some sights along its perimeter. In the park's northwest corner there's a small rock garden with a lily pond and benches. Along its west side is the Magnificent Seven, a line of seven fancy colonial buildings, including Stollmeyer's Castle, built to resemble a Scottish castle complete with turrets.

Asa Wright Nature Center

The Asa Wright Nature Center is a former cocoa and coffee plantation that has been turned into an 80ha (198ac) nature reserve. Located amid the rainforest in the Northern Range, the centre has attracted naturalists from around the world since it was founded in 1967. There's a lodge catering to birding tour groups, a research station for biologists and a series of hiking trails on the property.

A wide range of bird species inhabit the area, including blue-crowned motmots, chestnut woodpeckers, palm tanagers, channel-billed toucans, blue-headed parrots, 10 species of hummingbirds and numerous raptors. The sanctuary encompasses Dunston Cave, which is home to a breeding colony of the elusive nocturnal guacharo, or oilbird.

Asa Wright Nature Centre is less than a two-hour drive from Port of Spain.

Caroni Bird Sanctuary

Caroni Bird Sanctuary is the roosting site for thousands of scarlet ibis, the national bird of Trinidad and Tobago. At sunset the birds fly to roost in the swamp's mangroves, giving the trees the appearance of being abloom with brilliant scarlet blossoms. The sight of the ibis flying over the swamp at sunset is a treat not to be missed.

Maracas Bay

Just a 40-minute drive from the capital is Maracas Bay, Trinidad's most popular beach. This fishing hamlet has a broad, sandy beach and occasionally has decent waves for bodysurfing. Tyrico Bay, just to the east of Maracas Bay, is quieter and less commercial. Las Cuevas, 8km (5mi) east of Maracas Bay, is a pretty, U-shaped bay with a nice brown-sand beach; there's surfing at its west end and calmer conditions at the centreer.

Tobago

Tobago is a delightfully relaxed island with much to offer travellers. There are good beaches, pristine snorkelling and diving spots, excellent bird watching opportunities and just enough tourism to make visiting Tobago easy, yet not so much that the island feels overrun.

The airport town of Crown Point is in the middle of Tobago's main resort area. It's surrounded by palm-fringed, white-sand beaches with good year-round swimming and snorkelling. The attractive fishing villages of Speyside and Charlotteville are interesting out-of-the-way destinations, and the nearby uninhabited islets of Little Tobago, Goat Island and St Giles Island are ecotourist destinations with abundant birdlife.

There's great diving at Buccoo Reef, offshore from the little visited village of Buccoo, and good snorkelling at Pirate's Bay, off Charlotteville. The latter derives its name from the secluded haven it provided to marauding buccaneers three centuries ago. It's rumored that there's still buried treasure around Pirate's Bay today.

Buccoo

Buccoo is a small village that's only lightly touristed. The narrow brown-sand beach at Buccoo Bay doesn't compete with the generous white sands at Store Bay, but Buccoo's offshore waters are lovely.

A handful of glassbottom boats provide tours of the extensive fringing reef between Buccoo and Pigeon Point. The boats pass over the reef, much of which is just a meter or two beneath the surface, stop for snorkelling and end with a swim in the Nylon Pool, a calm shallow area with a sandy bottom and clear turquoise waters.

Fort King George

Tobago's best remaining colonial fortification (1779) is well worth a visit for its history, coastal views and parklike grounds. Cannons line the fort's stone walls, and there's a working lighthouse, a shop selling local crafts and a small museum with displays on Amerindian artifacts and Tobago's colonial history.

Manzanilla Beach

Trinidad's east coast is wild and rural, a mix of lonely beaches, rough Atlantic waters, mangrove swamps and coconut plantations. You may not encounter another traveller along the entire coast, but you will encounter free-roaming cows, water buffaloes, vultures, egrets and herons. The main east coast beach, Manzanilla Beach, has brown sand, palm trees and white beach morning glory.

Pitch Lake

The oddest attraction in Trinidad is Pitch Lake, a 40ha (99ac) continually replenishing lake of tar which is the source of the world's single largest supply of natural bitumen - however, as a sight it's reminiscent of a huge parking lot.

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