If you’ve travelled from the far corners of the world to experience the world’s biggest 2-day street party in Trinidad and Tobago, then you’re probably quite familiar the rollicking costume parade, the infectious soca melodies spitting from big music trucks -did you ever know you could go so low?- and some of the most high energy parties you’ll ever go to.
So if you’re wake up on Ash Wednesday, a little inebriated and thinking what next? Don’t be concerned, there is plenty to see and do before you head back home.
Here is a list of my top favourite activities to do including a sampling the island’s rich culinary melange; being fascinated by the flora and fauna, exciting eco-adventures; diverse underwater seascapes and electrifying nightlife.
The Pitch Lake
It’s been called the 8th wonder of the world; and is usually described with an air of mystique, as a bottomless pit since it does not matter how much you take out of it, it simply fills right back up. The Pitch Lake is located in La Brea, a small village in southwest Trinidad. It is the largest natural deposit of asphalt in the world, holding approximately 10 million tonnes of asphalt. If you speak to the nearby villagers, it has also been referred to as a fountain of youth. With its high sulphur levels, the villagers claim the lake is great for curing a multitude of ailments.
Note: The experience is best when done with an official tour guide.
Tobago is a hop, skip and jump away from Trinidad, and can be reached by either ferry or by a 20min flight. If wide white sand beaches, turquoise blue water, tasty Creole cuisine is what you are craving; Tobago is the place to be. The smaller of the two islands boast a rich array of biodiversity and splendid dive sites. Due to its more laid back nature, it is a great balance to its more boisterous sister island of Trinidad.
Note: Tickets for flights to Tobago are best bought well in advance.
Asa Wright Nature Centre
The remarkable biodiversity of the islands, adds yet another dimension to the already long list of reasons to visit. The Asa Wright Nature Centre is an eco-resort, as well as a scientific research centre, located in the Arima and Aripo valley in the islands lush tropical northern range. Here you can find 97 native mammals, 400 birds, 55 reptiles, 25 amphibians, and 617 butterflies, as well as over 2,200 species of flowering plants.
Note: There are rooms for rent at the Asa Wright Centre and with a wonderful offering from the kitchen, you can make this visit a quiet weekend getaway.
Here are just a few of the dishes that you cannot leave the islands without sampling:
Doubles-A typical and ultra-popular street food; made with curried chickpeas, between two spicy flat breads or baras. Served with as many spiced condiments as it can hold. Eaten with your fingers and best accompanied by a second doubles.
Maracas beach Bake and Shark-Another famous street food or beach food. It is a fried dough sandwich served with pan-fried shark. But don’t forget to top it all off with loads of sauces, condiments, even pineapple and a green salad. Maracas Beach on the north coast is the best place to order up this island favourite.
Rum – In Trinidad rum is the liquid accompaniment to all many of our celebrations and good times. We even sing about it- Rum and Coca-Cola” is a popular calypso song composed by Lionel Belasco with lyrics by Lord Invader. Trinidad is also home to one of the most renowned rum distilleries in the world, House of Angostura, with its signature products 1919, 1824and 1787 all of which can be found at duty-free shops at Piarco International Airport upon departure.
Crab and dumplings– lovingly seasoned and curried local land crabs, sit on soft chewy flour steamed dumplings. This is a classic dish that should be enjoyed in Tobago, where some of the best crab and dumpling chefs reside.
Pelau– is a savoury one-pot Trinidadian favourite. Meat including chicken, beef or pigtails is first browned using “burnt sugar”(little past caramelization point), to which rice, fresh herbs, peas or beans, veggies and coconut milk are added resulting in the most comforting of dishes.
Roti-is one of the most popular meals in Trinidad and Tobago. This dish is the perfect meal on the go, as it is all wrapped up. A flour wrap is filled with various foods, including curried chicken, goat, shrimp, channa (chick-peas).There are different types of Roti including Dhalpouri, Dosti, Bus-up-shut (Paratha ) and Sada roti, all tasty, but you should judge for yourself.
Note: Other than street food the island has a thriving restaurant culture headed by some spectacular, internationally trained chefs.
Down the Islands
Isn’t it ironic that on the small twin islands of Trinidad and Tobago many locals seeking a quick retreat from the mainland busyness escape, “down the islands.” Just off the northwestern peninsula between Trinidad and Venezuela lies the Bocas islands. 5 minuscule islands that are the perfect size for a day or weekend trip, if fishing, swimming, hiking, snorkelling or just relaxing doing nothing is what you wish.
Note: Private boats are available for day trips, while if you wish to linger longer beautiful villas are always up for offer.
The Caroni Swamp is a wetland protected sanctuary and home to over 100 avian species. As well as a habitat for 20 endangered species all supported by the swamps rich biodiversity. Small guided boats navigate the many channels of the river revealing its many habitats, making for a wondrous day trip.
In Trinidad and Tobago, the main nesting season for the giant leatherback turtles runs from March to September of each year so you’re likely to have missed it if you are heading home directly after Carnival. But if you’re stretching your visit then the leatherback turtles can be easily spotted as they come ashore along the coast of small fishing villages on the northeast coast of Trinidad. In fact, the second largest leatherback turtle nesting site in the world is located in one such village at Grande Rivière. These marine marvels are protected, but local tour operators welcome the opportunity to give guided visits.
Note: Once you make it to one of these villages, idle awhile. A few days here is well spent enjoying life in a more rural and simple setting.
If you’ve made it to Ash Wednesday you would agree when I say that partying in Trinidad is an institution. As you would realise great attention is paid to blending just the right mix; be it entertainment, music, ambience, food and drink, people, etc, to ensure that everyone leaves satisfied. It’s no different when it comes to the island’s nightlife. The party culture here is vibrantly real and doesn’t just lay dormant after Ash Wednesday. In fact, nightlife pulses almost every day of the year and you will be spoilt with choices. From elegant lounges and restaurants to ear-splitting blaring clubs, laid-back groovy bars, dodgy watering holes. There is a place for the high-flyers and bar-flies and every other group in between. In Trinidad, the ultimate location is on, “The Avenue”. I am referring to Ariapita Avenue in the capital, Port of Spain. A night on the Avenue usually involves hopping in and out of the many bars, lounges, clubs, and restaurants located on the strip. Here you are guaranteed to find a hot spot or two to satisfy the nightcrawler in you.
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