5 Things to Love About Trinidad and Tobago

Feb 10, 2017

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Trinidad and Tobago wasn’t a place I’d dreamed of visiting until an unexpected work event brought me to Florida with a few days to kill. In what would be the first of several inspirations from the Explore Destinations tool on Google Flights, I saw that the cheapest flight out of the country during my window of opportunity was a nonstop route on American Airlines to Port of Spain (POS) for $308 round-trip. I paid for the ticket with my Citi AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard and a couple weeks later, I was off to the West Indies. The trip was wonderful, an affordable and low-key tropical getaway that offered a mix of urban and rural, modern and traditional, romance and adventure. Here’s what I loved most and why you should plan a visit there, too.

1. The Roadways Are an Adventure in Themselves

Renting a car proved to be not only useful — as the airport in Trinidad (POS) is far from downtown — but a great way to get away from the tourist spots and see some amazing scenery. If you’re not already comfortable driving on the left side of the road, though, this probably isn’t the first place you’ll want to try it. But even with twisty mountain roads and some unpaved paths, I never felt unsafe.

Driving the mountains of Tobago put me in a good mood, despite the warning sign. Image courtesy of the author.
Driving around in the mountains of Tobago put me in a good mood, despite the warning signs. Image courtesy of the author.

Plus, there are plenty of places to pull over in the countryside when you see something beautiful and feel the need to take a photo or two.

You don
You don’t have to go far off the road to get views like this. Image courtesy of the author.

Driving in the city requires special attention, though, especially when dealing with parking rules. And watch out — these are some of the narrowest urban streets I’ve ever seen. For a real treat, stop by roadside stands selling everything from handmade souvenirs and local foods to live baby chicks. Beach access also tends to be close to major roads, which is nice.

Alas, we could not drive between the two islands but fortunately, Caribbean Airlines offers frequent and inexpensive flights between Piarco International Airport (POS) in Port of Spain, Trinidad, and Arthur Napoleon Raymond Robinson International Airport (TAB) in Tobago — the 50-minute flights were $48 round-trip and perfectly pleasant.

2. The Food is Plentiful, Cheap and Delicious

If you like large quantities of food and drink at low prices, come to Trinidad and Tobago. The best decision I made was not to eat at any hotel. Not only was the local food amazing and fresh, but I paid less for a complete breakfast than I would have for a hotel coffee. My travel companion assured me the seafood was delicious — I don’t touch the stuff — and I had no problem finding stewed meats, roasted chicken and freshly made flatbreads. The best food experiences were from carts on the street and small stations set up at bars. The Trinidadian roti in particular was as filling as it was tasty. Beer was local and cheap, with Stag being the go-to brand among the locals. In more touristy locales, bars tended to have fruity tropical drinks that packed a punch and were usually made with rum.

This breakfast plate cost about $3. Image courtesy of the author.
This breakfast plate cost about $3. Image courtesy of the author.

3. The Culture Is Mellow, and the People Are Welcoming

Trinidad and Tobago has the laid-back atmosphere you’d expect from a couple of Caribbean islands, but with bursts of energy ready to surprise you around every corner. From local painters working their canvases before your eyes to a parking lot turned into a steel-drum festival, the arts are alive and well here. My favorite kind of places to visit are where tourists are welcomed but not exalted, where you can join in with the locals and aren’t just served by them. Trinidad and Tobago is just that kind of place.

4. The Scenery Is Incredible

Whether you’re on the Caribbean side or the Atlantic side of the islands, the water in January was mild and swimmable. Access to beaches was so easy I was able to walk from a parking lot with full scuba equipment on and be breathing underwater in a matter of minutes. But even more amazing than the oceans was the swamp — you read that right. The Caroni Swamp is home to the Caroni Bird Sanctuary, a large mangrove wetland located just south of Port of Spain. A boat tour before sunset reveals all sorts of native plants and animals, but the big show happens as the sun goes down and thousands of scarlet ibises swarm across the sky in dizzying arrays of whirling patterns and lines.

Caroni Bird Sanctuary. Image courtesy of the Caroni Bird Sanctuary
Caroni Bird Sanctuary. Image courtesy of the Caroni Bird Sanctuary’s Facebook page.

5. You’ll Find Accommodations for Every Kind of Traveler

Want to sleep in a cabin in the rainforest? Prefer an independent beachside hotel? Looking to earn or use points from an American hotel chain? It’s all possible in Trinidad and Tobago. I went with the last option in Trinidad, transferring Ultimate Rewards points to my Hyatt Gold Passport account — the nifty sign-up bonus I’d just earned from my Chase Sapphire Preferred Card got me a king room with sea views at the Hyatt Regency Trinidad. Later in the trip, I stayed at the Hilton Trinidad for a quick stop before an early-morning flight home. On Tobago, I stayed in a small seaside hotel within walking distance of the airport, but the highlight of the trip was a cabin I booked on Airbnb that put me in the middle of the rainforest — so secluded, rustic and glorious (it was off a gravel road off a dirt road off a mountain road) and all for about $60 per night.

Have you ever been to Trinidad and Tobago? Tell us about it, below.

Featured image courtesy of the author.

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