Features(Archives)

Jul
28
2015
Volume
3-5

From Fort McMurray to Trinidad & Tobago: Tropical Adventures Await!

(1 Vote)

Trinidad & Tobago – it’s a true paradise, as I recently discovered on a tropical getaway to this southernmost island in the Caribbean.

Departing with Air Canada from Fort McMurray, I met with Allison Ferguson from the Tourism Development of Trinidad & Tobago, and four other media representatives in Toronto. From there, our group boarded a red-eye flight on Caribbean Air – a direct flight which delivered us to Trinidad at around 5 o’clock in the morning the next day.

 

We were met at the airport by Dalahi Mohammed, Tourism Development Company of Trinidad & Tobago, and Gail Mohammed, owners of Gail’s Exclusive Tour Services Limited. We drove through the streets of Trinidad and stopped at Green Market, where we had breakfast: cheese corn bread and coffee.

The Green Market is the place to be on Saturdays, such as when we arrived. There people are selling crafts, foods and drinks.

Driving through the streets of Trinidad – even at 7 in the morning – people were out and about. All this plus the steep green mountains made an amazing first impression.

 

The Beautiful Surroundings

Visitors are met with a diverse landscape featuring everything from lush tropical rainforests to coral sand beaches and grassy savannahs, in this place where 1.3 million people call home.
Trinidad & Tobago is bursting with cultural activities, eco adventure and culinary delights. This twin-island republic, located seven miles off Venezuela’s north eastern coast, is unique and unforgettable.
With an average temperature of 30° C, Trinidad & Tobago has two main seasons: the Dry Season, from January to May, and the Rainy Season, from June to December.
 
Trinidad is home to several unforgettable ecotourism attractions, lots of nightlife options, and an industrial presence including a robust energy sector and growing manufacturing industry.

A 25 minute flight from Trinidad will find you in Tobago – a lushly forested island surrounded by sparkling blue bays, as well as the oldest protected rainforest in the western hemisphere.

As our group discovered, Trinidad & Tobago’s diverse peoples and history has created a rich culture that just begs to be experienced!

 
The History

The Republic of Trinidad and Tobago was settled by Amerindians. In 1498, both islands were encountered by Christopher Columbus on this third voyage, and changed hands between the British, French, Dutch and Courlanders, but eventually ended up in British hands.  Although largely settled by the French, Trinidad remained a Spanish colony until 1797. In 1889 the two islands were incorporated into a single crown colony, obtained its independence from the British Empire in 1962, and became a republic in 1976.

Today, there are 1.3 million Trinidadians and Tobagonians, comprised of around 40 percent African, 40 per cent East Indian, and some European, Chinese or mixed descent peoples.

Hinduism was brought to Trinidad & Tobago by East Indians, and has resulted in some of the most original and architecturally beautiful temples in the world. The most famous are The Temple of the Sea and the Hanuman Temple, where the largest statue of the Hindu god, Hanuman – outside of India – resides.

A visit to the Angostura Distillery was a highlight of my visit. The history of this place is amazing. You can see the Emperor Butterfly collection and the historical items of the Seigert family line. On the Distillery tour, you get to see the production of Angostura Aromatic Bitters. Interesting fact: Only five people at any one time know the recipe for the bitters – which is a concoction of herbs, spices, barks and peels of fruits and trees…plus a secret ingredient. 

 
The Culture

Part of what sets Trinidad & Tobago apart is their natural and cultural treasures.

Trinidad boasts Carnival Festival, calypso, steelpan, the Asa Wright Nature Centre, Point Cumana, Blake & Shark, leatherback turtle nesting, bird watching, hiking, kayaking, Maracas Beach, Nobel Prize-winning author V.S. Naipaul and Mas’ Designer Peter Minshall.

Thanks to the Tobago Heritage Festival, Tobago Jazz Festival, Tobago Rainforest Reserve, the coral reefs, diving sites, sailing, tranquil and expansive beaches, birdwatching and leatherback turtle nesting, 

Tobago is just as culturally and naturally significant!

The islands of Trinidad & Tobago have two very different tones; Trinidad is an upbeat, fun island, while Tobago is more laid back

The rich and expansive culture truly represents its diverse peoples and history, from Carnival to calypso, steelpan to stick fighting.

Music and festivals are the way culture is expressed here, but arts are also important to culture. There is artwork on the cement walls of the streets. It’s very artistic and crafty.

 

The Focus on Industry (Reminds Us of Home)

While Tobago really relishes in the leisure tourism sector, Trinidad is enjoying an extended period of economic growth driven mainly by the energy sector and healthy investment focus. This is certainly something we know all about!

Because of its natural resources, location, communication links, financial system and democratic tradition, Trinidad has become of the Caribbean’s most secure investment locations. Virtually all barriers to trade and investment have been eliminated, making Trinidad the business hub of the region.

People here are very educated, and work hard. This is a place that has many amenities, malls, golf courses, and a hospital.

Like Fort McMurray, the success of the oil and gas industry has helped set the region apart, and has boosted the country’s economy. On the ocean you can see the oil drilling vessels. There’s a combination of the old culture, combining with the modern world.

The Amazing Accommodations

Finding amazing places to stay while visiting Trinidad & Tobago is not a tall order. In fact, I have at least three that I highly recommend:
 

Magdalena Grand Beach & Golf Resort in Tobago

This resort is a community of luxury suites and villas all around the Tobago Plantations, and features an 18 hole PGA-designed golf course.

There are many highlights at Magdalena: All rooms are ocean-view rooms. They have fine dining, the 18 hole golf course, and a dive pool…making it very memorable!


Hyatt Regency Trinidad

The Hyatt is full of luxury, and boasts a renowned lobby terrace overlooking the sparkling Caribbean waters.

The luxury did not go unnoticed by me. There is an infinity pool overlooking the ocean, live entertainment, delicious sushi and a drink called Trini Women that I really enjoyed.


Kapok in Trinidad

This locally-owned boutique hotel has been welcoming guests in Trinidad for 45 years. Within safe walking distance to Trinidad’s famous Carnival at the Queen’s Park in Savannah, it’s also close to other major attractions such as The Magnificent Seven, the Emperor Valley Zoo, and the Botanical Gardens.

Kapok is located in the city, and it’s nice and quiet. I could sit on my balcony and look in all directions. It was very clean, with professional staff. I especially loved the restaurant on the top floor!
 

The Entertainment

Trinidad is alive with nightlife, boasting lots of options for any taste, from Irish pubs, to live theatre and modern dance clubs. If Trinidad is the wildly beating heart of these two islands, though, Tobago must be the serene soul…just two hours away from Port of Spain by fast ferry, or 25 minutes via airplane.

Remember Carnival? It’s Trinidad’s national festival where dousing yourself in chocolate and joining in the fun is completely acceptable! Not quite your style? You can don a fabulous costume and join in the dancing, or simply stand by and watch the fun!

Our group was entertained by the steelpan – the heartbeat of music and culture in Trinidad & Tobago. While at the Magdalena, we enjoyed live entertainment where we heard the singers and saw the dancers.

As well, our group was treated to a different kind of Sunday School. When you think of Sunday School, you normally think of religion. Not in Tobago! Weekends in Buccoo mean the Sunday School Street Party. There are two acts: the first designed for visitors with steelpan music, together with food and crafts. The locals begin to arrive later in the evening with DJ music until the last person leaves.


The Out-Of-This-World Delicious Food

Let’s take a minute to talk about Shandy Carib – a local beer with local flavours.
The Brewery first introduced Shandy Carib in 1985. It was originally brewed with a ginger flavour, and then the Sorrel flavour came on the scene.

My favourite was the Lime Shandy. This is a very tasty, cooling drink!

‘LLB’ (lemon, lime and bitters) is a sparkling non-alcoholic beverage by Angostura, and you’ll quickly become addicted to in the Trini heat. Think citrus, fruity, tangy and refreshing, with a fresh lemon-lime aroma and taste, very similar to Sprite.

When visiting Trinidad & Tobago, get ready to dine on the mouth-watering savoury dishes, the fresh pastries, and bread from the traditional dirt ovens.

Tiki Village Restaurant, located in the gorgeous Kapok boutique hotel, had me raving upon my return back to Fort McMurray.  Not only does Tiki Village serve up the most breath-taking panoramic views in Trinidad from up in the treetops, but the Asian/Polynesian cuisines makes it a feast for the senses!

There’s certainly no shortage of amazing dining options. The Seahorse Inn has great ambience. We sat right by the ocean at this restaurant, and while enjoying a great meal, you listen to the ocean waves splashing on the beach.

Dining at Jemma’s Seaview Kitchen – a treehouse restaurant – was another culinary highlight. The Breadfruit pie isn’t a sweet dessert, but a savoury casserole-style dish, and it’s served up family-style. You also need to go for the macaroni pie. And yes, it’s exactly what it sounds like!


The Natural Attractions

Although Trinidad is considered an industrial giant, it’s also home to many amazing ecotourism attractions, such as the home of Scarlet Ibis and manatees – the Caroni Bird Sanctuary. Under the thick rainforest canopy, you’ll also find the Asa Wright Nature Centre – a birdwatchers’ paradise.

Gasparee Cave offers adventure right from the get-go. Traveling across Paria Bay will take give you the opportunity to see some dolphins in the wild! Once you arrive on the island of Gaspar Grande, a short 10 minute walk will find you through the dark opening to steel steps and platforms leading down 98 feet into the cave.  The limestone cave is full of stalactites and stalagmites, bats and the wondrous turquoise pool with streaks of golden coloured rocks. 

The sparking blue bays of Tobago’s waters are where you’ll find jaw-dropping reefs where 300 species of coral and colourful fish call home. As well, the island’s rugged spine is home to the oldest protected rainforest in the Western Hemisphere! Add that to the lush forests that cover Tobago, and the 210 species of birds that call Tobago home, and you’ve found yourself in paradise! 

What do you see in your tropical dream? Coconut trees, white sand, shockingly blue water? Pigeon Point is where you’ll find just that.  According to Discover Trinidad & Tobago (www.discovertnt.com), the water is calm and warm and shallow; the thatch huts shelter you from the sun; and the little bar and restaurant provide cold drinks and an easy meal.  Tobago’s most famous beach, its sparkling blue waters, fine white sand and thatched-roof jetty (recently removed) have graced many a postcard. Protected by Buccoo Reef, the calm waters make it ideal for families. Several watersports businesses operate here and along the entrance road; some glass-bottom boat tours also start from here. (There’s an entrance fee of TT$20)

Looking for some of the most breathtaking waterfalls around? Argyle Waterfall, located 25 kilometers from Scarborough, the capital of Tobago, is a six minute walk from the Windward Main Road. Here you can expect to see a huge variety of butterflies, spiders, lizards and snakes. Wild flowers, mango, cocoa, silk cotton trees and so much more make this a scene you must visit!


The New Friends

There’s something so exciting about traveling to new places and meeting new friends, and a trip to Trinidad and Tobago is the perfect opportunity for just that.

From the moment we arrived we were met with friendly, courteous and very professional people. They wanted us to experience the islands, but they wanted us to know that the islands were for relaxation.

The people I met in my travels were proud of their culture, and very knowledgeable. Gail, the owner of Gail’s Exclusive Tour Services Limited, made sure our tours were very entertaining! In fact, to say she went above and beyond would be an understatement.

Gail hosted a backyard gathering for us, where she cooked the traditional foods, made rum punch, and played calypso music. I would compare it to our parties at home, but in the true Caribbean style.
 

The Escape

With paradise like this only a few hours away, Trinidad and Tobago are a spectacular destination to relax in and get away from the busy everyday life! Zipping between islands is a breeze, too, with $55 flights departing every hour. 

If you’re looking for that perfect balance of adventure and relaxation, a trip to Trinidad & Tobago will hit all the marks.

As you can see, when it comes to adventures, relaxation, and new experiences, Trinidad & Tobago has so much to offer! A special thank-you to Allison Ferguson and Dahlia Mohammed from Trinidad & Tobago Tourism for allowing me to explore all that the islands have to offer and being wonderful guides and friends along the way! 

PAULINE KELLEY

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