Trinidad + Tobago See And Do
Trinidad's 430 species of rare and exotic birds, including the scarlet ibis and the oilbird, draw a big binoculars crowd. Caroni Swamp Bird Sanctuary, a short drive from Port of Spain, is the place to spot flocks of ibis. They come to roost in the swamp's rookeries around sunset; 4 pm tours with Nanan's Bird Sanctuary Tours take you to watch them swoop in by the flock-full. The island's rainforest harbors a host of birds and other animals, including agouti, iguanas, howler monkeys, and armadillos. Asa Wright Nature Centre allows easy access into the mountain forest and, along with Aripo Caves, is a prime location for spotting cave-dwelling oilbirds.
Trinidad and Tobago
It's the biggest in the Caribbean and it goes on for weeks—if you count activity in the Mas Camps (masquerade bands), make that all year. Preparation begins in earnest sometime before Christmas, depending upon when Easter and Ash Wednesday fall, with steel drum band practices, warm-up parties, and events. The Chutney Soca Monarch Competition, a face-off between players of East Indian chutney music combined with calypso and soca, takes place early in the season and is great to see. Throughout the season you'll find 20 or so calypso tents open most nights—try The All-Stars and Spektakula. There are daily events closer to Mardi Gras, with the selection of National Pan and Junior Calypso champs and the Carnival King and Queen contests being highlights. Carnival proper kicks off on the Sunday night before Ash Wednesday with Dimanche Gras, which segues into J'Ouvert at 4 am Monday, when each parade band is smeared in different colored muds and hits the streets. The processions of bands and people in costume eventually culminates in Queen's Park Savannah, Port of Spain.
Trinidad and Tobago
A mere half hour northwest from Port of Spain's bustling business center is the peninsula of Chaguaramas, a yacht and recreation haven in the cadre of a national park and quiet village. Watersports enthusiasts are well catered for with plenty of parasailing, jet skiing, windsurfing, and Chinese dragon boating. There's a nine-hole golf course cradled between mountains, hiking trails, mountain biking, plus a couple of beaches. Escape further by catching a boat to offshore islands where you can descend into the depths of a limestone cave, have a beach picnic, visit a lighthouse, and bird watch.
Trinidad and Tobago
Trinidad's proximity to South America (to which it was once joined) plus the diversity of its habitats have given it by far the most species of flora and fauna in the West Indies. The Northern Range—3,000 feet high at its tallest peak, El Cerro del Aripo—is mostly covered in tropical rainforest. It provides especially good vantage points for catching sight of some of the 108 species of mammals, 430 birds, 55 reptiles, 25 amphibians, and 617 butterflies (and a few tarantulas) who make their home on Trinidad. Well-marked trails through the rainforest lead off from the Asa Wright Nature Centre. If you're more in the mood for bushwhacking, leaders from The Pathmaster—an organization of professional rainforest guides—will take you on day-long or week-long excursions through tropical jungles and along the Northern Range. For a simple bird-watching trip, you can take a boat out with Nanan's Tours on Caroni Marsh to see the hundreds of scarlet ibis come home to roost at sunset—an incredible sight.
Trinidad and Tobago
Trinidad's Northern Range, where El Cerro del Aripo is the island's tallest peak at 3,000 feet, is the backdrop to the island's Caribbean shoreline. You'll find beautiful beaches, gnarly surfing, and, during the summer season, mammoth leatherback turtles coming ashore to nest at night. Closest to Port of Spain, Maracas Bay's wide stretch of tawny sands along the north shore is most popular. It's also known for its shark-and-bake shacks. Nearby, Las Cuevas and Blanchisseuse bays also make spectacular beach destinations.
Trinidad's modern capital, Port of Spain, is also the country's undisputed hub of commerce, with petroleum-financed skyscrapers packed among gingerbread-trim cottages and bustling open-air markets. The waterfront is the best place to grasp the city's orientation, with barges plying the harbor and development shooting outward toward the hills. From the waterfront, it's an easy ten-minute walk to Woodford Square, a grassy central plaza abutting the Red House, home of Trinidad's parliament. The Magnificent Seven, a cluster of spectacularly faded colonial mansions dating back to the early 1900s in a hodgepodge of styles (French Baroque and neo-Romanesque), line Maraval Road to the northwest. The vast Queen's Park Savannah—site of Carnival's culmination each year—is the verdant heart of the city (exercise caution here at night). On the south side of the park, there's a free National Museum and Art Gallery, with exhibitions tracing the arc of Trinidadian history from Amerindian times through the colonial era. The northern end of the park hosts a modest zoo, the president's palace, and the Royal Botanic Gardens, among the oldest in the Western Hemisphere.
Just a three-hour ferry ride northeast of Trinidad, the 116-square-mile island of Tobago is well loved for its beaches, diving, verdant countryside, and bird watching. The island's best beaches front the Caribbean Sea, from the vendor-lined Store Bay, Pigeon Point, and Sandy Point on the southwestern tip to the village of Castara and gorgeous Englishman's Bay on the north coast. Take a boat from Pigeon Point to see the Nylon Pool—on her honeymoon, Princess Margaret announced the color was so crazy blue it looked like nylon, and the name stuck.
The interior of the island is dominated by the 14,000-acre Main Ridge Forest Reserve, the oldest nature reserve of its kind in the Western Hemisphere. Today, Main Ridge is renowned for its diverse bird life (tiny Tobago is home to approximately 210 species), including such winged wonders as blue-backed manakins and white-tailed sabrewings, a hummingbird found only on Tobago and in Venezuela. Retired game warden Newton George, one of Tobago's most accomplished naturalists, can help you boost your life list (Speyside; 868-660-5463; www.newtongeorge.com).
Scuba divers head to the northeast coast, anchored by the village of Speyside and its handful of dive-oriented guesthouses and rustic resorts. The coastline here on the Atlantic is rockier with rougher waves than the Caribbean coast. Little Tobago Island, a sanctuary for red-billed tropicbirds, lies offshore; the waters in between, with their Volkswagen-sized brain coral and population of manta rays, are popular with divers.
Tobago's hilly capital, Scarborough, can be walked from end to end in an hour. There are busy docks and a daily market, stores, and bars. You may feel it's all more for the residents than the visitors, although you're certainly welcome to share. At dusk, climb up to Fort King George to take in the total dearth of neon and high-rises. The Tobago Museum inside the fort's old guardhouse is worth a visit on weekdays (868-639-3970).
The last two weeks of July are devoted to the Tobago Heritage Festival, with daily events and festivities throughout the island showcasing Tobago history and culture. The island's singular, most surreal spectacle—the Buccoo Goat Races—is held annually on the Tuesday after Easter Sunday. Begun in 1925 as a working-class response to horse racing, the races feature nimble goats goaded along by barefoot jockeys vying for hundreds of dollars in prize money. And it's no lark: Buccoo debuted a $16-million track for the races in 2010, with a starting gate, turf course, and grandstands where the wagering is fast and furious.—Updated by Chris Cox.