TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO
In the fairy-tale world of the extreme southern Caribbean, Trinidad is the sophisticated stepsister and Tobago is Cinderella.
While equal partners in the republic that bears their names, Trinidad is the hustle-and-bustle business center, the place where offshore gurus put together billion-dollar deals. On sleepy Tobago, it might be news around the island when someone comes home with a new car. Trinidad has razzle-dazzle; Tobago has rainforests. Trinidad has its own version of Wall Street tycoons; Tobago has waterfalls. It's the island that the 21st century hasn't found yet and that's why divers love it.
With daytime air temperatures of 85ºF to 88ºF and water temps of 77ºF to 82ºF, Tobago lives up to its 11-degrees-shy-of-the-equator location. Dives here are made with 3 mm shorties (in winter) or rash guards (in summer), and because the island lies considerably south of the typical hurricane zone, corals and sponges grow lush and huge thanks to nutrients flowing northward from Venezuela's Orinoco River. Drift dives near Speyside, in the north, are apt to feature 55-gallon-drum-size barrel sponges, and one dive Kelleston Drain is home to what local dive operators claim is the single largest brain coral in the world, huge enough to shelter multiple nurse sharks under its skirts.
In the northern parts of the island less affected by mainland river runoff during the August through December rainy season drift diving tends to be the rule, and most operators will equip each diver with a safety sausage. Rock pinnacles near a site called The Sisters are known as a good place to see hammerheads and, if you're lucky, mantas. London Bridge, a rock arch rising out of the sea near the St. Giles Islands, is known for hawksbill and leatherback turtles and pelagic sharks. Divers who haven't done a great Caribbean drift dive before will be instantly hooked. It's the most effortless sort of diving imaginable; simply find a depth, hover and let the scenery come to you.
Shoreward, you can be dressed for just about any conceivable social event in Tobago by wearing board shorts, Crocs and a shirt with a Guy Harvey print. Shopping can be pleasant once you realize that prices in Trinidad and Tobago dollars should be divided by six to get U.S. dollars.
While the island is only 26 miles long by 7 miles wide, the north holds the oldest protected forest in the Western Hemisphere, offering a chance to stroll under trees that are much the same as they were before European explorers ever set eyes on them.
Driving (on the left) is an exercise in avoiding chickens, goats and Tobagoans stopping to pick up or drop off a neighbor, or perhaps just to chat with a pedestrian they haven't seen for better than an hour. So the rule for driving, as for everything on Tobago, is go slow, ignore the clock and enjoy.
Don't you wish everywhere was like that?