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The Americas & Caribbean

Bishops’ Residenz

About Trinidad & Tobago

Trinidad & Tobago is beloved for its sugar-white beaches kissed by glistening turquoise waters. Though the two islands have comprised one nation since 1962, and in their earliest days were both home to the Arawak and Carib tribes, their histories diverged when Europeans arrived.

Christopher Columbus arrived on Trinidad in 1498 and the island remained a Spanish colony for 300 years. In the late 1800s, an agreement was drafted to allow French settlers to obtain land on the island if they swore their allegiance to the Spanish Crown. This bolstered the island’s population tenfold over 12 years as French planters, their slaves, and freed slaves from nearby islands established sugar and cocoa plantations. When the British arrived on Trinidadian shores with 18 warships in 1797, the Spanish surrendered the island.

Meanwhile, the neighboring island of Tobago changed hands some 33 times, more than any other Caribbean island. Dutch, English, Spanish, Swedish, French and others all took an interest in its potential sugar, cotton and indigo. Plantations and profits ebbed and flowed with every takeover until the tiny island came under the watch of neighboring Trinidad, which by then was a British territory.

In the 20th century, the islands remained British Crown Colonies without parliamentary representation and suffered an economic depression resulting from the collapse of the sugarcane industry. In 1962, both Trinidad and its sister Tobago gained independence, becoming the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago. Today, island culture reflects the many cultures that have called Trinidad and Tobago home.

Trinidad & Tobago Lifestyle and Culture

Though the nation’s official language is English, Trinidadian Creole and Tobagonian Creole are the most widely spoken tongues. Both have been influenced by a variety of African languages.

Trinidad and Tobago is the birthplace of Caribbean Carnival, the colorful festival that has been copied throughout the region. Costumes are flamboyant and extravagant, decorated with sequins, feathers and energetic colors. Residents dance in the streets and compete in a variety of contests like limbo and stick fighting. Much of the dancing is to the rhythms of calypso, steelpan, soca, chutney and parang, all of which were also invented in this vibrant and creative nation.

But local culture is not all about celebratory parties. Two Nobel Prize–winning authors hail from Trinidad and Tobago: V.S. Naipaul and the St. Lucian–born poet Derek Walcott. Walcott’s Trinidad Theater Workshop is a mainstay of the nation’s arts scene.

Trinidad & Tobago Sights and Landmarks

The port city of Scarborough is the gateway to Tobago’s historic and cultural wonders. Along the island’s striking coast, Fort King George recalls Tobago’s past skirmishes. Built in the late 1700s and named after King George III, it is now a museum filled with Amerindian relics and numerous artifacts from Tobago’s colonial days. The grounds also offer stunning views of the Caribbean Sea.

Tobago’s natural beauty attracted the attention of filmmakers in 1958 when the Walt Disney Company selected the island as the setting for Swiss Family Robinson. The film includes shots taken from a number of locations, including Richmond Bay and Mount Irvine Bay. More island beauty lines the pathways of the lush botanical garden, where exotic flowers bloom in the Caribbean sun.

Port of Spain, the country’s capital, is located on the larger of the two islands, Trinidad. A variety of zoos, museums, galleries and more comprise the rich cultural offerings here. The Royal Botanic Gardens, among the oldest botanical gardens in the world, features trees from every continent on the planet—around 700 trees in all. Nearby, the Emperor Valley Zoo is home to over 200 species, including snakes, parrots, lions, macaws, tigers, and more. From the top of San Fernando Hill, located in the eponymous town, stunning views of the island, the Gulf of Paria and the Venezuelan mainland unfold.

Trinidad & Tobago Entertainment and Activities

The Botanic Gardens in Scarborough, the island of Tobago’s capital, are a delight to explore, a paradise of local flora along inviting pathways. Admire more blooms at the nearby orchid house, where several varieties are grown.

The beaches at Tobago’s Pigeon Point Heritage Park, with landscaped grounds, bars, restaurants and facilities, make for a comfortable and convenient idyll on powder-white sands.

Farther afield, the tiny fishing village of Charlotteville’s scenic Man of War Bay, dramatic rock formations and lush rainforest are among Tobago’s most impressive, unspoiled sights.

Trinidad & Tobago Restaurants and Shopping

The food of Trinidad and Tobago (sometimes called “Trinbagonian”) is among the most diverse in the Caribbean, drawing from Indian, Creole, Amerindian, European and African traditions. Curried crab and dumplings is the nation’s signature dish. But the doubles (curried chickpeas sandwiched between lightly fried bread) and gyros (pockets filled with spit-roasted meat) are also worth a try.

For a diverse sampling of island fare, visit the Tobago’s Watermill restaurant in Mount Pleasant. You will likely find the lobster is succulent here, elegantly presented and fresh. Scarborough’s Blue Crab offers home-cooked meals and friendly local service in an intimate terrace setting. Sample the beloved East Indian dish roti, ground split peas in a wrap served with curries for dipping at Rena Chatack Roti Shop, also in Scarborough.

Tobago’s largest city is also home to local markets selling fresh fruit, vegetables, fabrics and handicrafts. Opposite the harbor docks, browse the many stalls selling batik wall hangings and other textiles, guava jelly, tamarind chutney and countless other local goods. Explore the surrounding streets for more selections.