Encounter the Caribbean Soul Mates Trinidad & Tobago

Eric G. Anderson, MD

Physician's Money Digest, November30 2003, Volume 10, Issue 22

The island nation of Trinidad & Tobago is aboutas far down the Caribbean chain you can venturewithout bumping into Venezuela—at onepoint the country is only 7 miles away.

They are unlikely soul mates. On Tobago's 26 x 7miles, 50,000 souls enjoy the essentially unspoiledCaribbean life of the 1950s. And on Trinidad, measuring50 x 37 miles, a population of 1.2 million live on abustling island that has become the most commerciallyand successfully developed island in all the Caribbean.These 2 islands have been bound together since theygained independence from Britain in 1962 and became arepublic in 1976.

Undiscovered Country

Trinidad, wealthy from its huge natural resources ofoil, natural gas, and minerals has not spent much energywooing the tourist. "We didn't need to develop visitorattractions on Trinidad because when Trinidadians takea holiday, they go to Tobago," says Gerald Nicholas,who runs Sensational Tours (868-623-3511, ext 535;sensa tionaltours@hotmail.com).

Still, Trinidad (888-595-4868; www.visittnt.com)boasts the world-famous bird sanctuary at the AsaWright Nature Centre, an hours drive east of the Port ofSpain. And in the capital, a visitor can witness some ofthe most interesting architecture in the Caribbean,including the so-called Magnificent Seven mansionsaround the Queen's Park Savannah. Some of thosebuildings need maintenance, but they remain a strikingexample of what is now, understandably, an unpopularsubject—colonial times. All of the structures are a 5-minute walk from the Kapok hotel (800-426-5445).

Into the Wilds

Tobago, lying northeast of Trinidad, shows muchless of the hand of humanity. Tobago is for the touristwho has seen everything in the Caribbean and longs foran island with less glitz, where the people are friendlybecause that's the way they are and not because they'velearned to court the tourist dollar.

Tobago is also where locals protected their animalkingdom long before ecology was a politician's buzzword.It has the oldest forest reserve in the WesternHemisphere (established in 1765). It's a spot where bamboo,introduced 400 years ago from China, grows 4 to6 inches in a day, and where rainforests wave theircanopies over more than 400 species of birds.

Etude in E Flat,

The villages of this Caribbean treasure stage theirannual festivals not for tourist interest, but for their ownpleasure. One pleasure they willingly share is the steelpan band, which began in their islands. Guests at theTrinidad Turf Club first heard this sound in 1950, whenThe Bells of St. Mary's<.i>, then Chopin's rolled out to captivate an unsuspecting audience.

Each village in Tobago has its own personality. Charlotteville,for example, is a fishing village with its ownfolklore. Speyside is more busy with interesting off-shoreexcursions, tasty local restaurants like Jemma's (868-660-4066), and unpretentious resorts like the BlueWaters Inn (800-742-4276). Crown Point, close to theairport, is more sophisticated and has the highest concentrationof hotels on Tobago. And when you visit itsromantic Coco Reef Resort (868-639-8571), you knowit's true: "Build it and they will come."