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Trinidad and Tobago: The Rough Guide (Rough Guides) Paperback – 29 Oct 1998
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A handbook to the diverse Caribbean nation that comprises the small island of Tobago and its more rural and much larger neighbour, Trinidad. Features include: critical listings of the best places to stay and eat; practical tips on how to explore; and coverage of the islands' cultural life.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Where to go
As different as chalk and cheese but welded together for the convenience of the British empire, Trinidad and Tobago share little more than their status as a republic. Known chiefly as an island of oil refineries and metropolitan verve, Trinidad offers culture, ethnic diversity, music, great food and a wealth of gorgeous beaches. A more conventional holiday destination, Tobago boasts archetypal Caribbean beaches thronged by hotels of every budget, water sports, "international" restaurants and a rapidly developing resort ethic. It's impossible to get a full picture of all the republic has to offer without visiting both Trinidad and Tobago, but a regular plane and ferry service make it possible to see the best of both even during a short stay.
A visit to Trinidad will inevitably begin in Port of Spain, the brash, bustling capital and centre of Carnival. With its museums, art galleries and restaurants, the best of local music and art, and most of the island's accommodation, this urbane metropolis is a natural base from which to explore the rest of the country. Chaguaramas to the west is the capital's playground, a national park with a string of upmarket open-air clubs providing lively, sophisticated nightlife. For the ultimate escape, however, it's not far to the rocky, wooded islands of the Bocas.
A sweeping curve of powdery sand and powerful waves, Maracas Bay is the first of many gorgeous beaches that make the north coast the most popular region with Trinidadians in search of rest and recreation. Between Blanchisseuse and Matelot runs a long stretch of completely undeveloped coastline - thirty kilometres of footprint-free sand and total seclusion - while the coastline further east is spectacularly rugged.
Dominated by the densely forested peaks of the Northern Range, the northern interior offers excellent hiking along hunters' trails. The bird-watching is superb; even the lazy can see up to forty unusual species in a morning from the verandah of the Asa Wright Nature Centre. South of the hills, the traffic-choked Eastern Main Road links the capital with the sizeable town of Arima - home to the island's last remaining Caribs - and provides access to swimmable rivers, caves, and the oldest Benedictine monastery in the Caribbean, from which you get an awesome view of the unravelling plains below.
Dominated by flat agricultural plains with a population of primarily Indian descent, central Trinidad provides a fascinating contrast to the north. From the ethereal Waterloo Temple to the busy commercial centre of Chaguanas, Indian culture predominates. Just forty minutes from Port of Spain lies one of the island's richest natural attractions, the mangrove labyrinth of Caroni Swamp, home of the striking national bird, the scarlet ibis. On the east coast, the protected wetlands at Nariva are the habitat of manatee and anacondas, while four kilometres of fine brown sand lined by groves of coconut palms make Manzanilla a favourite spot to recover from the rigours of Carnival.
The burgeoning commercial city of San Fernando is a friendly base from which to explore Trinidad's "deep south", an area largely unvisited by tourists. Modern oil towns such as Fyzabad contrast with the picturesque fishing villages and calm, deserted beaches of Cedros and Erin, and Mayaro Bay on the southeast coast - a stunning, palm-fringed stretch of powdery sand. Just behind the coast, the rolling Southern Range provides an impressive location for the Trinity Hills Wildlife Reserve, home to strange bats and a huge mud lake.
Most people travelling to Tobago head for the translucent waters, coral reefs and excellent facilities of the island's low-lying western tip, staying in one of the hundreds of hotels slung along the coastline and playing golf on the island's lone, palm-studded green. The island's vibrant capital, Scarborough offers a more genuine picture of local life with its market and historic fort, while the rugged windward or Atlantic coast is best known for the waterfall at Argyll and the island's best scuba diving at Speyside. Heavily visited by day-trippers, the leeward or Caribbean coast is lined by a precipitous snake of tarmac that passes unspoilt fishing villages and gorgeous beaches at Castara and Englishman's Bay, while Charlotteville in the northwest is the perfect retreat, a picturesque fishing centre that tumbles down a hillside to a couple of pretty horseshoe beaches.
When to go
Most people visit T&T between January and March, when Carnival explodes into life, the trees are in blossom and the climate is at its most forgiving: the sun shines, rain is rare and the nights are cool. By May, however, the lack of rain has parched the formerly lush landscape: greens turn to yellow, dust clouds put the views into soft focus and bush fires rage through the hills. The only relief from the aridity takes the form of brief, sudden tropical rainstorms. At the end of May, the rainy season sets in, and it's not unknown for the skies to open with dramatic deluges that can last weeks. The rainy season often continues into December, but there's usually a respite from the downpours in September, a period of hot sunshine and blue skies known as the petit carem. It's an excellent time to visit, with flights at low season rates, though you'll find the resorts a little quiet. Officially, the high season (Dec 15-April 15) should mean hiked hotel rates in both islands, but in reality, only Tobago hoteliers bother with two rates, and many smaller hotels charge the same all year round in both islands. Many hotels in and around Port of Spain, however, put up their rates during Carnival week.
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