PORT OF SPAIN (Reuters) - With parades, exhibits and fireworks in colorful Caribbean style, the twin island nation of Trinidad and Tobago celebrated its 50th anniversary of independence from Great Britain this year.
The prosperous oil-rich nation in the southern Caribbean is a culturally vibrant nation with rainforests, sandy beaches and a nightlife that includes restaurants serving sumptuous food and nightclubs with live music.
Reuter correspondents with local knowledge help visitors enjoy the most of what the islands offer during a short visit.
5 p.m. - Stretch your legs after a long journey by walking around the Queen’s Park Savannah, the heart of Port of Spain, the capital of Trinidad. Drink coconut water straight from the shell in the city where street food is safe and regulated. During your walk, look for the Magnificent Seven, late Victorian homes known for grandeur and eccentricity.
8:30 p.m. - Head to dinner at Creole Chaud and enjoy odd sounding local delicacies such as “pigtail oil down,” “cow heel,” and “goat dougla.” The fudge is made from the locally grown chocolate, considered some of the best in the world. www.chaudcreole.com
10 p.m. - To end the evening visit the Crowne Plaza Trinidad, which has closed its top floor-revolving restaurant, but if asked, the manager can open it up for guests. Sip champagne and enjoy the view.
8:30 a.m. — Sample breakfast at the downtown carts, which carry roti, a hearty breakfast of burrito-style bread with a chickpea filling.
9 a.m. - Visit the Asa Wright Nature Center in the Arima Valley and see the spectacular views of the Northern Range. Trinidad serves as a microcosm of South America with nearly 100 varieties of mammals, 300 birds, 55 reptiles and 617 butterflies. Many can be seen at this world-class preserve. www.asawright.org.
Noon - Drive through the rainforest to Maracas Beach on the north side of the island and about an hour’s drive from the capital. Grab a local delicacy at Richard’s Bake and Shark where you can try deep fried shark in batter.
1 p.m. - Marvel at the Temple in the Sea at the end of Orange Field Road in Waterloo. The Hindu temple is a 25-year labor of love built by a survivor of a German torpedo during World War Two to thank God for his escape.
2 p.m. - On the same Waterloo road the statue of Lord Hanuman, the Hindu Monkey God, rises up 85-foot. It stands next to a temple completed in 2003. The elaborate temple resembles a wedding cake.
4 p.m. - Travel to the Coroni Swamp for a nature ride to watch the arrival of the national bird, the red ibis. The scarlet birds resemble Christmas ornaments as they land on trees at sunset.
6:30 p.m. - Enjoy dinner in an old colonial setting at Veni Mange. Inside it is a burst of both colorful art and tasty food. Try West Indian dishes like Callaloo Soup and Saltfish Accras, while finishing with homemade coconut ice cream. www.venimange.com
8 p.m. - Walk along the broad avenue in front of the restaurant and follow your ears. There are dozens of clubs and bistros where live music is playing. Pick your favorite and dance.
9:30 p.m. - Head to the St. James area where music and entertainment runs around the clock. Walk down some of the side streets to catch Trinidad’s famed steel bands practicing.
11 p.m. - The Smokey and Bunty Sports Bar offers plenty of rum and loud music. Film stars and locals have chatted at the pub that sprawls out onto the sidewalk. Several dance clubs pound out rhythm until dawn.
8 a.m. - Catch a 14-minute flight to Tobago, which has a population of 52,000. The quaint island meets the ocean with some of the world’s most beautiful beaches. The peaks of the Main Ridge shelter one of the oldest protected forests, dating to 1776.
9 a.m. - Don’t forget the sunscreen at Store Bay at Crown Point, which is a quick taxi ride from the airport. With its golden sand and sheltered waters it is ideal for swimming.
10 a.m. - Browse through the food vendors to taste delectable local dishes such as fruit chow, corn soup and Doubles, a curried chickpea and garbanzo bean sandwich topped with chutney. Taste the pepper sauce, a national favorite.
10 a.m. - Join a glass-bottom boat tour to Buccoo Reef and Nylon Pools. Snorkelers can see up to 300 species, such as brain, elkhorn and star corals in the reef waters.
1 p.m. - Have lunch at a charming, family-owned Creole restaurant called the Blue Crab Restaurant. Try the fried flying fish and curried blue crabs www.tobagobluecrab.com
2 p.m. - Visit Fort King George, which dates back to the 1780s, and see its cannons which command an excellent view of the ocean. The quirky museum has items ranging from pre-history to colonial times.
3 p.m. - Relax on the beach at Canoe Bay, one of Tobago’s hidden jewels.
7 p.m. - Time for dinner, which is served under a thatched roof, at the Kariwak Village Restaurant. The lush landscaping also produces herbs for their sumptuous Caribbean meals. www.kariwak.com
Editing by Patricia Reaney