Nestled between 10° 2’ – 11° 12′ N & 60° 30′ – 61° 56′ W, these bearings align the Twin Island Republic of Trinidad & Tobago as the two most southerly isles of the Caribbean.

While an inordinate number of tourists visit the Caribbean annually, the country of Trinidad & Tobago (T & T) is still very much untouched by mass tourism as compared to many popularly known destinations in the region. Of the two islands, Tobago is more widely recognized as the island with the tourism products, however, Trinidad is an island with countless, natural & historical attractions.

Owing to the fact that Trinidad & Tobago is an energy rich country with also a large manufacturing sector, tourism, particularly in Trinidad, was never rigorously marketed internationally. However, there is a need to diversify the economy, so Trinidad & Tobago are on a niche market Tourism Drive.

History

Trinidad is strategically poised approximately 13km off the South American Mainland, most notably that of Venezuela. This leads to the unique aspect  that physically (geologically) Trinidad is an off-shore South American island, while socially and diplomatically categorized as West Indian.

Due to its cigar shape, and the fact that Tobacco was grown extensively on the island, Tobago was called Tobaco by the native Carib Indians. Tobago, which is a Pearl of an island in the West Indian chain of islands and is situated about 35km N.E. off Trinidad, its sister island.

Trinidad was initially known as Ieri, a Native Indian name for Hummingbird giving credence to 17 varieties found on the island. Christopher Columbus renamed the island, La Isla de la Trinidad (The Island of the Trinity) upon his New World discovery on his third voyage, thus claiming Trinidad for Spain. Interestingly, some 390 years later in 1888, when under British Rule, these two islands were unified primarily for easier administrational purposes.

Having gained independence from England in 1962, Trinidad & Tobago also became a Republic in 1976 (no longer subjected to allegiance to Her Majesty Queen of England) with a President as Head of State and Prime Minister as Head of Government. Nonetheless, T&T are active members to both the British Commonwealth League of Nations and Organization of American States.

Many people would have heard of paradise, Tobago Island, with its crystal clear waters, international diving sites, white sandy beaches and attractive Beach Resorts that line the picturesque, southern coastlines. Equally, thousands of tourists flock to Trinidad for its internationally recognized Carnival which is the country’s largest cultural, tourism export. Adding to popularity, many international energy companies invest in Trinidad since it is an Oil & Gas rich nation.

Happy explorers at the untouched Paria Waterfall. Photo:  Ivan Charles

Happy explorers at the untouched Paria Waterfall.
Photo: Ivan Charles

The historical geography that made Trinidad

To obtain the essence of Trinidad, one has to pinpoint its complex natural & social history that has underpinned its diversity. Firstly understanding Trinidad is a synonym for diversity as it naturally separated from Venezuela as little as 10,000 – 15,000 years ago due to the melting of glaciers which resulted in a rise in ocean levels, along with an area of subduction, Trinidad is classified as a young island. However, its premiere Northern Mountain Range is simply an extension of that ancient, Andean Mountain Chain of the Paria Peninsular in Venezuela. The natural eco systems within its Northern Mountain Range are literally, “as old as the hills.”

Many of the island’s wildlife i.e. birds (over 465), reptiles (e.g. over 44 varieties of snakes), mammals (e.g. Red Howler & White Fronted Capuchin monkeys) to name a very few, are all South American in origin. Trinidad is comprised basically of sedimentary rocks which differs greatly to many of its neighbouring islands which are Volcanic or Coral in origin.

The attractions for the tourist

Columbus described Trinidad as a, “Green Island.” With such an apt description, one can imagine a densely, forested island with sustained, natural attractions. There are rivers serpentining through mountains, cascading as waterfalls and eerie; river gorges for swimming through, in an environment teeming with lush greenery. These watery destinations can be reached either by Hiking or Mountain Biking on original trails that were once used by Native Indians to connect villages and on utility roads that were used in the Plantation Era.

Internationally known Caves housing eleven species of Bats, Oilbirds and natural; creative limestone formations of stalagmites & stalactites. Here one finds the internationally protected Ramsar fresh and brackish wetlands populated either with Mangroves or Palm Trees. These wetlands are home to numerous local or migratory birds as they traverse both northern & southern hemispheres. An evening boat cruise can be taken amidst a Mangrove Swamp to sight large flocks of Trinidad’s National Bird – The Scarlet Ibis – returning to roost in Mangrove Islands.

Kayaking inside a mangrove swamp. Caroni Bird Sanctuary. Photo: Ivan Charles

Kayaking inside a mangrove swamp. Caroni Bird Sanctuary.
Photo: Ivan Charles

Leatherback Turtles and beaches

With the advent of the exposed windward side of the island, water and wave actions can be quite turbulent at times. This environment, along with extensive, sandy beaches, augurs well for coveted sightings of pre-historic, herculean sized, Leatherback Turtles. Leatherbacks beach themselves on many of Trinidad’s shores at night to lay their eggs between Mid-March to Mid-August each year. This is a pleasantly assured, once in a lifetime experience, sighting a female Leatherback Turtle, maybe weighing over 400kg, in her natural habitat and element.

Trinidad considers itself very fortunate to be amongst nature’s chosen few to house these ancient creatures, for six months each year. So much so, that the famed National Geographic once did a comprehensive article on Leatherbacks which featured the merits of Leatherback Turtle Nesting in Trinidad.

Trinidad is not known for Resort type beaches, rather, mostly for all natural beachfronts and without massive Hotels. In September 2014, Las Cuevas Beach won the Blue Flag Certification as an environmentally friendly beach. It being the only one of its kind in the southern English speaking Caribbean, to date.

Unique Natural settings

Isolated in the densely forested Northern Mountain Range and overlooking the Arima Valley, is the world renowned, Asa Wright Nature Centre. This old Cocao, Coffee, Citrus & Banana plantation, with the original Estate House as the focal point, creates a natural, gravitational pull for naturalists, bird watchers, botanists, writers and poets. For anyone inclined to the gentler aspects of life there are numerous and diverse nature conservation attractions to be enjoyed.

The Peoples of Trinidad

The peoples and their cultures that called Trinidad home, reads like a chronological and historical timepiece.

Originally, it was settled by Native Amerindians who canoed across the relatively narrow, Serpent’s Mouth Channel between Trinidad & South America. They populated various parts of the island as farmers, fishermen and hunters. They were simple Indians who left behind no magnificent monuments unlike the Incas of Peru or Mayas of Guatemala.

In 1498 Christopher Columbus, who was Italian, and sailed under a Spanish Flag, discovered the island and he claimed Lere (the Amerindian name for the island) for Spain. Spain continued to venture into the new world in search of her 3-Gs i.e. God, Gold, & Glory and did not show much interest in the island due to the fact that Trinidad had no Gold or prized stones. Trinidad was employed as a base or launch-pad to pioneer expeditions up the massive South American Rivers and into Jungles seeking that fabled city of El Dorado. Cocoa and Coffee plantation were opened on the island and with these came the introduction of Africans with the Slave Trade.

In the late 18th Century came the French. While France never ruled Trinidad, French nationals came from French and English islands within the Caribbean i.e. Grenada, Martinique, Dominica, Haiti, etc. These people made a request to the Spanish Crown and settled in Trinidad. They opened large plantations and brought with them their personal, African slaves.

Trinidad was transformed from a Spanish speaking island to that of French or French Patois within only a few years of their introduction. A criterion was laid-down by the Spanish to the French who wished to settle in Trinidad, they had to be Catholic! There was less than 20 years of French influence, the British took control of the island at the turn of the 18th Century. This was a peaceful surrender by the Spanish to the British since no fighting ever ensued.

The British were not hasty to instill their culture on the island and for decades after their take-over, Trinidad was a French speaking island governed by Spanish laws.

With the arrival of the British, came an invasion of various peoples from across the globe. Chinese came in the early 19th century. Portuguese hailed from their tiny islands in the Atlantic i.e. Madeira, Cape Verde & Azores. Most significantly, due to the Emancipation of Slaves in 1838, the British had to seek a new form of labour to work on their Sugar Cane Estates. African People were no longer forced to labour or regarded as slaves.

Eerie Guanapo River Gorge.

Eerie Guanapo River Gorge. The Mother of all Gorges in Trinidad & Tobago.
Photo: Ivan Charles

Influx in Indians and other ethnic groups

England turned her eyes to India, which was still part of the British Empire, for cheap labour.

The largest post emancipation immigration, of a single race of people to the Caribbean, was from India. In the period 1845 – 1917, almost 144,000 Indians arrived in Trindad alone. They embarked on a harrowing, approximately 100 days, sail from Calcutta which circumnavigated the Cape of Good Hope then across the Atlantic Ocean to Trinidad. These Indians came as Indentured Labourers and when their contract was over, they were allowed to return to India (although not that smoothly). Nonetheless, while some returned to their homeland, many decided to stay and recognized Trinidad their as new home.

Additionally, around the turn of the 19th Century, Lebanese & Syrians made an exodus from their, “old world” to new world Trinidad.

The results of ethnic diversity

Trinidad is an island bursting with a fusion of cultures, cuisines and religions. This means that, annually, T&T has on average 14 Public Holidays recognizing the importance of respecting all religions and dates of particular significance to ethnic groups.

Public holidays are a key way of giving recognition to people and events in Trinidad. For example should an athlete win a Gold Medal at an Olympic Games, World Championships, or some event of International repute, it’s no surprise for the Prime Minister to get on the national air-waves to announce another impending Public Holiday.

Post independence

Independence from the United Kingdom was gained in 1962. Subsequently, the people of Trinidad and Tobago were left to “figure-it-out” as a new nation. Today, almost 53 years later, T&T has done so, extremely successfully.

The ideal of each person respecting and celebrating in the other person’s beliefs and rites is played-out through the clarion call in the words in T&T’s National Anthem, “Where every creed and race finds an equal place.”

The Modern Trinidad and Tobago

History has a way of repeating itself and in various degrees. Eco adventures and active lifestyle tourism are the fastest growing brands of tourism in today’s world, T & T is ideally placed to develop this as a key part of its economy.

Trinidad and Tobago also has a strategic advantage of being the Caribbean gateway into South America, emulating the great adventurers such as Sir Walter Raleigh. However, in this era, travelers don’t seek – El Dorado. Instead, they revel in natural attractions, stunning historical sites, exciting cuisines and above all a unique holiday experience.

It’s quite impressive for an independent island, with a population of some 1.3 million and with a land mass of just 80km x 60km to entertain daily flights from England, Canada, various major cities in USA, the Caribbean and throughout South & Central America. T & T has, de facto, become a natural historical & geographical hub where the Caribbean meets South America.

There is a common saying amongst die-hard Trinidadians which goes, “Trini to the Bone!” Many patriots and people who have found a natural affinity for Trinidad and her people, feel what is echoed in a lovely poem by Allister Macmillan – ‘Trinidad: Lere, Land of the Hummingbird.’ “He who eats the Cascadura fish, wherever he may wander, must end his days in Trinidad!”

Avocat Waterfall.

Avocat Waterfall.
Photo: Ivan Charles

About the Author:

Ivan Charles is an Eco Adventure Guide/Tour Operator in Trinidad & Tobago who operates his small, private adventure business called – Ieri Nature Adventures.

For more information about Customized Adventures & Nature Tours in T&T along with periodical Expeditions into, “The Wilds & Historical Aspects of South America.” please contact: ierinatureadventures@hotmail.com