Let's Take A Closer Look

Explaining complicated subject matter simply since 1986

Not many people know that Trinidad is closer to Venezuela (6 miles) than it is to Tobago (20 miles). Just 1,800 square miles, Trinidad is smaller than Rhode Island, but nearly twenty times the size of Tobago, a little squirt of an island. More than a million people live in Trinidad while only 60,000 people live on Tobago. Trinidad and Tobago are not equals in any way.

Trinidad is not the Bongoville tourist destination most inexperienced travelers imagine all the Caribbean islands to be

Say Trinidad and most people who’ve never been there conjure images of colorful, grinning, toothy, ever-accommodating natives shinnying up trees for coconuts and under limbo sticks in beachfront tiki huts while Harry Belafonte in a big-sleeved calypso shirt sings “Day-O” to the accompaniment of bongos and comely native women in sarongs obediently serve cool rum drinks in tall glasses with little paper and bamboo parasols and a Carmen Miranda-sized helping of rim-perched tropical fruits.

There is no bridge

Residents of Trinidad and Tobago see themselves as living on one island or the other, not both.

Getting from one to the other means a four-hour car ferry or a flight so short the plane never gets to airliner altitude
  • Trinidadians go to Tobago on holiday.
  • Tobagonians go to Trinidad for big-city shopping and entertainment.
Visitors come to Trinidad for business and go to Tobago for pleasure 

Trinidad is a petrochemical island and the most industrialized of the Caribbean island nations while Tobago struggles to get by with tourism.

There is no glamour on the big island

There are none of the fancy resorts off-islanders expect to find in the Caribbean.

Most of the population lives jammed between the mountains and the sea on the northwest part of the island

It takes people hours each way to commute only a few miles because there are not enough roads and too many cars. Port of Spain and surrounding neighborhoods are for the most part crowded and dirty. Statistically, T&T ranks among the worst countries in the world in airborne pollutants and volume of litter per mile.

Trinidad and Tobago has a 99% literacy rate

Residents are avid readers of the three British-style tabloids. They have plenty to read about. Trinidad and Tobago has the world’s sixth worst crime rate and is #10 worldwide in murders per capita.

Tobago was a hot spot in the 1950s

In those days, Hollywood made films there with industry stars Robert Mitchum, Rita Hayworth, Jack Lemmon and Deborah Kerr. One of the three versions of the castaway film The Swiss Family Robinson was filmed there, too, the West Indies standing in for the East Indies.

Tobago is said by some to have been the inspiration for Daniel Defoe

The origin story they tell in Tobago is that the story of Robinson Crusoe was based upon an actual castaway who lived there for four years after being shipwrecked while on the way to Barbados. The Smithsonian says the inspiration might have been a Scottish navigator who asked to be abandoned on the deserted Juan Fernández Islands off the coast of Chile, more than 3,000 miles from Tobago. Still others say Defoe’s story was based upon an incident that happened in Ceylon, half a world away.

I side with those who say Crusoe’s story is likely a blend of the many shipwreck survivor tales that had been told for centuries

Scholars who scrutinize Defoe’s life say he would have read many such adventure stories, including a 12th century book about a young man who grows up isolated from society and a 17th century philosophical narrative about the spiritual growth of a man stranded on an island.

Columbus stopped by Trinidad in 1498

He claimed both islands for Spain, never mind the Caribs and Arawaks who had been living there for centuries.

Today, all that’s left of the Caribs is this:

Columbus came ashore in Trinidad, but he never set foot on Tobago

For the next 300 years, the British, French and Dutch fought with Spain and each other, taking turns enslaving natives and plundering their resources until the Treaty of Paris in 1763, when the British took over. In 1887 the British Parliament reduced its administrative costs in Tobago by merging it with Trinidad and transferring the bills to the big island. Sixty years ago, when T&T stopped being a revenue source for them, the Brits gave both islands back and walked away from the deal.

Bonus

Trinidadians and Tobagonians like to say they have more public holidays than any other country. They have 18, just like Colombia and the Philippines. India and Kazakhstan have 21, Sri Lanka has 25, and Cambodia has 28.

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