Lots of visitors come to Trinidad and Tobago to swim, surf, and do other water sports at the amazing beaches. But what should you do when you’re already sunburnt and need a break from full exposure in your Speedo? While visiting as part of the Society of American Travel Writers freelance delegation, I found these activities for a change of pace.
Visit a Panyard
Steel pan music is a distinctive feature of Trinidad. This percussive yet melodic instrument evolved from discarded oil drums. Nowadays many steel pan orchestras perform around the islands. Catch them on their home turf in a panyard, where they rehearse and play for visitors. On a recent visit, I heard the Caribbean Airlines Invaders play songs ranging from “Don’t Rock the Boat” to Beethoven’s Fifth.
Eat a Roti
Everywhere you drive in Trinidad, you’ll see roti stands. This dish comes from the island’s East Indian population. Sometimes it comes pre-rolled, like a wrap. Or you’ll get a plate of meat or vegetables and a huge, hot piece of flatbread to break off and dip. Options range from duck and goat to channa – spiced chickpeas—for those who, like me, prefer vegetarian food. Try your luck at any stand, or go with the reliable Shiann’s with outlets around Trinidad.
Tour a Cocoa Estate
Trinidad is known for producing some of the world’s best cocoa beans. The whole island of Tobago used to be planted with cocoa estates, until Hurricane Flora devastated the island in 1963. Now there’s only one working cocoa estate on all of Tobago. Tobago Cocoa Estate’s 45-minute tours are open to the public, and include a chocolate and rum tasting. You’ll see the cocoa pods growing on the trees, and learn about the fermenting and drying process. The biggest action is during harvest season, which runs from November to March.
Go to a Goat Race
This may sound frivolous, but Tobagans take their goat races very seriously. Ever since 1925, goat jockeys have raced behind their goats, joined by nine feet of rope. Races happen at least three times a year – at Easter, summer and the beginning of cruise ship season –and people put a lot of money down on their favorites. Both the goats and jockeys must be in top shape. Goats strengthen their legs by swimming in the sea, and you can sometimes see goats and jockeys training together, walking up Tobago’s steep hills.
Cruise the Caroni Swamp
The Caroni Swamp is the best place to glimpse a scarlet ibis. Formerly hunted for feathers, this bright red bird gained protected status when T&T won its independence in 1962 and chose this ibis to be its national bird. Lester Nanan, owner of Nanan’s Caroni Bird Sanctuary Tours, is the third generation to navigate the fertile waters of this swamp. In addition to a great flock of scarlet ibis, he pointed out cascabel boas lounging in the trees and a quick-moving caiman. Go at sunset to see scarlet ibises and snowy egrets return to their nesting trees.
You’ll get a different perspective on the island by zipping through the trees and over Macqueripe Bay in the Chagauramas area of Trinidad. ZIP-ITT Adventure Tours runs a safe, efficient seven-line course. My favorite line took us over bright red blooms of chaconia, T&T’s national flower.
Visit a Temple
On the western side of Trinidad, a statue of the Indian god Hanuman rises 85 feet, making it the second tallest Hanuman in the world. This is probably the hugest sacred monkey statue you will ever see. Located in the village of Carapichaima, you’ll also find a yoga center here and a gift shop that sells CDs, statues, books and devotional items.
Admire a Waterfall
Tobago’s Argyle Waterfall is not very big by waterfall standards, but it’s a pleasant forested walk and an attractive little fall. If you really can’t stay out of the water for an entire day, the wading pool is more protected than the beach. Or remain dry and enjoy the view.
Take a Yoga Class
Between the East Indian and the resort vibe, yoga is alive and well in T&T. If you’re interested in spiritual and disciplined yoga, you can get the ashram experience at Blue Star Center, with a daily schedule that starts with breath work at 4:15. Or opt for a more relaxed approach. I had the opportunity to take a class with Karen Blackman, who teaches at Sangha Yoga Trinidad, and also for special groups and events. We spent an enjoyable hour doing yoga by the Hilton pool.
Browse in a Local Market
Every town of any size has an outdoor market where you can buy fruit, vegetables, clothes and household items. These are great places to people watch and buy tropical fruit or those really hot peppers that Trinibagonians transform into tongue-scalding hot sauce.
There are always exciting and amazing things to see when traveling. Sometimes the most amazing memories are created when exploring off the beaten path!