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Just off the coast of the South American mainland they were once part of,
Trinidad and Tobago
(usually shortened to T&T) form the southernmost islands of the Lesser Antilles chain and the most influential republic in the Eastern Caribbean. They are the most exciting, underexplored and un-contrived of the Caribbean islands, rich in indigenous culture. A cultural pacemaker best known as the home and heart of West Indian
, the nation can also boast having the most diverse and absorbing society in the region.
T&T remain relatively
as natural gas and oil reserves have ensured economic independence and freedom from the tourist trade. Regionally, they are the richest destinations for
, combining the flora and fauna of the Caribbean with the wilder aspect of the South American mainland. In Trinidad, you can hike through undisturbed tropical
, take a boat ride through mangrove swamps and watch
nest on remote beaches.
, with more than 430 species in an area of 4830 square kilometres, is among the world's best.
(300sq km) has glorious beaches and stunning coral reefs. Declared the "
Disneyland of diving
", Tobago has the largest brain coral in the world and sightings of manta rays are common.
Equally absorbing are T&T's dynamic towns and cities, showcases for the architectural, religious and
of their cosmopolitan populations. The 1.3 million inhabitants hail from India, China, Portugal and Syria as well as Africa, England, France and Spain, and though racial tensions are inevitably present, Trinbagonians (as they're collectively known) co-exist with good humour, and are proud of their
. The result is a highly creative culture with a lively music scene that rivals even Jamaica.
Unlike its Caribbean neighbours, Trinidad experienced full-scale slavery for a relatively short fifty years, while the Dutch, French and British were too busy fighting over Tobago to dedicate it to the demands of King Sugar. Consequently, the national psyche is characterized by a strong sense of identity and a laid-back enjoyment of the good things in life, best displayed in the local propensity for "
" - meeting friends for a drink and a chat. With more than a dozen public holidays, local festivals and the pre-Lenten Carnival, a no-holds-barred two days of dancing in the street, the islands' reputation of knowing how to party is well deserved.
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