Public transportation around Trinidad and Tobago can at first seem chaotic and unpredictable, but once you’ve got the hang of it, getting around these two compact islands is relatively straightforward.
Buses, maxi taxis and route taxis serve most places mentioned in the Guide, though a few of the more rural areas have only infrequent services. In populated areas, buses and maxi/route taxis run from around 6am until late evening, but outside commuter hours the waits can be long and having your own car is infinitely more convenient. Private taxis are always available. Avoid travelling at peak hours (6–8am & 3–6pm), when urban roads are clogged with heavy traffic and maxis and taxis heave with people. The water taxi service between San Fernando and Port of Spain, and Port of Spain and Chaguaramas, offers a relaxed alternative to Trinidad’s busy roads.
Note also that many of the islands’ tour operators offer airport transfers and general transportation, say from Port of Spain to Grande Riviere or Crown Point to Charlotteville.
Bus services in Trinidad and Tobago are divided between large public buses (run by the Public Transport Service Corporation, PTSC; wptsc.co.tt) and private services (most often minibuses) called maxi taxis. All public buses and most maxi taxis in Trinidad leave from and terminate at City Gate – sometimes referred to as South Quay in official literature – in Port of Spain, the country’s main transportation hub. Maxi and bus services between Port of Spain and Arima are especially quick due to the Priority Bus Route, which runs along the course of the old railway line through Trinidad’s east–west corridor. In Tobago, all buses leave from the Sangster Hill Road terminal, off Milford Road in Scarborough, and cover the entire island.
Buses and maxis are viable transport options for visitors, and riding in a maxi can often be an entertaining experience as well as a chance to chat to locals; it’s also fun to try and spot the most unusual of the “names” splashed over the top of the windscreen – popular standards include the likes of “Problem Child” or “Wotless”, perhaps in honour of the notoriously cavalier driving habits of their owners.
There are several types of public bus in Trinidad, with both urban and national services: all are air-conditioned and reasonably comfortable. Bus stops are often small concrete shelters on the side of the road, or sometimes just a sign on a telephone pole. Tickets must be bought in advance, either from the main City Gate terminus in Port of Spain, Scarborough’s Sangster Hill Road bus terminal or from small general stores around the country – you cannot simply board a bus and buy your fare. Weekly and monthly travel cards are available. Fares run from TT$2 to TT$8, and services operate from 4.30am to around 9pm. Bus information can be obtained online, in person at the bus terminals, or by ringing t 623 2341 (Trinidad) and t639 2293 (Tobago).
By maxi taxi
Maxi taxis carry anything from ten to thirty people, and are privately owned but run according to set routes and fares; each area has a different colour-coded stripe, or band. In Trinidad, yellow-band vehicles work from in and around Port of Spain to Diego Martin and the western tip; red-bands in the east; green-bands in the centre and south; black-bands in and around Princes Town; and brown-bands from San Fernando to the southwest. Blue-band maxis operate in Tobago and there is only one set route, from Scarborough to Charlotteville (the rest are for schoolchildren and private tourist charters). Maxis adhere to no fixed timetable, though services are at their most frequent from 6–10am & 3–8pm; after 8pm you can expect a longer wait. Some maxis run intermittently through the night, especially along the east–west corridor and in the major towns. Importantly, maxis can be hailed anywhere along their route – just stick out your hand and if they have space they will pick you up – but it’s often quicker to go to a main stand; since maxis wait until they are full before leaving, they may not have free seats until they reach their destination. Once aboard, they will let you off at any point; press the buzzers by the windows to stop the bus. Fares range between TT$4 and TT$10; ask fellow passengers if you’re not sure, or just give the driver a TT$10/20 note and wait for your change.
Private cars operating as shared taxis, route taxis follow similar rules to maxis, departing on set routes from stands in all sizeable towns. They can hold four to five passengers in addition to the driver and, apart from their H number plates, they are indistinguishable from private cars (which have P number plates – although note that some P-licensed cars also operate as route taxis and are best avoided, as you could be getting into anyone’s car), and come in various states of repair. Route taxis don’t leave their stand until they’re full, but are usually quicker (and slightly more expensive) than maxis as they stop less frequently.
To stop a taxi en route, hail it with a wave of your hand. There is a widely accepted code of hand signals among locals catching taxis; point left or right to indicate which direction you want to take at the next major turn-off. When entering the car, it’s normal to greet other passengers with a “good morning” or a “good afternoon”. To stop the taxi, just tell your driver you want to get out as you approach your destination – in Trini-speak, “nex corner drive”. As with maxis, if you’re not sure what you should be paying, just hand over a TT$20 note and wait for change; you’re unlikely to be overcharged.
Like anywhere, private taxis take you directly to your destination, but are unmetered, so a price must be agreed beforehand, and they easily work out just as expensive as a cab in Britain or the US. As with route taxis, they have an H number plate. It is often possible – and more economical – however, to bargain with a route taxi driver to drop you where you want. Phone-A-Taxi (t 628 TAXI) offers the cheapest 24-hour, island-wide service in Trinidad; in Tobago, drivers hang out at the airport and all hotels and guesthouses will be able to recommend a driver.
Driving in T&T requires patience and constant alertness: you simply cannot take your eyes off the road for one moment, and the packed one-way streets of downtown Port of Spain can seem a nightmare at first. Though Trinbagonian drivers are generally courteous, often stopping to let other drivers pull out or offering parking advice, they also habitually stop at short notice, turn without indicating and will happily block traffic to buy a snack or chat with a friend. The best thing to do is accept it; beeping your horn out of irritation will only get you withering stares; horns are more frequently used as a thank-you gesture for a courtesy or indication of an intention to overtake. Expect maxis/taxis to pull over at any moment, and always drive defensively.
Some drivers also take to the road at night with only one headlight/taillight, and keep full-beam headlights on all the time; keep your eyes to the left verge to avoid being dazzled. Hand signals are also frequently used: an up-and-down movement indicates that a driver is about to stop (or an instruction for others to stop due to a hazard ahead); if pulling out into traffic, some still stick out an arm to indicate their intent. Whatever the motivation, slow down if faced with a hand signal. Driving on main highways can feel hair-raising – a favourite Trinbagonian habit is a high-speed weaving technique which looks as though it ought to cause a multiple pile-up (sadly, it often does so); left-hand overtaking is also commonplace. Always take extra care, and slow right down in the tropical rains.
Traffic lights can be confusing: as well as the usual red/amber/green sequence, you’ll see flashing red or yellow lights at junctions; both mean “proceed with caution”; yellow means it’s primarily your right of way, red that it’s someone else’s.
Seat belts are compulsory, but not always used. Drinking and driving is also illegal, though the attitude towards it is more laidback in T&T than most other countries. The law also demands that drivers be properly attired; men can be charged for driving without a top on (“bareback”), so always keep a T-shirt handy. Road signs are based on the English system (although distances and speed limits are in kilometres), and you must drive on the left. In Trinidad, the speed limit is 80kmph on highways and 55kmph on main roads in built-up areas. Tobago’s speed limit is 50kmph.
A valid international driving licence or one issued in the US, Canada, UK, Germany or the Bahamas is required for driving both cars and motorcycles for up to ninety days. Apply to the Licensing Division on Wrightson Road, Port of Spain (t 625 1031), if you intend to drive in T&T for longer than three months.
All companies require you to be 25 or over and hold a valid driving licence; most ask for a deposit guaranteed by a credit card imprint, though some smaller firms, especially in Tobago, accept a cash deposit of around US$170. You’ll be offered a collision damage waiver at extra cost (usually US$5–15/day); without one, you will be liable for damage, but note that you may well be able to arrange CDW cover through your home insurance before you arrive in T&T, which often works out to be much cheaper. Rental prices vary, so shop around; they tend to start at around US$30 per day for the smallest vehicle, inclusive of third-party insurance and unlimited mileage. Check tyres (including the spare) before you drive away, and make sure you’re present when existing scratches and bumps are noted.
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Renting a motorcycle isn’t advisable in Trinidad because of the volume of traffic and unpredictable driving, but a bike can be a good way of getting around Tobago’s quieter roads. You can rent bicycles on both islands, though for the same reason they’re not great for getting around Trinidad, other than for exploring quiet areas such as Tucker Valley in Chaguaramas.
Sheppy’s Tobago wtobagocarrental.com
Easy Goers Airport Rd, Crown Point, Tobago t 681 8025 or t787 0685, weasygoersbikes.com.
Geronimo’s 15 Pole Carew St, Woodbrook, Trinidad t622 2453, wgeronimocycle.com.
Mike’s Bikes 21 O’Connor St, Woodbrook, Trinidad t624 6453, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Trinidad’s water taxis (t624 5137, wnidco.co.tt) save time and stress on the roads between Port of Spain and San Fernando (45min; TT$15), and are a quick and easy way to get from the capital to Chaguaramas (15min; TT$10). The Port of Spain terminal is on Wrightson Road, adjacent to the Tobago ferry terminal.
There are two options available if you wish to travel between the islands – the plane, quick and relatively inexpensive; and the ferry, a bit slower and a lot cheaper, but a rough ride that’s notorious for seasickness. The air bridge is the more pleasant experience, though it does mean that you have to get to and from Piarco airport, which can be a lengthy journey at rush hour; the ferry, by comparison, departs from central Port of Spain.
Fast catamarans, T&T Spirit and T&T Express, make the journey between the islands in around three hours (though ongoing engine problems mean that journey time is often longer). In Trinidad, ferries arrive and depart from the Ferry Terminal opposite the Twin Towers on Wrightson Road in Port of Spain; in Tobago, the terminal is on Milford Road in central Scarborough. There are usually around six sailings per day, but it’s best to call in advance or check the Inter-Island Ferry Service website, whttps://ttitferry.com which lists current schedules. Bear in mind that the journey can be rough due to strong currents in the Bocas (less so from Tobago to Trinidad); take seasickness tablets, and sit in the middle of the boat rather than the back or the front. Seasoned ferry passengers travel with a sheet or wrap to cover the sometimes less-than-clean seats.
One-way tickets cost TT$50; standard car prices are TT$150 one-way (though few rental outfits will let you take their cars on the ferry). Note that you can’t book seats or buy tickets on the phone or online. For same-day tickets only, the Port of Spain and Scarborough terminal ticket offices are open Monday to Thursday 7.15am to 3pm, 4.15 to 6pm & 7 to 10.30pm, Friday 7.15am to 3pm; be prepared to join the queue at least three hours before the boat leaves. Otherwise, you have to buy in advance (essential for busy periods like Carnival, Easter or Great Race) in person from travel agencies and authorized vendors – check the website for a full list. For further information, call t625 4906 in Trinidad, t639 2416 in Tobago.
National carrier Caribbean Airlines (t 625 7200, wcaribbean-airlines.com) makes the twenty-minute flight between Trinidad and Tobago up to twenty times a day each way. Tickets cost US$24 one-way and US$48 return; you can book and pay for an e-ticket online, or visit a ticket office in person. The latter are at Piarco Airport (daily 4.15am–7pm), and at Nicholas Towers, Independence Square, Port of Spain (Mon–Fri 8am–4pm, Sat 8am–noon); in Tobago, there’s an office opposite departures in Crown Point Airport (daily 5.45am–9.45pm; t 660 7200). Note that all tickets are flexible: once you’ve paid, you can change the date and time of your flight online, by phone or at ticket offices; this, however, seems likely to change in the future so check before you book.
In addition to standard bus services, PTSC offers tours to some of Trinidad’s most popular attractions. The “Know Your Country” Tours are designed primarily for locals (though tourists are welcome), and are an excellent and very cheap way of getting to some of the more inaccessible parts of the island. Prices range from TT$50 to TT$150, not including entrance fees and meals. The most popular trips are listed below, but the PTSC website details many other options.
Departing from City Gate in Port of Spain, there’s a visit to Los Iros (stopping at Penal and the Divina Pastora church in Siparia), Blanchisseuse (stopping at the Asa Wright Nature Centre and passing through Morne La Croix and Brasso Seco, and with a swimming stop at Las Cuevas), Mayaro (stopping at Manzanilla Beach) and the Pitch Lake (stopping at Vessigny Beach). Starting from the PTSC terminus in San Fernando (though you could pick it up in the capital), there’s also a tour to Port of Spain, taking in the National Museum and heading on to Maracas Beach. For more information, call t 623 2341, ext 234 or 371.