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Ever take a trip that was long overdue? Well, that’s exactly what my recent trip to Trinidad was. I haven’t been since our family weekend in Tobago and my sister hasn’t been since 2004! After months of talking, we purchased flights and booked an Airbnb for 5 days in Trinidad.
Over the past 25 years visiting Trinidad, I’m always asking myself ‘what is there to do?’ and I try my best to have a different experience each trip. There’s actually a lot to do especially outside of the busy Carnival season. Like many other islands in the Caribbean, visiting Trinidad and Tobago is a two-for-one special as they are a dual island nation with neighboring islets, but there is little marketing for tourism in Trinidad. In fact, every time I attend the media marketplace at Caribbean Week NYC, visiting Tobago is emphasized. If you’re thinking about visiting Trinidad and Tobago, here are some travel tips for planning a trip to Trinidad & Tobago including things to do in Trinidad, day trips from Port of Spain, lodging options, and more.
Facts about Trinidad & Tobago
Trinidad and Tobago is the southernmost island in the Caribbean. Unlike most countries in the Caribbean, their main source of income is oil and gas instead of tourism. In addition to being the “Mecca” of Caribbean Carnivals, Trinidad and Tobago is the birthplace of the steel pan, limbo, and various styles of music including calypso, soca, parang, and chutney.
People & Language
The official language of Trinidad & Tobago is English and country has a mix of people of African, East Indian, Chinese, Native, and European descent.
Is Trinidad & Tobago Safe to Visit?
Due to conflicts in Venezuela, there is a mass migration of refugees fleeing to parts of the Americas and the Caribbean, including Trinidad and Tobago. The US Travel Advisory for Trinidad and Tobago issued for certain areas that regular tourists really have no business going to. Most locals are generally very friendly, make you feel at home, and love to share information about the country as a whole. If you’re staying in Port of Spain and visiting the famous Queens Park Savannah, it is recommended to stay on the outskirts instead of roaming around the park during the night.
Traveling to Trinidad
There are a number of direct flights to Trinidad from the United States on airlines such as JetBlue, American Airlines, Caribbean Airlines, and United Airlines. Other airlines flying to Port of Spain, Trinidad from other destinations include British Airways, WestJet, Surinam Airways, Copa, Virgin Atlantic, Air Canada, and Condor.
Best Time to Visit Trinidad and Tobago
If you’re visiting Trinidad and Tobago, the best time to visit is between January and May. High Season is during Carnival (February-March), Summer (July-August), and holidays like Christmas and Easter.
Is Trinidad & Tobago Expensive?
If you’re visiting Trinidad for Carnival or not, the most money you will be spending is for flight and accommodations. In the past seven years, I’ve paid between $300-$700 for non-stop roundtrip flights from NYC to Port of Spain with the most expensive flight being for Carnival (and that was a STEAL). Accommodation prices range between $50-200+/night depending on where you stay and the time of year. Below was the exchange rate around the time of our trip:
$1 USD = $6.75 TT
$1 CAD = $5.14 TT
€1 EUR = $7.54 TT
£1 GBP = $8.40 TT
Prior to checking into our Airbnb in Trinidad, we went to Tru Valu Supermarket by the San Juan Croisée (Pronounced Sah-Wah Quay-say) to pick up items for breakfast and water for the duration of our stay. I forgot to bring cash and used my travel credit card and much to my surprise, it was a little over $10 USD. Because portions were big, we shared most lunches and dinners with food prices ranging between $45 and $120 TT with drinks. Individual light bites and snacks purchased in town were between $5-$15 TT. Tobago, on the other hand, caters to tourists so prices may be higher in restaurants and attractions
Getting Around Trinidad
If you’re not a fan of public transportation, you can rent a car in Trinidad, but be prepared for traffic and narrow roads in certain areas. Options to hire a private driver or private taxi is also available. If you’re not comfortable driving on the left side of the road, getting around via route taxi is very affordable. We did a combination of walking in town, using tours that included pick up and drop off close to our Airbnb, rides from family, taking route taxis, and maxi taxis. Route taxis are shared with locals and were $5 TT per person to and from downtown Port of Spain to our Airbnb. The maxi taxi from San Juan to Port of Spain was $4 TT each. To differentiate route taxis from regular drivers, hired vehicles, maxi taxis, and buses have an “H” on their license plate while private vehicles have a “P”. It is common for private vehicles to operate as route taxis, just use your best judgment when taking them. Buses, also affordable are available at City Gate on South Quay, but they aren’t that frequent. You can get route information on their official website.
Planning a Trip to Trinidad – Where to Stay in Trinidad
As mentioned prices for hotels and guest houses in Trinidad range from $50-200+ a night. Since we were already familiar with getting around via route taxi, we stayed in an Airbnb in St. Anns. St Anns Oasis had the most tranquil setting, located right next to the Royal Botanical Gardens, close to restaurants, Massy Grocery Store, walking distance to the Queens Park Savannah, and downtown Port of Spain so we got to check for family, eat good food, roam around town, and relax on our own terms. It also included a washer and dryer with detergent and fabric softener so we went home with clean clothes. The common area on the property included the pool and garden area. A benefit to staying during the time of our visit was having the area to ourselves. Our hosts Ms. Carole and Adrian also provided some local snacks, juices, teas, coffee, milk, and water in our bungalow at no additional cost.
If you’re looking for traditional hotels in Port of Spain, the Hyatt Regency, Hilton, and Courtyard by Marriott are good options. There are also boutique hotels in Trinidad like Kapok, Hotel Normandie, and The Chancellor Hotel. I stayed at the Marriott for a weekend wedding back in 2012 and had a nice experience with the property and staff. The price of food and drinks were overpriced, but that is expected when staying at a hotel.
Best Things to do in Port of Spain, Trinidad
The best thing about us planning a trip to Trinidad was finding things to do. A big part of the trip was to relax so activities were during the day with afternoons and evenings free for pool time at our Airbnb and visiting family. Below are some things to do in Port of Spain if you have a long layover, visiting Trinidad for the first time or are taking a cruise to Trinidad and Tobago. Most of them are free things to do in Port of Spain, Trinidad or activities that won’t break your pockets.
Experience Trinidad Carnival
Most of my trips to Trinidad have been outside of Carnival. A trip to Trinidad for Carnival is expensive, but experiencing and playing mas is worth it. A lot of people suggest visiting other carnivals in North America like Miami Carnival, Caribana or on other islands like The Bahamas, Barbados, Jamaica, Grenada, or St. Lucia to “prep”, but there’s NOTHING like Trinidad Carnival. The country has been celebrating since the 18th century. The mas, music, fetes, and experience is also different in each country and city. In between all the partying, PLEASE be conscious of the cultural aspects of the festivities and to respect its participants. It is a celebration of freedom and culture, not an opportunity to shame or disrespect.
Visit Independence Square & Downtown Port of Spain
Independence Square aka Brian Lara Promenade is named after one of the best players on the West Indies Cricket team. Downtown Port of Spain is home to Trinidad’s own”twin towers”, Ferry service to Tobago, the Trinidad and Tobago Stock Exchange, and a number of sites and landmarks. Here you can buy food, people watch, shop in local boutiques, mini-malls, and catch taxis, and the bus to other cities on the island. Although this area is typically busy 24/7, its best for tourists to visit the area during the day.
See The Magnificent Seven
The Magnificent Seven is a block of mansions close to the Queens Park Savannah built between 1902 and 1910. The buildings include Queen’s Royal College, Hayes Court, Mille Fleurs, Ambard’s House, Archbishop’s Palace, White Hall, and Stollmeyer’s Castle.
Visit the National Museum and Art Gallery
Established in 1892 as the Royal Victoria Institute, the National Museum and Art Gallery is the national museum of Trinidad and Tobago. Visitors can learn a wealth of information about the country from its first settlers to the present at no cost. There are seven major galleries in the National Museum and Art Gallery including Art, Social History, Natural History, Economic History, Petroleum, and Geology.
Hang out in the Queens Park Savannah
Home of the Grand Stand during Carnival and other festivals, the Savannah is the largest open recreational space in Trinidad & Tobago. Although it isn’t “round” the Queens Park Savannah is also arguably the largest roundabout in the world. Locals and visitors go to the Savannah to play football (soccer), jog, walk or get tasty eats from food vendors at the Open Air Food Court.
Visit the Emperor Valley Zoo
If you’re planning a trip to Trinidad and Tobago with kids, the Emperor Valley Zoo is just north of the Savannah. The zoo is home to over 200 species of local and foreign animals including reptiles, various birds, primates, and more.
Lime & Dine on De Avenue
A “lime” or “liming” is a Trinidadian term for hanging out. Ariapita Avenue is the place to be any day of the week for bar hopping, good food, and a nice lime. Click here for some bar and restaurant recommendations.
See the Royal Botanic Gardens
Located adjacent to our Airbnb and the Emperor Valley Zoo, the Royal Botanic Gardens were established in 1818. It is also one of the oldest Botanic Gardens in the world. 13% of over 700 trees planted in the gardens are indigenous to Trinidad and Tobago, while others are collected from every continent of the world. Visiting the Royal Botanic Gardens is also free and great for walks, picnics, and photos from 6 AM-6 PM daily.
Visit Fort George
As previously mentioned each trip to Trinidad & Tobago, I try my best to do a new activity or have a different experience. This time my sister and I took a trip to Fort George. Not to be confused with Fort King George in Tobago, Fort George was built in 1804 to protect the city of Port of Spain from any potential military threats. The military retired it in 1846 because it never saw any conflict. It still is home to a signal station with the fort’s original cannons and dungeons as well as photos and model display of what it looked like back in the day. Fort George is open daily from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. It also has picnic tables for a nice afternoon or sunset lime. On a clear day, you can even see as far out as Venezuela.
Take a Day Trip from Port of Spain
Of course, there’s more to Trinidad than visiting Port of Spain. There are a lot of attractions in Trinidad centered around nature including the Caroni Bird Sanctuary and the Asa Wright Nature Centre and Lodge. Located in La Brea, Pitch Lake is the largest natural deposit of asphalt in the world. Tourist can visit the museum and the actual asphalt lake with official tour guides. Trinidad is the second largest leatherback nesting site in the world. Turtle Watching is a popular attraction on both islands and nesting season is from March to September, while peak hatching season from June to August. If you have enough time, visit Tobago for a day trip or weekend for snorkeling, diving, and other beach and water activities.
Popular Beaches in Trinidad
Tobago has some of the best beaches, but there are popular beaches in Trinidad too. The closest beaches to Port of Spain are Maracas Bay Beach, Macqueripe Bay, and Las Cuevas Bay which is about 45 min-1 hour away. If you have more time to spend in the country, take a trip to Manzanilla, Sans Souci, or Mayaro.
I hope this travel guide to Trinidad was helpful and inspired you to take a trip to Trinidad and Tobago. I know this was a lot of information so if you’re planning a trip to Trinidad for Carnival or for a regular vacation, pin this post for future reference.