Trinidad and Tobago has a rainforest to rival the biodiversity of the Amazon, stunning beaches and a Carnival party that is the envy of the rest of the Caribbean; and with low-cost carrier JetBlue offering non-stop flights from JFK since February, it has never been easier or cheaper to get there
The idyllic beauty of the Caribbean is no secret to most Americans. For many of us, whether we have been there or not, the word ‘paradise’ conjures up the image of a long, sandy and unspoiled Caribbean beach, turquoise water, palm trees shaken by a light sea breeze, and perhaps a cocktail of a color that matches the intensity of the sea’s stunning hue.
But where is this beach for many of us? Is it in Barbados, the Bahamas, Aruba, or other beautiful Caribbean islands quickest to spring to mind? One country in this paradise often overlooked is Trinidad and Tobago; but that is changing quickly. Eager to diversify the economy away from oil and gas, the government has given priority to the development of the tourism industry. “Our problem is that we are blessed with oil and gas, so there was never the need to look elsewhere for money,” says the Minister of Tourism Gerald Hadeed.
“As we all know, the oil and gas is a diminishing asset. Now Trinidad and Tobago has to get very serious about earning more foreign currency and the best way is to develop the tourism sector. Tourism is a very competitive market. As the Caribbean country furthest south from North America, we have to be creative and different from the rest of the Caribbean to attract tourists.”
Located just seven miles from the coast of Venezuela, with its Amazonian-like rainforest and large number of nature reserves, it is essentially South America in a Caribbean Island. According to Minister Hadeed, this is mainly what sets it apart from the rest of the Caribbean. “It is such a stunning country. We were once connected to Venezuela, and at some point in time Trinidad broke off and formed its own island, so everything that naturalists might want to see in Venezuela is here condensed into roughly 2,000 square miles between the two islands. Why go into the Amazon when you can see it right here in Trinidad and Tobago?”
The twin-island nation has something for those seeking parties or for those searching for peace and tranquility. It offers the energy, the vibrancy, the bars, the clubs and restaurants of Trinidad (home to 96% of the population), while Tobago – which has won several prestigious eco-awards including the World Travel Awards ‘Best Eco-Destination in the World’ – boasts idyllic beaches, calm bays, and spectacular coral reefs.
As the economic hub, Trinidad is home to the nation’s industry and therefore is more developed, with the bustling and cosmopolitan capital of Port of Spain – the beating heart of the island. However, like Tobago, it also has its fair share of nature reserves and unspoiled beaches.
Most locals in Trinidad would tell you that a trip to Maracas Beach is a must. While enjoying this beautiful beach surrounded by lush green mountains, you’ll have the opportunity to try the local delicacies such as doubles, roti’s and the famous Maracas bakes offered by a number of small take-away restaurants that run behind the beach. The most popular restaurant to grab a ‘bake’’ is Richard’s; you may have to wait in line here for 30 minutes but it’s certainly worth the wait.
Another of Trinidad’s famous beaches is Grande Riviere in the north east of the island. It is the second most populated leatherback turtle nesting beach in the world. Each night between March and August, up to 300 of these beautiful creatures visit the beach to lay their eggs. It’s quite a spectacular sight and something that everyone in Trinidad is very proud of.
Despite Grande Riviere being one of the more remote parts of the country, it still receives a considerable share of tourists, all of whom come to experience its rich biodiversity. There are currently a number of small eco-resorts and guesthouses, but because of its growing popularity with local and foreign tourists alike, there are plans for the construction of additional accommodations.
Trinidad and Tobago truly has it all. For those just looking to relax, and to capitalize on some shopping, there are a number of stunning four and five-star hotels, colorful local markets, and charming chic boutique stores to explore in Port of Spain. And with plans to develop a large shopping complex at the international airport, tourists can expect a lot more upon their arrivals in the near future. “Piarco International Airport will soon become a hub for free-trade shopping. We want to market it as a free-trade zone very much like what they have in other parts of the world like Dubai and Panama,” adds Minister Hadeed.
For the active, adventurous and thrill seekers, there are a range of water sports and other activities such as cycling, diving and hiking. For the eco-tourist, the islands have some of the richest outposts of biodiversity in the Caribbean, with 450 bird species, 108 types of mammals, 55 reptiles, 25 amphibians and 620 types of butterflies. Many of these can be seen at any of the beautiful nature reserves, such as the Main Ridge Forest Reserve in Tobago – the oldest rainforest of its kind in the western hemisphere. In Trinidad there are a number of reserves, including the Asa Wright Nature Center, Mount Saint Benedict, the Caroni Nature Reserve, and the Bush Bush Wildlife Reserve at Nariva Swamp.
Of course no feature on tourism in Trinidad and Tobago could fail to mention the famous Carnival – only one of a large number of colorful festivals to take place on the islands each year, but undoubtedly the most special, and a must-see for anyone visiting the country in February or early March.
Many countries in the world boast of Carnival celebrations, but none quite so stunning and all embracing as Trinidad’s, which is the largest street party in the Caribbean. Referred to as “the greatest show on earth”, the festival of dance, music, steel drums, extravagant costumes and parties culminates with the spectacular Dimanche Gras show and two days of street parade on the Monday and Tuesday before Ash Wednesday.
Thankfully getting to this unique country has never been easier or cheaper. On February 24, low-cost carrier JetBlue made its inaugural flight to Port of Spain from JFK. And as of May 1, the airline now offers daily non-stop flights from both JFK and from Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood – clear evidence that Trinidad and Tobago is becoming an in-demand destination for U.S. tourists. Given the huge diaspora of Trinbagonians living in the cities of New York and Miami, this new service will provide visitors and returning nationals with a low-cost and reliable option to travel to Port of Spain for leisure or business.
Caribbean Airlines also offers flights from JFK, Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood and Miami.