Port of Spain is a lot like any other big city with high-rises and traffic jams and sharply dressed people checking their phones as they hurry to work. But if you take a minute to step back, it is easy to spot the undercurrent of joyfulness in this little Caribbean nation. There is a bigness to everything: The laughs are hearty, gestures are dramatic, homes are gaily painted, and food portions are humungous. A rhythm underscores it all, even the way a sentence rolls off a Trinidadian’s tongue.
Port of Spain has a number of chain hotels including Hilton, Hyatt, Marriot, Radisson, and the Carlton with rooms for TT$900-1,500/₹9,000-15,000. US dollars are accepted readily, with the change returned in TT$.
For a less expensive, but comfortable stay, try the Forty Winks Inn in Newtown (www.fortywinkstt.com; doubles TT$630/₹6,300). To experience a traditional Trinidadian home, try The Gingerbread House, located conveniently close to Ariapita Avenue (www.trinidadgingerbreadhouse.com; doubles TT$420/₹4,200).
Taxis to and from the airport cost USD30/₹1,800 during the day and USD45/₹2,700 at night. Taxis within the city are expensive, charging USD10/₹600 for short distances. At night prices increase by 50 per cent. Rates are fixed and charged in USD.
When you think of the Caribbean, its beaches first come to mind, but Trinidad also has a rather rich forest ecology. My first clue to this was the colourful currency. Each note is imprinted with a beautiful bird. Turns out Trinidad and Tobago has one of the highest numbers of bird species per square mile in the world. To my delight, this includes 17 types of hummingbirds.
Drive to Asa Wright Nature Centre & Lodge in Arima Valley, 47 km/1.25 hr northeast of the capital. The road winds through the hills of the Northern Range, past forest and fields. The centre is located in a 1,500-acre cocoa-coffee-citrus plantation that was allowed to return to its natural state, the native vegetation reclaiming the land.
The rear porch of the 107-year-old former estate house overlooks a valley brimming with trees and hundreds of multi-hued birds that included toucans, honeycreepers, and hummingbirds. The latter are mesmerising. For birds so tiny, they are immensely aggressive and it was enchanting to see them swoop and dart at one another. It was a struggle to draw my eyes away as Barry Ramdass, our guide for the afternoon’s walk, began his briefing. Like most Trinidadians, Barry is of mixed descent—the island has had populations of Indians, Africans, Chinese, and many others brought here by various colonisers—and his surname testifies to his part-Indian blood.
Don’t miss lunch before the walk. The menu here usually includes the national dish callaloo, a delicious stew made from amaranth leaves that represents the country’s melting-pot culture. Work off the meal on one of the trails that snake through the plantation. You’ll spot the shy rodent agouti or the golden tegu lizard, lots of birds, and dramatic tropical flowers. Those who stay overnight at the lodge can visit Dunston Cave, where there is a breeding colony of the nocturnal oilbird (+1-868-6674655; asawright.org; open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily; entry TT$60/₹600; TT$36/₹360 for children 12 and under; guided walks at 10.30 a.m. and 1.30 p.m.; lunch served noon to 1 p.m., TT$140-200/₹1,400-2,000 per head, half price for children 12 and under).
Return to the city for a rest and then head out for a stroll around Queen’s Park Savannah, the city’s largest open green space. The Royal Botanic Gardens are located north of the Savannah, while a series of grand old Victorian-style houses known as the Magnificent Seven are located along its western edge. It is a lively part of the city and people are always about, chatting, flying kites, or playing games. In the evening, there are stalls selling local food like jerk chicken, bake and fish (like a fish burger), corn soup, pholourie (like pakoras), and fresh coconut water. For safety reasons, it’s advisable to visit in a group during the evening (food stalls set up around sunset; most dishes cost between TT$4-45/₹40-450).
Put on swimsuits and drive out bright and early to Maracas Bay on the lovely North Coast Road that winds through hills before turning parallel to the coast (22 km/45 min northeast). Along the way, listen to local chutney music on the radio, interspersed with advertisements for the latest Bollywood movie showing in Trini theatres. Stop at the Maracas Bay Lookout en route to enjoy some great views and taste preserved local fruits like pommecythere and the tangy and refreshing chow, made from sliced raw fruit like mango or pineapple tossed with garlic, salt, hot peppers, and shado beni, a cilantro-like herb. The small packets cost TT$5/₹50 each.
Once you reach, work up an appetite by strolling along the beautiful and protected semi-circular Maracas Beach. It is like something out of a movie, with low green-draped hills rising up around, and a string of swaying palms. Then, line up at Richard’s Bake and Shark to try Trinidad’s most popular fast food for TT$30/₹300 apiece. The bake is fried bread that is split like a pao and stuffed with a flash-fried filet of fish (vegetarian options are available). It can be customised with a variety of ingredients: greens like lettuce, tomato, onion, and cucumber, and a number of sauces like mustard, ketchup, garlic, mango chutney, and hot pepper. It’s a delicious and hearty meal that sets you up for several hours of exploring. Be wary of the hot pepper sauce though; Trinidadian’s really like their heat and the sauces can be deadly.
For a dip in the sea, guide Cheri-Ann Pascall recommends driving 7 kilometres further to Las Cuevas beach, which is popular with families for its gentler waters. It gets its name from the many caves along the beach, which make it fun to explore even for those who are not interested in a swim.
Idle at the beach, or head back early towards Port of Spain and stop en route for a tour of the House of Angostura distillery, known for the aromatic bitters that are probably Trinidad’s best known export. Visitors can see how the bitters (that follow the same recipe since 1824) and rums are made. The formula for the bitters is a closely guarded secret and at any given time only five people know the entire recipe. The air of secrecy lends the tour an interesting twist (call 868-6231841 for bookings; www.angostura.com; two-hour tours at 9.30 a.m. and 1.30 p.m. and evenings on request; TT$60/₹600).
Begin the day with doubles, a Trini breakfast staple that is a variation of chhole bhature. The chick pea curry is sandwiched between two layers of fried bread called bara, and eaten with toppings like mango chutney, tamarind sauce, shredded cucumber, and shado beni. George’s Doubles Stand, on the corner of Carlos and Robert streets, is considered one of the best in the city. Amusingly, right next to him is another stand run by his ex-wife, known as George’s X Doubles Stand. It was nice to see familiar food take on a different form so far from where it originated(TT$4/₹40).
Next, drive to Chaguaramas (15 km/30 min west) and take a boat to Gaspar Grande Island to visit Gasparee Caves. Several small islands dot the waters off Trini’s northwestern tip and many have interesting stories. This was where immigrants brought as labour first disembarked from ships and were checked for diseases before being sent to plantations. One of the islands is a prison; another used to be a leper colony.
The island of Gaspar Grande is primarily limestone and riddled with caves. When I entered the main cavern and saw the dark, mysterious pool of water, a frisson of fear ran up my spine. The cave walls loomed all around, the strange shapes of the stalagmites casting stranger shadows. Confronting the fear, I quickly stripped to my swimsuit and got into the water. Best thing ever. The water was cool and refreshing (and said to be mineral-rich and good for the skin). I could see down to the bottom where dead tree branches and giant rocks glistened like prehistoric bones. A skylight on one side of the large cavern let in sunrays, their reflections from the water dancing on the cave walls. The whole place has a primordial, otherworldly air to it, but don’t let your hesitation hold you back from the experience of a lifetime. The very helpful Gerald Nicholas at Sensational Tours can organise a visit (firstname.lastname@example.org; TT$150/₹1,500 for tours from 9.30 a.m. to noon).
Back in Port of Spain, head to Shiann’s Food Palace to try roti, the Caribbean twist on Indian food that’s a favourite with locals (TT$45/₹450 for a very hearty meal). It is like a giant bhatura served with a variety of luscious curries and condiments.
During the second half of the day, visit the Caroni Swamp Bird Sanctuary (16 km/30 min south). Sunset tour boats leave the jetty at 4 p.m., winding through the mangrove to reach the roosting island of Trinidad’s national bird, the scarlet ibis, just as it is time for them to return home. The birds start coming in ones and twos, bright scarlet dots in the sky. Within minutes you can see larger flocks flying in from every direction—hundreds of deep red, graceful birds. Half an hour later, the green island looks like a decorated Christmas tree with pinpricks of bright colour (868-6451305; nananecotours.com; TT$60/₹600; duration 2.5 hours).
Theo Ferguson liked photographing hummingbirds and started growing flowering bushes in his home garden to attract them. He ended up creating a hummingbird sanctuary where the birds come in hundreds. Visit Yerette for a therapeutic morning: Theo’s talk is informative, his photographs are stunning, and his wife Gloria’s food delicious (visits by appointment only; email@example.com; TT$150/₹1,500 for a visit with light lunch; TT$230/₹2,300 with full lunch).
Located at the edge of a hill, the fort built by the British in 1804, is a quiet vantage point to the bustle of the city. It has some lovely old cannons that were never used. Carry a picnic lunch (entry free).
Trinidadians take their “liming” (hanging out with friends) seriously, and parties in the capital begin late on Friday and continue well into Sunday. To party Caribbean-style, take a taxi to Ariapita Avenue. There are a number of clubs to choose from and the music is catchy.
Fans of the willow will be familiar with Queen’s Park Oval, Trinidad’s largest cricket ground. Learn more about West Indies cricketing history at the Stadium’s heritage museum. Memorabilia includes old photographs and autographed bats (book visit via www.qpcc.com).
Steelpans are an original Trinidadian invention, a musical instrument that represents the country’s past of immigration, slavery, rebellion, and its love for rhythm. Visit a panyard and be impressed by how this odd-looking instrument produces beautiful sound in skilful hands (Sensational Tours can organise a visit; firstname.lastname@example.org).
Appeared as “Carribean Revelry” in the February 2015 issue.
This is National Geographic Traveller India’s handy guide to Port of Spain, the capital of Trinidad and Tobago. This three-day itinerary includes a range of activities and costs ₹1-2 lakh for two adults and two children, excluding airfare, depending on the kind of accommodation and activities you opt for. Prices are provided for everything to help you make informed choices. The journey to Trinidad is long and expensive but once you’re there, you’ll find that activities, accommodation, and meals are reasonably priced.
is Deputy Editor at National Geographic Traveller India. She is happiest trotting off the beaten path, trekking in the Himalayas, scuba diving in Andaman & Nicobar, or exploring local markets in small towns. She tweets as @nehadara.
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