The influence of India permeates the island of Trinidad—in the food, music and seaside temples. No wonder Carnival here is such a blast

Last year’s Carnival parade in Trinidad. PHOTO: ALAMY

IF TRINIDAD and Tobago immediately conjure up Calypso, sandy beaches and flip-flops, you’re only thinking of the Tobago part. Tourist-focused and largely Afro-Caribbean, Tobago is physically and culturally distinct from the other part of the dual-island republic. Some 95% of the country’s population live southwest on Trinidad, an energy-rich, highly energetic island that’s geographically closer to Venezuela and spiritually nearer to India.

Under British rule in the 19th century, some 150,000 laborers, primarily from South Asia, were brought in to work on the island’s sugar plantations. Most never left. Today, hundreds of Hindu temples and mosques dot Trinidad’s towns and highways. Some are as beautiful as anything in Mumbai. Street vendors hawk Indian fashions, prayer trinkets and Bollywood DVDs. It’s doubtful those once-indentured laborers ever imagined their progeny, now half the population, celebrating the Hindu festivals Divali and Eid al-Fitr as national holidays.

‘Hundreds of Hindu temples and mosques dot the island’s highways.’

Interpreting the culture of a subcontinent that few of today’s islanders have seen has produced flavors and rhythms their ancestors wouldn’t recognize. The unofficial national dish is flatbread filled with chana masala. Radio stations repeat Chutney Soca music—English songs in a Hindi lyrical style set to up-tempo beats heavy on hand-drums and steel-rods. “If you love nature you go to Tobago,” said Raymond Ramnarine, the son of Chutney Soca pioneers and frontman of the family band Dil-E-Nadan. “That is where people go to relax. But Trinidad is the industrial capital, so everything happens here, man.” And it’s happening nonstop January through February in the countdown to Carnival.

Traditionally a two-day festival, Carnival is now an entire season of fetes, culminating on Feb. 24 and 25, drawing virtually all 1.4 million residents for a gargantuan street party. Needless to say, the festival keeps musicians and babysitters very busy. “Whether it stems from the indentured laborers or slavery, the Africans or the Indians, we just enjoy the freedom that we have here,” said Mr. Ramnarine. Here are just a few ways you can enjoy the island, with an Indian twist.

Sacred Sights

One of Trinidad’s most popular attractions is an 85-foot-tall maroon-colored ape. The statue of Hanuman Murti (inset above), god of courage, was a gift from a swami in the motherland to consecrate Sri Dattatreya Yoga Centre in 2003. Hanuman brings visitors to the religious complex 20 miles from the capital Port-of-Spain, but the true centerpiece is the pastel pink temple flanked by two blue elephants. For a small donation visitors can take a coconut from the ashram, tie it to a fence post and collect it later after a priest blesses it.

Another popular pilgrimage site is simply called “Temple in the Sea.” Squat and topped by two domes, it sits just offshore in Waterloo, on an artificial island. Worshipers are drawn as much by the setting as by the temple’s origin story. The first structure—the current one is a reconstruction—was built in 1947 by a former indentured laborer, Seedas Sadhu. In the 1926, Sadhu returned to India to study architecture, then came back to Trinidad. He spent some 20 years building the structure, hauling materials by bicycle. Today, West Indians come from across the islands to spread ashes on the land around it, and they stop at the Indian Caribbean Museum on the way out (Waterloo Road, Carapichaima,

Waterfront restaurant at Hyatt Regency Trinidad, where the menu offers curries and masala. PHOTO: HYATT REGENCY


Remixed Curry

The country’s oil and gas wealth comes through in the capital’s glassy towers and the Spanish-colonial homes in the countryside. But even oil execs will admit the best Trini food is found at street stalls. Doubles, a staple sold in pairs, is a deep-fried dish served for breakfast. Briskly assembled from flatbread fried with curried chick peas (chana masala) and mango bits, each serving costs as little as TT$5 (75 cents). Most vendors are unnamed and won’t commit to one location daily, but you’re sure to find a few set up on Independence Square in Port-of-Spain’s commercial district. The best—and cleanest—street stalls shut down by noon. After that, switch to hefty roti wraps packed with curried chickpeas or meat and potato or “bake and shark,” a fried dough sandwich filled with seasoned shark (though catfish and ray are often substituted). Tender curried duck is more of a sit-down meal, if only to sop up the dressing with buss up shut, a tattered fried bread named for its resemblance to a “bust(ed) up shirt.” Order it at casual spots like Alpine Restaurant and Bar in Couva, one of the few Trinidad beach towns (27 Sandeanns Lane, Couva). For upscale offerings, book a table at Waterfront at the Hyatt Regency in Port-of-Spain, which offers local fish curry and saffron chicken tikka masala along with more standard resort fare (1 Wrightson Rd.,

Party Lines

Over 600 fetes are scheduled to take place before Carnival. Nearly all are spread across Trinidad—in clubs, on yachts, across parks. The Hyatt Lime All Inclusive (Feb. 19) draws big names in Soca and Calypso music; tickets start at $325 with strict enforcement of a white and “touch of lime” dress-code ( The latter comes from “liming,’” which in local parlance means hanging out in public. At parties casual and high-end, Raymond Ramnarine’s band Dil-E-Nadan might play 10 times on a typical weekend until Carnival. The party continues in the off season at popular Soca clubs Tantra Pub & Lounge, near Trinidad’s southern tip (1124 S.S. Erin Rd., Debe), and Hanggers Extreme a short drive from Port-of-Spain (Heartland Plaza, Narsaloo Ramaya Rd.).


One of the Hindu temples at Sri Dattatreya Yoga Centre. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES

With few exceptions, Trinidad’s sandy beaches are on the northern coast. The most beautiful is Maracas Bay Beach, a 30-minute drive from Port-of-Spain on the north central coast. The busy white-strand is great for people-watching and, as the joke goes, boss-watching, as employers are known to scour the beach after a riotous weekend trying to recover their staff.

For more beaches (and quieter ones), snorkeling and water sports, take a three-hour ferry to Tobago from the Port-of-Spain Terminal on Wrightson Road (schedule at

Part of the Buccoo Reef, Pigeon Point changes moods with each stretch of mile. Find privacy in the shade of by coconut farms or in the company of old fishing huts. Or drive to the edge of Tobago’s rainforest to relax in blue water along a crescent-shaped coast called Englishman’s Bay.

Due to rising crimes, especially on Trinidad, locals advise against going to isolated beaches or walking at night. With Uber leaving the market, homegrown ride-share apps filled the void (Drop, TT Rideshare, RideConnect, and women-and-children-only PinkCab), or hire a private guide from outfitters. Banwari Experience offers an extensive menu of eco and urban-themed tours, including East Indian culture, the Buccoo reef and rainforests (

Corrections & Amplifications

Eid al-Fitr is a Muslim holiday. An earlier version of this article incorrectly referred to Eid al-Fitr as a Hindu festival. (January 17, 2020)