BEST TRINIDAD HOTELS
HYATT REGENCY TRINIDAD
Like the Hilton, this 428-room, four-star property may seem an odd choice for cultural and eco travelers, but after a day of
sightseeing, even hardcore tree-huggers will appreciate the Hyatt Regency’s waterfront views, spic-and-span rooms, spa, gym, and rooftop pool. High season rates start at $179 on weekends, $209 weekdays. (868) 623-2222; trinidad.hyatt.com or hyatttravelagents.com
SALYBIA NATURE RESORT & SPA
This is the best of the few beach hotels on this island. It’s a 21-unit resort on the northeast coast with wicker-furnished rooms, a spa, pool, kayaks, and a commitment to the outdoors. The website doesn’t give you enough information for confidently choosing the right room or suite, and the reservations staff are unsure about commissions, so book through a tour operator like Caribbean & Sun.
(888) 220-9517; oceanssalybia.com
HILTON TRINIDAD & CONFERENCE CENTRE
Known for its upside-down structure—you walk into a lobby at the top of a hill, then go downstairs for the guestrooms—this property occupies 25 acres of gardens near Queens Park Savannah, the zoo, and other attractions. There’s a pool, spa, fitness center and tennis courts, and every room features a balcony. Rates in January start at $129 (about $157 with tax).
(868) 624-3211; hiltontrinidadhotel.com or hiltontravelagent.com
THE ASA WRIGHT NATURE CENTRE LODGE
The lodge offers basic accommodations—simple beds, plain white walls, ceiling fans, and no swimming pool —but Asa Wright is on birders’ bucket list. Tour operator Caligo Ventures handles bookings: Winter rates start at $215 pp dbl, including meals, gratuities, and taxes, plus $60 pp roundtrip transportation from the airport. Caligo also offers guided packages to Asa Wright from around $1,600 pp, but better to book one of their packages that also includes Tobago (see Blue Waters Inn). These start at about $2,000 in July, which is turtle-watching season. (868) 667-4655; asawright.org
With its calm beach, friendly staff, watersports, tennis, spa, and pleasing decor, the 135-room/suite hotel caters to clients who want to divide their time between off-campus adventures and a traditional resort holiday. Winter rates start at about $465, and we recommend the MAP (about $75 pp) or all-inclusive ($120 pp) meal plan. The 4-night Exclusive/Inclusive Package (about $2,900) is a good value, too. (868) 639-8571; cocoreef.com
BLUE WATERS INN
This 38-unit property, on a protected beach on the northeast coast, attracts divers and birders. The place has a Margaritaville vibe and offers plenty of units with kitchen facilities. High-season rates start at about $250, including breakfast, but commissions are iffy, so book through Caligo (see Asa Wright Nature Centre), which offers packages that combine the Asa Wright and Blue Waters Inn starting around $2,000 pp, plus air from North America. (868) 660-4341; bluewatersinn.com
MAGDELENA GRAND BEACH RESORT
This 200-unit property is the largest hotel on Tobago. The surf is often rough here, so guests who want calm water and/or watersports shuttle over to Pigeon Point Heritage Park, on the west side of the island. Magdalena Grand has the island’s most extensive meetings and weddings spaces, a kids’ club, golf, and one of the finest dive facilities in the Caribbean. The resort pays a 13 percent commission through Aug. 31 on all bookings, including meal plans, for 2013. High-season Deluxe Oceanfront Rooms cost $270. (See the feature about Magdalena Grand in the July 2012 issue.) (866) 353-6222; magdalenagrand.com
BACOLET BEACH CLUB
This boutique hotel on the southeast coast is more stylish than most hotels in Trinidad & Tobago, perhaps because owner Gloria Jones-Knapp is a former model. The 20 rooms and suites feature oceanfacing balconies, the chef understands fusion cuisine, and the place is geared toward clients who want to lounge around when they’re on the grounds. We like the Junior Rooms ($290 high season) and Superior Rooms (about $340)—rates include taxes and breakfast—plus the dinner package ($45 pp). The commission is about 20 percent; contact Jones-Knapp directly at email@example.com. (868) 639-2357; bacoletbeachclub.com
• Trinidad is the more urban of the two islands, yet there’s still a lot of wilderness. At the world-famous Asa Wright Nature Centre birders have spotted some 160 species of birds.
• Caroni Swamp Madoo Bird Tours’ boats take people out on a lake for sunset, when V-shaped flocks of acid-red scarlet ibises fly across the lake to hunker down for the night in the trees. How many do you see each evening? About 15,000.
• Yerette, a hummingbird sanctuary on the grounds of retired professor Theo Ferguson’s home, offers visitors a chance to see several beautiful species of hummingbirds as well as the home of a Trinidadian, for Ferguson welcomes visitors inside for a light meal and a slideshow of his photographs.
• Hindu shrines like the Hanuman Centre were built by Hindus whose families came to Trinidad 150 years ago, so the statues, including the 85-ft. Monkey God colossus, portray the deities with a wondrous mix of Indian tradition and Caribbean abandon.
• Indian influence, Part II: Trinidad has the best street food in the Caribbean, and from rotis to New World adaptations such as doubles (a paratha and lentil dish) and Trinidadian corn soup, which is to our corn chowder as cognac is to Bud Lite. Best place to taste? The food stands in Queen’s Park Savannah, Port of Spain’s Central Park. The best bake-and-shark—the world’s sloppiest, most flavorful fish sandwich—is at Maracas Beach, where the surf is rough in winter but delightful after mid-April.
• Finally, everyone knows that Trinidad’s Carnival is the most extravagant in the Caribbean, but what about the other 363 days? Clients can visit the steelpan yards to see fabulous instruments being hammered out and tuned.
People wishing to do these things might want to spend a day or two in Port of Spain, on the northwest coast of the island, followed by a couple of days in the hinterlands. For reasons of both safety and navigation, we recommend hiring a guide for Port of Spain. Contact Sensational Tours and ask for Mr. Nick. There are several good lodging options on the island of Trinidad; see page 69.
let’s get active on tobago
Rural Tobago is less of a cipher to Americans than Trinidad: Most travelers know that this island has beaches, rainforests with trails and waterfalls, superb diving and snorkeling, and hundreds of species of birds. It’s easy to reach, too, because Caribbean Air runs roundtrips from Trinidad for just $48. So here are the best options for the active traveler:
• Harris Jungle Tours: Harris McDonald’s walks feature not just birds, trees, and flowers, but great shenanigans like tasting termites, swimming in Argyle Falls, and swinging across a pit on a tropical vine.
• NG & Co. Nature Tours: Veteran birder Newton George can spot shy birds in the foliage that most of us would never notice. He packs a mighty scope, extra binoculars, and a bird-call app, and the darned thing really works.
• Frankie Tours & Rentals: Michael Frank offers everything from dolphin watching to speedboat rides. On the full-day snorkeling trips, which include a beach BBQ, he follows the reefs on the Caribbean side, but if the passengers’ attention drifts toward the ship’s bar, he deftly converts the snorkeling cruise to a party boat.
• Top-Ranking Glass-Bottom Boat Tours: Departing from the dock near the Blue Waters Inn, Max Davidson’s crew point out giant turtles under the glass, then lead snorkelers over angelfish and parrotfish and the world’s largest brain coral.
• Radical Sports: This Pigeon Point watersports shop offers water skiing, kayaking, windsurfing, paddleboarding, Hobie Cat sailing, and (manager Brett Kenny’s passion) kite-boarding, which is huge here. Instruction and equipment are first-rate.
WHAT TRAVEL AGENTS ARE SAYING…
Terrence M. Regan, president and owner of Berkeley’s Northside Travel, in Berkeley, CA, has an affection for Trinidad & Tobago that dates from when he trained there for the Peace Corps. “Geographically, these sister islands are quite different,” he says, “Whereas Tobago is a true Caribbean island with white coral beaches, Trinidad was once connected to South America, so the beaches are a darker sand, and you see plants and wildlife there that you don’t see anywhere else in the Caribbean.” He considers the scarlet ibises in Caroni Swamp one of the great sights of the islands.
“The food of Trinidad is the most interesting in the Caribbean, too, because of the cultures who settled there,” he says. “Perhaps 10-15 percent of the population is Creole, 40 percent is Afro-Caribbean, and another 40 percent or so is the descendents of 19th century indentured servants from India and Pakistan. The rotis, the curries…” Regan feels that Trinidad has the best music in the Caribbean. “Calypso started there, steelpans were invented there, and if you go to Carnival, you’ll experience two weeks of nonstop partying.”
But if Regan’s heart seems to be with the island of Trinidad, when he’s asked where he’d send a honeymoon couple that wants to visit that part of the world, he doesn’t hesitate. “Tobago.”
Archived related articles (available on recommend.com/magazine/issue-archive):
Magdalena Grand Beach Resort, Tobago (July 2012)
Caligo Ventures: (800) 426-7781; caligo.com
Caribbean & Sun: caribbean-sun.com
Caroni Swamp; Nanan Ecotours: (868) 645-1305; nananecotours.com
Frankie Tours & Rentals: (868) 631-0369; frankietourstobago.com
Harris Jungle Tours: (868) 639-0513; harris-jungle-tours.com
NG & Co. Nature Tours: (868) 660-5463; newtongeorge.com
Radical Sports: (868) 631-5150; radicalsportstobago.com
Sensational Tours: (868) 315-3652 or (868) 702-4129; firstname.lastname@example.org
Top-Ranking Glass-Bottom Boat Tours: (868) 660-4904; toprankingtobago.com