The islands of Trinidad and Tobago both have tropical beaches, steamy rainforest and amazing wildlife but are far from identical twins.

Here we look at which island to head for on your first trip to these Caribbean siblings.

Which has the best beaches?

If you’re the type of traveller that packs at least three novels and a vat of sunscreen then Tobago is your best bet. Pigeon Point, a ten-minute taxi ride from the airport is one of the Caribbean’s most enticing beaches, featuring limpid turquoise water, swaying palms and a hugely photogenic pier.

Further along the Caribbean coast, Turtle Beach owes its name to the leatherback turtles that nest here; it also the scene for romantic horseback rides through the surf.

If you don’t mind brown sand, and the odd oil rig hoving into view, Trinidad offers uncrowded beaches where you won’t be bothered by touts (or anyone else for that matter). Head to Manzanilla on the east coast or Moruga in the far south.

Which is best for food?

Jamaica has jerk and Cuba criollo, but Trinidad trumps both with its unique blend of Indian heat and Caribbean soul food. The most authentic place to sample local favourites – including doubles (doughy flatbread wrapped around chickpea curry) and buss-up-shut (crab or pigtail served with roti ripped like a “busted up shirt”) – are on the streets of Port of Spain.

Here vendors set up nightly around Queen’s Park Savannah, which also has the odd distinction of being the world’s largest roundabout. For a fine-dining version of Trini cuisine try the fabulous tasting menu at Chaud.

Over on Tobago, Jemma’s, near Speyside, serves up delicious macaroni pie, fried shrimp and melt-in-the mouth plantains in a “treehouse” restaurant.

Image by Alex Treadway

Where should I go for culture and music?

Trinidad helped define the sound of the Caribbean with the steel pan (invented in Port of Spain in the 1930s), soca and calypso. Each style can be heard during Carnival, though for calypso in particular it’s worth visiting Tobago during the island’s Heritage Festival when an X-Factor style competition takes place to crown a calpyso “monarch”.

To get to grips with the island’s deep-rooted Indian heritage head to Carapichaima, where you’ll find an impressive statue of monkey god Hanuman, as well as a striking Hindu temple built on the seabed.

Image by David Kirsch on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

What if I want to party?

T&T’s Carnival is one of the world’s ultimate street festivals, a blur of ear-splitting sound systems and barely there costumes that takes over Port of Spain for a fortnight each February (check out our Carnival Calendar here). The catch is the fierce competition to secure a spot in a “mas band” or to find a room anywhere near the action.

Things are much more low-key on Tobago aside from the Bacchanalian “Sunday School”, a wryly named night of limin (partying) and winin (dancing), that takes over the small village of Bucco every weekend.

Where can I try some watersports?

Tobago is a popular destination for kite-surfers, especially Germans and Swedes who transform Pigeon Point into a mini Munich or Stockholm-by-Sea from December to March. It’s also a great place to learn stand-up paddle boarding, thanks to the calm waters on the island’s leeward side.

Once you’ve mastered the art of staying upright, it’s worth taking a nighttime paddle to see luminous plankton glitter beneath your board.

For divers, Speyside, on the far western tip of Tobago, offers the finest range of underwater sites, all of which are accessible from the Blue Waters Inn.

Where will I see amazing birdlife?

Even if you’re an avian agnostic, Trinidad is likely to change your mind. With South America just a few wingbeats away and several migratory routes converging on the island, a staggering 470 bird species take a perch here during the year.

The most emblematic bird (literally given it features on the nation’s coat of arms) is the beautiful Scarlet ibis, best seen at Caroni Swamp decorating the mangrove forest like crimson baubles.

Over on Tobago you’ll find sabre-winged hummingbirds and the impressive blue-crowned mot mot flitting between the foliage of the Tobago Forest Reserve. Don’t forget your binoculars!

What are the hotels like?

Though much cheaper than the likes of St Barts and St Lucia, Trinidad and Tobago’s hotels and resorts can seem light years behind in terms of style and comfort. Recently a range of boutique-style hideaways has opened to buck the trend.

On Tobago you’ll find the gorgeous, eco-resort Castara Retreats, arguably the best place to stay on either island, and the tranquil Kariwak Village, resembling a Balinese yoga retreat transplanted to the Antilles.

Over on Trini, the pretty L’Orchidee hotel provides a peaceful location backing onto Port of Spain’s Botanic Gardens, while The Gingerbread House offers the chance to stay in one of the capital’s most elegant buildings, its intricate eaves and fretwork evoking both Hansel and Gretel and Bourbon Street in New Orleans.

So which one to pick?

If you simply want some Caribbean sun, Tobago makes for a perfect fun-fuelled escape, providing affordable resorts and enough day-trips to prevent beachside boredom setting in.

For those itching to get under the skin of T&T, though, a trip to the big brother island of Trinidad is a must, especially for its cultural and musical clout and world-beating birdlife.

Castara Retreats; Image by by Alex Treadway

British Airways flies to both Trinidad and Tobago via Antigua or St Lucia. For more information visit www.gotrinidadandtobago.com. Explore more of Trinidad & Tobago with the Rough Guide to Trinidad & Tobago.

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