For those looking for a culturally rich destination, Trinidad & Tobago can provide that and more. The islands feature strong Indian, Asian and African influences, with foods and traditions from many countries melded with an island twist. To help you experience the vibrant culture of the islands here are some must-do experiences.
Steel pan drumming is a big part of the local culture in Trinidad & Tobago. The tops of these steel pans, which look like large oil barrels, are pounded down in such a way to form a curved surface that can be used as an instrument. In Trinidad you can visit Gills Pan Shop in the Curepe neighborhood, where you can see how each note on the pan is meticulously yet quickly placed on the pan’s surface, and even get a chance to play for yourself. Not all steel pans are created equal, and the different drums can represent the different instruments of an orchestra, like bass, cello and guitar. Additionally, it’s worth going to see a live steel pan performance at a panyard. Some local panyards include Amoco Renegades (138 Charlotte Street, Port of Spain); Desperadoes (Laventille Community Centre, Laventille); North Stars (63 Bombay Street, St James); Pandemonium (3 Norfolk Street, Belmont); and T&TEC Power Stars(14 Western Main Road, St James).
The best local food experience won’t be found in a high-end restaurant, but at stalls on the streets of Trinidad & Tobago. While Tobago’s street food stalls are scattered about the island, Trinidad’s is more organized. For example, the best Bake and Shark -- a dish featuring a hearty piece of fried shark on a fried pocket bun which you can top with condiments like ketchup, mustard, lettuce, tomato, cilantro, garlic and hot sauce -- can be found on Maracas Beach, where numerous street stalls sell the meal (Tip: The local favorite is Richard’s). Additionally, in Savannah West across from the performing arts center there are many street food vendors selling meals like doubles, two pieces of fried Indian-style bara filled with curried chickpea (chana), mango, cucumber, tamarind and cumin; corn soup, a creamy corn broth base with chunks of corn on the cob and dumplings; and roti, a wrap-type meal stuffed with your choice of meat as well as mango, dahl, pumpkin and curried potato with chana and beans. Other must-sample street foods in Trinidad & Tobago include crab and dumpling, pholourie, bus-up-shut, calalloo soup, fruit chow and seamoss punch.
Image of a Shark and Bake.
In Trinidad & Tobago, the term “liming” has nothing to do with adding citrus fruit to your meal. Instead, it refers to the act of just chilling, usually with friends, and doing nothing in particular. The phrase actually comes from the idea of having nothing to do besides squeeze limes. Locals love to call up friends to hang out, where everyone brings their favorite rum and they just relax, or lime. Whether you and your friends relax on one of Tobago’s white sandy beaches or enjoy a three-course meal in Trinidad’s Port of Spain, you’re liming like a local.
To really experience the local nightlife, you must visit a soca club and “wine” to some soca music. The typical style of dance is similar to grinding, however, the mindset is different. While grinding often entails intentions to go further, wining is simply about dancing and getting into the music. Feel free to dance with strangers without the fear of anyone asking for your number or trying for an encore. In Trinidad, you can simply walk down “The Ave” -- the strip in Port of Spain where you’ll find the island’s bustling nightlife scene -- or visit St. James to find some of the island’s best soca clubs.
Trinidad’s 429,093 square foot Port of Spain National Academy for the Performing Arts (NAPA) was finished in November 2009 and is already an important part of the island’s culturally offerings. The building is impressive, resembling in many ways the iconic Sydney Opera House in Australia. At night you can see it glowing purple, while aerial views show how the structure resembles the national Chaconia flower. While the outside is worth exploring, what’s really special about Trinidad’s Performing Arts center is what’s on the inside. Visitors can take in a performance -- they focus on steel pan shows -- in the 1,500-seat performance hall.
Trinidad & Tobago has a large Indian influence, and you can see temples scattered throughout Trinidad, where 43% of the popular is of East Asian/Indian background. On Trinidad visit Om Namo Hanumate Namaha, where you can see the largest Hanuman statue in the world outside of India at 85 feet (26 meters). There’s also Temple in the Sea, a Hindu temple that is, literally, located in the sea. While small, the views are beautiful, as is the colorful flag display surrounding the structure. The flags are brought by locals when they go to the temple to do puja (showing reverence to a God or spirit through prayer, song and ritual), with each flag representing a different deity.
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Jessica Festa is a full-time travel writer who is always up for an adventure. She enjoys getting lost in new cities and having experiences you don’t read about in guidebooks. Some of her favorite travel experiences have been teaching English in Thailand, trekking her way through South America, backpacking Europe solo, road tripping through Australia and doing orphanage work in Ghana. You can follow her adventures on her travel websites, Epicure & Culture and Jessie On A Journey. You can also connect with Jessica directly on Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus, or follow her epicurean adventures on Facebook and Twitter.
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