It’s Always Carnival Time in Trinidad and Tobago
By Dwight Brown NNPA Travel Writer | 3/14/2014, noon
Editor’s note: Carnival season is over for this year, but mark your calendars for Feb. 15-17 to take part in the nonstop celebration in 2015. Many travel writers prefer Carnival here than in Rio. But just because Carnival is over it doesn’t mean that the fun is over in these sister islands. Check out there other activities in the calendar events sections.
This dual-island nation is noted for its festive Carnival, which includes parades, concerts, parties and elaborate costumes. But as anyone who has ever lived in “TT” will tell you, Trinidad is in a constant, euphoric year-round rehearsal for this event, and placid Tobago is where everyone goes to recoup. That’s why the islands complement each other so completely.
Deep in History
Over the years, Amerindians, Spaniards, Africans, the French, Brits, East Indians and others have populated the Republic of Trinidad & Tobago, which is nine miles off the coast of South America. On August 31, 1962, the islands gained independence from Britain, in 1976 they became a joint republic and today Trinidad & Tobago is one of the wealthiest nations in the Caribbean. Carnival can be traced to the 1800s when French plantation owners from Martinique organized masquerade balls. African slaves created a parallel celebration called Canboulay that spawned calypso music and evolved into today’s Carnival, which is traditionally the Monday and Tuesday before Ash Wednesday.
Downtown Port of Spain, Trinidad
Port of Spain, the bustling capital city on the northeast coast of Trinidad since 1757, is now inundated with government buildings, historic mansions and monuments. It’s the island’s hub and a major Caribbean center that once hosted the Fifth Summit of the America’s, which attracted world leaders such as President Obama. The city’s Queen’s Park Savannah, a flat grassy 260-acre meadow, is equivalent to New York’s Central Park. Joggers and traffic move around the 2.2-mile circumference where vendors sell food. The Savannah and its Grand Stand are the central venues for Carnival’s Parade of Bands, the Carnival King and Queen Contest and the Panorama Steelpan Competitions. Nearby places to visit: Royal Botanical Gardens; Queen’s Hall Performing Arts Center; the Magnificent Seven, a group of late Victorian buildings.
The drive north from Port of Spain to Trinidad’s top beach is over Mt. Saut D’Eau and through a rain forest that has idyllic vistas of the Caribbean Sea. The U-shaped beach looks something like St. Thomas’s Magens Bay, and is just about as popular with tourists. The waves and undertow make this more of a sun-soaking shoreline than a carefree swimmable beach, but people ride the waves anyway. The sands are renowned, but the Bake and Shark huts, which feature fried shark filet on a bun with toppings that range from tomatoes to garlic sauce, are absolutely legendary. The most popular eatery is Richard’s, but the locals often prefer Natalie’s.
Caroni Bird Sanctuary/Wetlands
The Caroni Swamp, just south of the capital Port of Spain on the western shore is home to 200 bird species, including the island’s national bird, the Scarlet Ibis. On a boat that traverses a labyrinth of channels that snake through 20 square miles, a guide points out four-eyed-fish, tree boas, caimans and hummingbirds who pose as if they are extras from central casting. Tour towards the end of the afternoon, and you’ll gather with other bird watchers as they make their way to a swamp area that is the home of the Ibis. By day the bright red birds feed in neighboring Venezuela, 10 miles away. At sunset they return to the trees in this mangrove. Wait patiently, sit quietly and the crimson-colored birds fly in from all corners, landing on treetops and turning them into lively plants that look like they’ve blossoming with kinetic red flowers. It’s quite the spectacle.