The twin island nation of Trinidad and Tobago is a mere 11 kilometers (seven miles) off the coast of Venezuela, but geography aside, South America is not the dominant influence here. In fact, the country is the definition of a true melting pot. Locals speak a language all their own—mainly English, but peppered with Creole and patois. Along with Afro-Trinis, there are citizens of Indian descent, both Hindu and Muslim, who have maintained their ethnic heritage. As is true in much of the West Indies, many locals have Chinese and Middle Eastern roots as well.
In the late 2000s, the island nation’s capital, Port-of-Spain, went on a modernization spree—adding new hotels and shopping to make its once warehouse-clogged shoreline an attractive draw and building a glassy, shell-shaped national arts center. Yet amid the construction boom, the city has still managed to retain much of its historical charm, with ornate, early-20th-century mansions lining its central Savannah district.
But Trinidad is best known for its carnival—matched only by Rio and New Orleans in its festive grandeur. Steelpan orchestras with as many as 100 members join a procession of outrageously costumed dancers. You’ll also hear calypso and soca, two styles of music that originated on Trinidad and Tobago.