(This article was originally published on 1/28/09) Photos by Wilson Calvert
Trinidad is the larger island of the country of Trinidad and Tobago. It is the southernmost island of the Caribbean and lies a mere 7 miles off of the cost of Venezuela. Trinidad isn't known for its tourism yet, but their government is making steps to let the beauty of the island and its culture be more accessible to tourists by helping larger hotels come in and increase their cruise stop business. The Trinidad and Tobago government actually owns the mixed-use waterfront esplanade that is being overhauled. When completed, it will include new office towers, retail space, gardens, terraces and the Hyatt Regency Trinidad which opened in late 2007. Although more of a business traveler destination, the Hyatt Regency Trinidad is only 30 minutes from their international airport and is located on the water of the capital, Port of Spain.
The Hyatt Regency Trinidad is going the extra mile on their services that haven't been done before. Local farmers were hired to start producing vegetables, fruits and herbs that had never been grown on Trinidad to ensure that the freshest ingredients are available for the restaurants and spa. Spa Esencia not only offers a variety of massage and salon services but taps Trinidad for special all-organic treatments like the Golden Coconut Body Scrub. They worked with local farmers and developed a scrub that is made from roasted coconut and coconut oil, and is used exclusively by the spa. This is just one example of a product that the spa is connecting with Trinidad for. I had the pleasure of visiting one of the farmers who showed me lots of what he grew, and I got to see where the mint from my mojitos came from and where the avocados that the restaurants serve came from. The beautiful rooms, restaurants, spa and incredible business/meeting facilities make the Hyatt Regency Trinidad THE place to stay when visiting.
Trinidad itself has a very diversified economy. The northern end of the island is mostly farming, the tourist attractions and mountains with the southern end of the island focusing on energy export (oil and natural gas). Native Trinidadians have a very strong work ethic as well. 85 percent of the country makes more than $8,000 per year and unemployment is around 5 percent. During my week in Trinidad, I saw a total of four beggers. I tend to see more on my commute from Kingwood to Atascocita! Another wonderful aspect of Trinidad is that English is the native language. Even though tourism represents a small part of Trinidad's economy, tourists are welcomed everywhere they go.
Each Monday and Tuesday preceding Ash Wednesday is Trinidad's big festival, Carnival. The steelpan is a Trini invention and Caribbean flavor is at an all-time high as most businesses and government offices close for the celebration. There are parades as well as band competitions as everyone joins in to the festival in late February or early March. This year, Carnival will be on Feb. 23 and 24. Think of Carnival like Mardi Gras with an international flair.
Trinidad doesn't lack in any beauty with its beaches. I traveled to Maracas Beach, which is located on the north end of the island, about 45 minutes from Port of Spain. The drive is worth mentioning because you are going over the mountain range on the north end of the island. It's a two-lane paved road that provides breathtaking views of unspoiled beauty. When you arrive at the beach, you'll see several shacks that provide a local treat, Bake & Shark. Bake & Shark is a piece of fried shark that is put between two pieces of fry-bread. It is topped with various sauces and is one of the most delicious things I've ever tasted, especially out of a hut. Richard's Bake & Shark is the original, serving up shark sandwiches for more than 25 years. I was warned that the orange hot sauce was really spicy, but being the only Texan of the group, I had to prove my worth and took a double hit, and although I didn't complain, my face was quite red and the hot sauce drew some sweat. The Bake & Shark was fantastic right along with the stunning views of the beach.
Republic of Trinidad and Tobago is an up-and-coming country that has friendly people (that speak English) and provides a fun and interesting tourist destination. Its relatively small size (roughly four times the size inside Beltway 8 here in Houston) and direct flights from Bush on Continental make the Trinidad very desirable. Direct flights round-trip can be had for less than $400 including taxes and fees, and the favorable exchange rate means that your American dollar will go far in Trinidad as well. Keep your eye on little Trinidad and Tobago as they already have the God-given beauty of a Caribbean island combined with a modern infrastructure of a forward-thinking industrialized country that will continue to flourish for years to come. For more information about traveling to Trinidad and Tobago, visit gotrinidadandtobago.com.