Trinidad and Tobago, the most southerly islands of the Caribbean chain, are occasional stops on Southern Caribbean cruise itineraries and sometimes also visited by cruise ships setting a course for the Amazon and other parts of South America from South Florida ports. The two islands boast wild beaches on the Atlantic side and calm waters idylls with powdery shores on the Caribbean.
Trinidad, discovered by Columbus in 1498, and called Trinidad by the explorer due to its three peaks now known as Trinity Peaks, is the largest of the Lesser Antilles. Natural charms abound including more than 400 species of birds that can be sighted in both islands' quiet interiors and particularly in Tobago's central forest reserve reportedly the oldest protected rainforest in the Western Hemisphere. Another must when it comes to natural attractions: leatherback turtles come ashore to nest on beaches of both islands from March to July each year.
A highlight of the islands' cultural events calendar is Carnival, a huge celebration taking place just before Lent each year and featuring a parade with thousands of costumed revelers. The main cruise ports are Port of Spain, the capital of Trinidad and Scarborough, the capital of Tobago.
Highlights of Trinidad include Independence Square in the heart of the city with many shops and the Brian Lara Promenade, Woodford Square with an impromptu speaker's corner, and the National Museum and Art Gallery with local history exhibits and artwork on the corner of Frederick and Keate Streets. Queen's Park Savannah is the city's largest green area and site of Carnival festivities. At its northern edge is the Botanical Garden, on Circular Road, with hundreds of trees and plants. Also on Circular Road is the Emperor Valley Zoo with many native species including showy scarlet ibises and red howler monkeys.
Scarborough's points of interest include its lively market off Gardenside Street and Fort King George, 84 Fort Street, with a collection of colonial-era brick buildings and cannons surrounding a modern-day lighthouse. Fort King George provides panoramic views of Scarborough and Tobago's Windward Coast and it is also home to the Tobago Museum with local history exhibits. Most visitors spend some time in the Tobago Forest Reserve, about 17 miles northeast of Scarborough. A 22-square-mile reserve, it has a trail that can be accessed from Gilpin Trace to explore the dense forest.
Popular pastimes after sightseeing include fishing (with the main catches being marlin, tuna and yahoo), sailing, diving, kayaking and other water sports; hiking and mountain biking. Bird watching and turtle watching are favorite activities with many visitors as is shopping for such souvenirs as pretty, woven palm frond hats and other local handicrafts including jewelry made from shells and beads.
Those who would like to just relax at a beach can head for Maracas Bay and one of the beaches at Blanchisseuse on Trinidad and Pigeon Point Beach on Tobago's Leeward Coast.
Local flavors not to be missed include tasty seafood including Creole fish, and tropical fruits including coconuts, tamarind, mangoes and papayas. A popular local dish is roti, a split-pea flavored bread wrapped around curried meat, shrimp or vegetables. For a typical Creole lunch while your ship is visiting Port of Spain, try Veni Mange, 67A Ariapita Avenue, Woodbrook. It serves West Indian cuisine in a tropical board house graced with local art.
Cruise lines that visit Trinidad & Tobago include Celebrity. Holland America, Princess, Voyages of Discovery and Windstar.
IF YOU GO For additional information on Trinidad & Tobago, visit www.gotrinidadandtobago.com.