Usually, when you read about travel in the Caribbean, you only hear the good stuff: the beaches, the food, the rum, the parties, the “friendly locals.”
Although considered a high-income non-OECD country by the World Bank, the Caribbean island of Trinidad and Tobago is not perfect. On a daily basis, Trinbagonians face real issues: crime, environmental degradation, traffic, political corruption, power cuts, and water shortages.
As tourists/travelers, we must never turn a blind eye to the problems of the countries we visit. Also, as travel writers and bloggers, we shouldn’t sell the Caribbean as idyllic, “sand, sea and sun” destinations immune to serious problems. Instead, we should tell the truth.
With that in mind, here are 16 tips from a local to stay safe and healthy when traveling in Trinidad and Tobago.
1. Always research your accommodation.
Don’t stay somewhere just because it’s cheap. Check TripAdvisor or myTobago for the most recent reviews. Ensure that the room or apartment doors and windows are well secured, the locks work, and the gates (if any) close at night.
2. Bring an unlocked GSM mobile phone or buy a cheap one when you get here.
3. Like anywhere else in the world, Trinidad and Tobago has its fair share of street criminals.
Be street smart. When in public, don’t carry a lot of cash and valuables on you. Don’t wear your expensive camera like a ridiculous necklace while walking in downtown Port of Spain and other urban areas. You’re just making yourself a target.
4. Go sightseeing with a local you trust.
There’s a lot to see and do in T&T: party ’till dawn, visit temples, trek through rainforests, kayak rivers, chill on beaches, or go bird watching. However, always try to travel in a group or with locals you trust, especially when going to isolated destinations like Fort George or when liming at night.
5. It’s illegal to wear camouflage in Trinidad and Tobago.
Leave the camo bikinis and board shorts at home. You can only legally wear any camo wear if you’re in the local regiment or in Trinidad and Tobago on official military business.
6. It’s also illegal to possess or consume marijuana (and other illicit drugs).
Don’t believe the lies the media tells you about the Caribbean. It’s not as laid back as you think it is. Taking certain drugs is against the law. Trust us, you don’t want to pay a heavy fine or make a jail. Local prisons are filthy, scary places you want to avoid.
7. Don’t go topless or nude or any beaches in Trinidad and Tobago.
You will offend the locals’ delicate sensibilities and attract unwanted attention. However, anything goes during Carnival time.
8. Although Trinidad is a tiny island, brace for the traffic.
Traffic on the highways usually starts as early as 5:00 and continues all day, even after 20:00. It only gets worse if there’s an accident or it rains heavily. To avoid wasting precious time in crowded lanes, go against the grain. Head to more off the beaten track destinations and start early on weekends.
9. Travel smart.
If you choose to use public transport, never travel in a PH taxi. Although you will never actually see a PH license plate, it refers to a private vehicle trying to hire passengers. You never know what can happen to you in a PH taxi and you’re not covered by insurance if the car gets in an accident. Only use taxis with an H license plate. P.S. If you’re traveling really short distances, don’t ever pay with a TT$100. Local fares never cost that much and the driver will b**** about getting it changed. Alternatively, you can take the bus but they can be unreliable and infrequent. Maxi taxis also frequent both islands but many drive carelessly.
10. Rent a car.
If you don’t want to use public transport, why not rent a car? Always fill up before driving to remote destinations. Reckless driving and road rage are also very common in Trinidad and Tobago so drive defensively. Don’t leave any valuables in the car and lock up when you leave. Park in highly visible, well-lit areas. Finally, don’t drink and drive (even if locals do).
11. Dress appropriately.
If you wear skin-tight, very short, or otherwise revealing clothing, expect lots of male attention. Also, remember to dress appropriately if you plan on visiting any temple, church, or mosque on any of the two islands.
12. Stay hydrated.
During the day, temperatures can reach as high as 34 degrees Celsius. Always keep a bottle of water. Water from the tap is generally safe to drink but those with sensitive stomachs should stick to bottled water.
13. Bring insect/mosquito repellant.
With a year-round tropical climate, Trinidad and Tobago has a lot of mosquitoes. Also, watch out for sand flies on the beaches. Those bites can itch like crazy and can get infected.
14. Public toilets can be gross.
In many cases, public toilets are poorly maintained. Instead, use the bathrooms in malls or restaurants. If you do have to use a public toilet, check whether the doors lock properly and carry your own toilet paper, wet wipes, and hand sanitizer.
15. Nature is lovely but be careful.
On the beaches, look out for Portuguese Man of War jellyfish, sea urchins, and fire coral and pay attention to red flags and signs that warn of strong rip tides and undercurrents. Avoid manchineel trees. They have shiny green leaves and the fruits look like little green apples. Although these native trees appear harmless, the bark, leaves, fruit, and sap are very poisonous. Don’t even stand under the tree if it’s raining as any contact with the dripping sap can blister your skin. If you plan on hiking in the rainforest, you may encounter dangerous snakes such as the Fer de lance, Bushmaster, and coral snakes. Always wear long pants and sneakers/hiking shoes.
16. Remember to get travel insurance and to bring any prescriptions you may need.
If you do get ill or injured, beware that public health facilities can have long wait times. Private hospitals are also really expensive and are often unavailable in remote areas. Bring any essential medications you may need as pharmacies tend to close early and may not sell certain drugs.
Photos: © Hot Foot Trini
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