Trinidad and Tobago

Unlikely Twins

Trinidad and Tobago was to be the second island nation on our Caribbean adventure. While we chose it as convenient entry point to visit other islands of the Lesser Antilles, getting there from Curaçao almost didn’t happen thanks to InselAir (see our article on Curaçao). While we are still waiting for a refund, we thankfully found a non-stop flight with Surinam Airways at a reasonable price despite the short notice. I had never heard of Surinam Airways before, but can report that it was a pleasant experience.

All in all, we spent five nights on the island of Trinidad and four nights on the island of Tobago.

Trinidad

As we flew into Piarco International Airport, sitting on the left hand side of the aircraft, we saw first a few small hilly islands, followed by a mountainous coast with thick jungle-like vegetation that slowly turned into a massive urban sprawl stretching along the mountain range and into the lowlands all the way to the airport. This was Port of Spain (or POS), the nation’s capital.

Stepping out of the airport, we were greeted by a cacophony of voices… taxi, taxi, taxi??? We had planned to take a bus or combination of Arouca route taxi and red-band maxi taxi to Downtown Port of Spain, but as it was a public holiday, buses weren’t running, and we couldn’t find the route taxi either, despite the description of them by the Tourist Office staff. As it was late afternoon and Port of Spain has a pretty bad reputation (especially after dark), we decided to fork out the money and take a taxi to our AirBnB in Woodbrook. There is an official taxi desk as you exit the Arrivals area, with a big board of the fares to the various destinations (ours was USD35).

Queen's Park Savannah, Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago

Our AirBnB accommodation was super-central (just off Ariapita Avenue – the party strip – especially during carnival), yet nice and quiet. From here, we

  • explored Downtown, checking out (scruffy) Independence Square and the market on Charlotte Street;
  • picked up Paul’s race number from COSTAAT (the College of Science, Technology and Applied Arts of Trinidad & Tobago) – he had signed up for a 5k road race the following Sunday (which he finished fourth in his age group at just over 20 minutes);
  • walked halfway around Queen’s Park Savannah, stopping at the Botanical Gardens and the Magnificent Seven (seven historical buildings, some renovated some dilapidated and in desperate need of repair); and
  • tried our first roti at Dopson’s Roti on Maraval Road (we had better ones on Tobago – see below).

We had also planned to do a day drive across the Northern Range with a guided tour at Asa Wright Nature Centre, followed by a drive along Las Cuevas and Maracas Bay (one big loop back to POS). Unfortunately, thanks to Europcar, our day trip (on April Fool’s Day which also happened to be our sixth anniversary) never materialised. Sometimes you have days when everything seems to be jinxed… this was one of those.

Paul had played with the thought to go and watch a cricket match at the Queens Park Oval (which was only a few blocks away from our accommodation)… Now that our day tour had fallen through, the decision was made for us. It was the fourth of four T20 matches between the West Indies and Pakistan. I had never been to a live cricket match (I keep forgetting the rules… that’s how interested I am in the sport). But I must say I really enjoyed it… the view from our seats was great, the atmosphere infectious and the match anything but boring. Paul and I supported the West Indies, but Pakistan won (pretty tight, but deservedly).

West Indies verses Pakistan T20 Cricket Game, Port of Spain
COSTRAAT 5km Race in Port of Spain, Trinidad

Tobago

When Paul booked the ferry to Tobago there were two options – one early in the morning and one in the evening. I somehow ignored the fact that it would take three hours to get across and only realised it the night before (which doesn’t make for a good night’s sleep if you don’t like travelling by boat). To make matters worse, we had agreed to take the early ferry (which was to leave at 0630h). The ticket stated that you had to be at the ferry terminal two hours before departure. Now, we are in the Caribbean… no one here adheres to schedules… no one, but Paul. So after a very short night, we ended up being the first passengers checking in at 0425h (!!!). If you have your ticket already, and only need to check in and board, don’t bother turning up so early… you’ll just sit around waiting (thanks Paul).

At least the boat was a humongous catamaran – the T&T Spirit (it’s also a car ferry) and the sea was calm, so the crossing was easy. The other catamaran, the T&T Express, seems to be broken down so they bought a Cargo Ship (the Superfast Galicia) to replace it (at least temporarily). We saw the Cargo Ship on the way back and even in calm seas, that boat rolls significantly more than the catamaran.

T&T Spirit Ferry

Our arrival in Tobago brought about the same chaos that greeted us in Piarco… taxi, taxi, taxi??? Our AirBnB hosts had sent us some detailed instructions, but when we talked to the drivers, they asked for TTD70 while it shouldn’t cost more than TTD20 for the two of us, according to our hosts. Eventually (after reconfirming the price with our hosts), one of the drivers grumpily accepted our TTD20 note. Turns out he lived just around the corner from our hosts, and the fare set by the Western Tobago Taxi Association was actually TTD7pp. Sadly, we discovered the legitimate fare only on the day we left, as every single time we took a shared taxi, they tried to rip us off.

While our Tobago AirBnB wasn’t as centrally located, our hosts were super hospitable. After the debacle with Europcar, we were happy to follow our hosts recommendation for a local company (which even provided drop-off / pick-up service).

Castara, Trinidad and Tobago
Paul at Fort George in Tobago

So what did we get up to on Tobago?

  • We spent a lovely afternoon walking around Crown Point, visiting Fort Milford, tasting some Shark & Bake and swimming at Store Bay beach.
  • We had the best ever roti to date at a small local place just around the corner from our AirBnB (Japia Roti Diner at Robert Trace Ext in Mt Pleasant). It was so good we went there twice in four days.
  • We drove around the whole island in one day… up the west coast with a stop at Mt Dillion lookout, a coffee break in Castara and beautiful views over Parlatuvier Bay, before heading inland and across to the east coast, chatting with a cricket-mad ranger (Fitzroy – he knew all the New Zealand players from the 80s) and buying some home-made cakes from two lovely local ladies at the Main Ridge Forest Reserve. Once on the east coast, we continued travelling north, first to Speyside (where you can see author Ian Fleming’s house on Goat Island and Little Tobago across the bay) and then further to Charlotteville, where we had a yummy fried tuna lunch at a local beach shack called Papaye. Driving down the east coast all way back home, we enjoyed some gorgeous vistas across the Atlantic Ocean along the way. The roads are very windy and narrow but the driving style of the locals is relaxed and the trip is easily doable (Tobago is only 42km from top to bottom).
  • We enjoyed spectacular views over Scarborough and beyond from Fort King George.
  • We visited the Grafton Caledonia Bird Sanctuary… which looked abandoned when we arrived at around 1545h, but a few minutes later, many birds turned up at the feeding area (like clockwork) and at 1600h, an older local guy walked up (he seems to live in the house up the front) to feed the birds. We ended up seeing many Cocoricos (as the national bird of Tobago is called), a few Trinidad Mot Mots, Bananaquits and Blue-Grey Tanagers.
  • For our last afternoon, we had organised a glass-bottom boat / snorkel tour to Buccoo Reef. Without going into detail here (read our TripAdvisor review instead)… this trip was hands down the worst we have ever done.
Speyside Water Wheel

The verdict

First some good news: There were hardly any mosquitos on Trinidad or Tobago, and my gazillion mozzie bites from Curaçao were able to heal up. Our travel costs were neither the cheapest nor the most expensive Caribbean island we have visited so far.

Now sadly, some bad news: There are hardly any white people on Trinidad and Tobago, so we stuck out like a sore thumb. We encounter people who take the colour of our skin as an invitation to try and rip us off all the time. While we can often laugh it off, in Trinidad and Tobago, it got annoying… to the point that it actually left a sour taste when it comes to the question whether we liked, would return and even recommend Trinidad and Tobago to others. Thankfully, we met lovely locals that proved not everyone was like that.

As with Curaçao (but for different reasons), we could not imagine ourselves living in Trinidad or Tobago. Out of the two islands, we liked Tobago the most. It seemed more beautiful and felt more laid back and less threatening than it’s larger sibling (we walked from the ferry terminal in Port of Spain to the taxi stand at Independence Square just after 1930h, and the area felt very sketchy).

Would we return? Quite likely, at least to Tobago… We still gotta try one of the hikes in the Main Ridge Forest Reserve (and there is lots more too)… maybe even to Trinidad to see more than just Port of Spain. We’ll see…