Though no Caribbean island could be considered a budget place to visit, Trinidad and Tobago is undoubtedly one of the cheapest Caribbean destinations due to its strong oil and manufacturing-based economy. If you are prepared to take the least expensive accommodation, eat at budget cafés and street stalls and travel by public transport, you can get by on TT$500/US$80/£50/€61 a day. If, however, you opt for fancier accommodation and eat at more formal restaurants, you will need at least TT$1000/US$160/£100/€122 a day. Renting a car is obviously an added expense, with rates starting at TT$350/US$55/£33/€43 per day.
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Costs vary around T&T, Tobago – where the already-imported goods from Trinidad have to be imported all over again – is generally more costly than Trinidad. Accommodation is cheaper outside Port of Spain, San Fernando and Tobago’s Crown Point area. Restaurants vary greatly in price: fine dining establishments, recognizable by their plush decor, charge TT$150/US$25/£14/€18 and up for a main course; the more basic restaurants, with plastic tables and buffet-style service, offer huge meals from around TT$50/US$8/£5/€6.
During Carnival season all accommodation rates in Port of Spain jump by anywhere from 20 to over 100 percent, depending on the hotel. Carnival season often sees increases in other prices, such as drinks, taxi fares and club covers. And then there are the Carnival fetes (parties), which start at TT$100/US$16/£10/€12 for basic cooler parties (where you bring your own drinks) to TT$700/US$110/£55/€75 for a high-end all-inclusive event.
The minimum wage in T&T is currently TT$15/US$2.35/£1.45/€1.80 an hour; you might want to bear this fact in mind when negotiating taxi fares to off-route destinations and prices for other goods and services.
Currents run on 110 or 220 volts, 60 cycles. The current is often sluggish around peak times, particularly in Tobago, making everything run a little less efficiently than at home. Plug pins are flat two-pronged, sometimes with a third, round pin too. Many hotels have generators, as power outages are common. Unplug appliances when not using, as power surges after shutdowns can damage electrical goods.
Citizens of European Union countries (as well as Switzerland and Norway), the US and Canada do not require a visa for stays of less than three months. Nationals of Australia, New Zealand and South Africa all need visas before entering the country. You can apply for visas through the offices listed here or else have your travel agent obtain one on your behalf. On arrival, you will have to provide an address where you will be staying (hotels and guesthouses are acceptable; take any address from the Guide text if you’re not yet sure), and, occasionally, proof that you have adequate finances for the length of your stay and a return or onward ticket. Your passport must be valid for six months beyond the period of your proposed visit.
Visa extensions are usually for an extra three months, but this depends on your reasons for wanting to stay; they are issued by the Immigration Office, 67 Frederick St, Port of Spain (Mon–Thurs 7am–4pm, Fri 7am–3.45pm; t625 3571, wimmigration.gov.tt). You must first make an appointment to see an immigration officer; a one-week wait is typical. Bring your passport and, if you have one, a return ticket, as well as the TT$50 visa fee and TT$100 extension fee. Note that the policy regarding visa extensions is subject to change, and a lot can depend on the individual officer dealing with your case.
Embassies and consulates
UK, High Commission 42 Belgrave Square, London SW1X 8TNT t020 7245 9351, wtthighcommission.co.uk.
US, Embassy 1708 Massachusetts Ave, NW, Washington, DC 20036-1975 t202 467 6490, wforeign.gov.tt.
Canada, High Commission 200 First Ave, Ottawa, Ontario K1S 2G6 t613 232 2418, wttmissions.com.
Australia, Honorary Consul PO Box 109, Rose Bay, New South Wales 2029 t02 933 4391, e[email protected]
New Zealand, Honorary Consul Level 26, IAG House, 151 Queen St, Auckland t09 379 9040, e[email protected]
Gay and lesbian
Officially it is still illegal to practise anal sex in Trinidad and Tobago, and bizarrely, it’s also against the law for homosexuals to enter the country (though quite how this would be enforced remains unclear). However, there is a creeping acceptance of the gay community and the government is under pressure to change the law. In relation to the rest of the Caribbean, T&T is noticeably less homophobic. There are gay bars in Port of Spain, but on the whole, the scene remains quite underground with events publicized by word of mouth. Gay and lesbian travellers are unlikely to suffer any direct prejudice but even so, be aware of your surroundings and always be discreet in your behaviour if you do not want to attract any negative attention: public displays of affection are best avoided.
There are few health risks in Trinidad and Tobago: the islands are nonmalarial, and the chlorinated tap water is safe to drink (though it doesn’t taste great, and most locals filter and/or boil it before drinking). There are no mandatory immunizations, though you should ensure that you’re up to date with polio and tetanus vaccines, and if you intend to arrive by ferry from Venezuela (or by plane from South/Central America, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Asia and Africa), you’ll need a yellow fever vaccination certificate.
The most likely hazards are overexposure to the sun, too much rum and the inevitable minor stomach upsets that come with unfamiliar food and water. Heat and humidity make cuts and grazes slower to heal, so apply iodine or antiseptic spray/powder (cream just keeps a cut wet) and try to keep the wound dry. Heat rashes are caused by blocked sweat ducts; to avoid them wear loose cotton clothes, and to treat a rash take frequent cool showers without soap, dust skin with medicated talcum powder, and don’t use sunscreen or moisturizer. Always drink plenty of water (coconut water is especially rehydrating) and use a good-quality, high-factor sunscreen (plus, if possible, keep out of the sun between 11am and 3pm).
Trinidad and Tobago has the fourth highest incidence of HIV & AIDS in the Caribbean (around 1.5 percent prevalence), and cases of other sexually transmitted diseases like gonorrhoea and syphilis are also high. If you do have sex while away, always use a condom.
Animal and plant hazards
Mosquitoes and sandflies can be a real nuisance, particularly in the wet season (June–Dec). Sandflies in particular deliver an incredibly itchy and long-lasting bite and are at their most aggressive at sundown, especially around standing water. Cover your arms and legs at dusk and use plenty of strong insect repellent; Avon’s Skin So Soft moisturizer is said to have miraculous anti-mosquito properties. Once you’ve been bitten, do not scratch or even touch the bites except to apply soothing creams – homeopathic pyrethrum is particularly good, as is a coating of fresh aloe vera gel, or more chemically loaded Benadryl cream. Note that mosquitoes here do carry dengue fever, an unpleasant viral infection that lasts for a couple of weeks and can be serious in the very young or old; and in 2014, there was an outbreak of another flu-like mosquito-borne virus, chikungunya, which also has the unpleasant side-effect of long-lasting joint pain. Neither has a vaccine, so best protection is to avoid getting bitten in the first place.
Another problem in the forests are chiggers, tiny mites whose bite leaves a very itchy and long-lasting red bump with a tendency to get infected; apply antiseptic regularly to keep the bite clean. Likewise, stings from hornet-like wasps (known as jackspaniards) are nasty but fairly harmless, though African bees are now common throughout Trinidad and are aggressive if disturbed; do not wear strong perfume in the bush and follow guides’ directions. Never kill a bee after having been stung, as this will cause it to emit a pheromone which attracts even more bees.
Though there are no deadly snakes in Tobago, Trinidad’s forests harbour four venomous varieties; the fer-de-lance and the bushmaster or pit viper (both known as mapepire, pronounced “mah-pee-pee”), and two species of brightly coloured coral snake. It’s best to wear long trousers, shoes or boots and socks when walking in the bush, and to refrain from investigating rock crevices with your bare hands. If you do encounter a snake, simply move it gently out of the way with a long stick. In the event of a bite, keep calm; death from a snakebite is almost unheard of here, and your worst enemy is panic. Bandage the affected area tightly (if the bite is on a limb, tie a tourniquet above it), note down what the snake looked like, and seek medical help – all local hospitals have stocks of the relevant antidote.
Endowed with sharp teeth and a bit of an attitude if cornered, barracuda are best admired from a distance, as are moray eels. Don’t stick your hand into rock crevices when diving or snorkelling, and never touch coral; quite apart from killing the organism with a caress, you’ll probably come away with an unattractive, slow-healing rash. A far more likely encounter is with one of the many spiny black sea urchins that inhabit reefs and bays; if you tread on one, remove as much of the spine as possible, douse the area in vinegar (or urine) and see a doctor; washing with vinegar is also the best way to treat jellyfish stings. Take care to avoid the long trailing tendrils of the purple Portuguese man-of-war, fairly common in the waters around Trinidad. Seek medical help if you’ve been stung, and don’t touch dead ones washed up on the beach, as they remain harmful.
Take care to avoid poisonous manchineel trees, easily identified with their wide, spreading crown of small, dark green leaves on long stalks and green flowers – the milky sap causes skin blisters. Though they’ve been removed from popular beaches and signs put up where they’ve been allowed to remain, some still grow in wilder coastal areas, and the incredibly poisonous fruit occasionally wash up on other stretches of sand.
The main hospitals in Trinidad are Port of Spain General (169 Charlotte St t623 2951 or t623 2952) and Mount Hope in St Augustine (Eastern Main Rd t645 4673); there are also small hospitals in all the main towns, as well as the more efficient private establishment St Clair Medical Centre in Port of Spain (18 Elizabeth St t 628 1451 or t628 8615). Tobago’s new Scarborough General Hospital is at Signal Hill (t660 4744), and has an A&E department. For an ambulance, call t811.
You won’t have to pay for treatment at public hospitals, but will be charged a fee at Mount Hope and St Clair. Long waits and stretched facilities make it more sensible to plump for a private option, particularly as your insurance should cover costs. If you do find yourself in need of medical attention, remember that most insurance policies require you to pay up initially and retain the receipts.
Many pharmacies stock a modest range of herbal remedies and other alternative medicines, while some doctors can refer you to a reputable alternative health practitioner. Trinidad’s best homeopath is Harry Ramnarine, an ex-surgeon turned alternative practitioner, based at 403 Rodney Rd, Chaguanas (t665 8041). There’s also an excellent osteopath, Rajesh Dharrie-Mahraj, 14 Murray St, Woodbrook, Port of Spain (t624 2410).
As Trinidad and Tobago’s public health system is pretty basic, you’ll want to seek private treatment should you fall ill, so it’s therefore essential that you take out travel insurance before entering the country.
A typical travel insurance policy provides cover for the loss of baggage, tickets and – up to a certain limit – cash or cheques, as well as cancellation or curtailment of your journey. Most of them exclude so-called dangerous sports: in Trinidad and Tobago this can mean scuba diving, windsurfing and hiking, though probably not kayaking; read small print carefully as coverage can vary wildly for similar premiums. Many policies can also be chopped and changed to exclude coverage you don’t need.
Almost all hotels and guesthouses in T&T have wi-fi these days (usually free), while the Rituals coffeeshop chain offers wireless hotspots, as do many cafés and bars. Internet cafés are also scattered around the islands.
Most hotels provide a laundry service, albeit at extortionate rates in larger properties, while guesthouses often have a machine for guests’ use. There is a coin-operated laundry in Crown Point, Tobago.
The country’s postal service, TT Post (wttpost.net), is inexpensive and reliable. Outgoing and incoming post travels reasonably quickly (one to two weeks to Europe and the US, three to Australia). The closer you are to the capital, the sooner your letters will be delivered. Send valuable items by registered mail, TT Post courier or by an international courier; FedEx and DHL both have local offices.
Most towns and villages have a post office; these are generally open Monday to Friday from 7am to 5pm and Saturday from 8am to noon; all post offices are detailed on the website above. Post-boxes on the street are small, red, quite rare and easily missed; many still bear the insignia of the British postal service, a remnant of the colonial era. Stamps are sold at post offices and letters and postcards cost under TT$5 to anywhere in the world.
The TDC and various private entities produce free maps of both Trinidad and Tobago, showing main roads, beaches and tourist attractions, which are adequate for mainstream exploration, and are available in hotel lobbies and at airport tourist booths. The Discover Trinidad & Tobago free booklet also carries decent island and city maps.
The most detailed of the few road maps available online is the Rough Guide Map of Trinidad and Tobago, though like its competitors, it hasn’t been recently updated. T&T’s Land and Surveys Division produce a 1:150,000 road map of Trinidad and the 1:50,000 map of Tobago, and a detailed map of Port of Spain, but again these are outdated, and impossible to find outside of T&T, where they’re sometimes stocked in the islands’ bookshops.
The local currency is the Trinidad and Tobago dollar. This is usually abbreviated to TT$, and is divided into one hundred cents. Coins start at 1 cent and range up through 5, 10 and 25 cents. Notes start at one dollar and are in denominations of 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100. It’s best to keep some of your cash in small denominations: supermarkets and bars can usually exchange TT$100, but taxis and street vendors often can’t and should be paid with TT$20 or less.
At the time of writing, the exchange rate was US$1 to TT$6.3; £1 to TT$10.35 and €1 to TT$8. Cambios are few and far between (though for details of the excellent FX Trader outlets in Trinidad, see Banks), but you can change cash in all banks for a small commission. Though travellers’ cheques are accepted by banks, they can be a bit problematic in T&T; some banks impose a limit (of US$250) on the amount you can cash, while others will accept only AmEx cheques, and most banks will make you hang around for hours while they phone through to check your cheques aren’t stolen. Using a debit card in an ATM machine is a lot easier; ATMs are easy to find, and some dispense US dollars, which are also widely accepted locally. All major credit cards are widely accepted. Banking hours vary slightly depending on the bank, but are usually Monday to Thursday 8am to 3pm, Friday 8am to 1pm & 3 to 5pm. Most banks in Trinidad’s larger malls open 10am to 6pm with no break.
Shop opening hours are Monday to Friday 8am to 5.30pm, and Saturday 8am to 5pm. Malls are open longer: Monday to Saturday 10am to 8 or 9pm.
Local operators bmobile (wbmobile.co.tt) and Digicel (wdigiceltt.com) offer pre-paid SIM cards with credit, sold at their own outlets or at communications stores, both of which are ubiquitous islandwide. Bmobile also has a kiosk just past the immigration desks at Piarco, should you wish to get connected on arrival. You’ll need photo ID to buy a SIM, and should carry the handset you’ll be using so that you can ensure it’s not locked; equally both companies usually have deals where you get a SIM and a basic phone for as little as TT$130. Top-up credit is widely available from shops, pharmacies and supermarkets, and from the odd machine. Calling rates are listed on the company websites, and are reasonable even for international calls.
The area code for Trinidad and Tobago is 868; local and international operator is t0, directory enquiries t6411, fire and ambulance t990, and police t999.
It’s important to always ask permission before taking someone’s picture – many visitors don’t, much to the fury of the market trader or fisherman who doesn’t appreciate being snapped while going about a day’s work. Be sensitive, also, around temples and mosques, where photography may not be allowed.
Trinidad and Tobago is four hours behind Greenwich Mean Time (five during the summer months), and one hour ahead of Eastern Standard Time.
Official tourist information in T&T is pretty poor, with no useful tourist offices other than booths at the airport. The websites of the Tourism Development Company or TDC (wgotrinidadandtobago.com), and the Tobago Division of Tourism (wvisittobago.gov.tt) are worth checking out, however, with accommodation and tour operator listings, and a calendar of events.For details, see Carnival websites. The radio and national press advertise upcoming events (especially during Carnival).
The fact-filled Discover Trinidad and Tobago (wdiscovertnt.com) includes features on Carnival and eco-tourism and hotel, restaurant and tour operator listings. The Ins and Outs of Trinidad and Tobago (winsandoutstt.com) is a glossy annual publication which has sections on Carnival, shopping, art and craft, eco-tourism and business, along with accommodation, eating and nightlife listings for both islands, while Créolé (wwww.xn--crol-cpac.com) has detailed reviews of restaurants in both islands. These publications are available at hotels, tourist offices and other places frequented by foreigners.
Travellers with disabilities
There is little infrastructure for those with disabilities in T&T. However, a small but growing number of hotels, guesthouses and villas have been made accessible; these are mentioned in the text. If you want to make local contacts, try Disabled Peoples’ International (t624 6060, wdpi.org), at 13a Wrightson Rd, Port of Spain.
If you use a wheelchair, note that getting around Port of Spain and other large towns can be problematic. There are large gullies at the sides of most streets, and few of them have chair-accessible slopes or ramps.
Travelling with children
As most local people are fond of children and used to accommodating them, you’ll find that travelling with youngsters is rarely a problem. Almost all local hotels are happy to accept families, and many provide babysitting services. Many beaches in Trinidad (and some in Tobago) can be risky for swimming, so it’s best to keep a close eye on children when in the sea; even locals’ favourite Maracas has a strong undertow. Tobago’s Store Bay, Pigeon Point and Canoe Bay are the calmest, but Macqueripe in Trinidad can be quite benign too. Check with locals, and if there’s a risk stick to paddling.
Note also that attitudes towards children can be quite traditional, of the “seen and not heard” variety, so tantrums in public or backtalking adults will raise a few eyebrows, especially if these are not immediately quashed by the parent (spanking still remains a common disciplinary method in Trinidad and Tobago). As a mark of respect, Trinbagonian children often call adults “uncle” or “auntie”; encouraging your children to follow suit will be happily received.
Couples can marry in Trinidad and Tobago as soon as three days after their arrival. Many hotels offer sumptuous honeymoon suites, and Tobago Weddings (t639 4347, wtobagoweddings.com) will make necessary arrangements. You will need passports, airline tickets, and if either you or your soon-to-be spouse is divorced or widowed, the decree absolute or death certificate, along with proof of name change if it differs on the document. Under-18s must also have a documented consent form from a parent or legal guardian.