Compared with its Caribbean neighbors, Trinidad gets few tourists except during its vibrant February carnival. This means that this tiny melting pot of a country — which shares nationhood with neighboring Tobago, and has a rich Indian-Creole-African-Chinese-British heritage — feels welcoming and authentic. Skyscrapers don’t exist; instead there are captivating gingerbread-style houses with fanciful latticework. The local cuisine, which reflects its hodgepodge of cultures, is intriguing and delicious but not fancy: The best meals are eaten on the street and at cafeteria-style counters, not in high-end restaurants, which tend to be Europeanized. Spend Friday in the capital, Port of Spain, then use Saturday for excursions north to the beach and south to explore the calm waterways and wild birds of the Caroni Swamp.
1) 3 P.M. Hit the spot
One of the coolest new additions to Port of Spain’s food scene is a stationary food truck called G-Spot on Maraval Road. Here you’ll find what’s quite possibly the healthiest and most contemporary food on the whole island: grain bowls made with a blend of brown and red jasmine rice, topped with grilled vegetables, tamarind sauce and chutney; crepes stuffed with handmade pork and beef sausage from the local producer Del Mano, and sides of dasheen (taro) mashed with butter, milk and fresh herbs. Try the Trinitella for dessert: a sweet crepe filled with a spread made from hazelnuts and Trini chocolate. G-Spot closes at 4 p.m. but has occasional evening “cheat nights”; check the Facebook page for details.
2) 5 p.m. The art of chocolate
A short walk from G-Spot is a striking house with elaborate wooden fittings designed by the architect-turned-chocolatier Isabel Brash. This is where Ms. Brash creates Cocobel, exquisite chocolates produced with world-class cocoa beans from her family’s estate in southern Trinidad, and flavored with local ingredients like mango, Scotch bonnet peppers, passion fruit and honey. Stock up on chocolate bars, barks and nibs, then walk down the spiral staircase to the Medulla Art Gallery, which focuses on contemporary Trinidadian and Caribbean art and the work of the Caribbean diaspora.
3) 7:30 p.m. Savannah street food
The sprawling Queen’s Park Savannah is the heart of the city, with amateur cricketers playing on the park’s green lawns on weekends, and food stalls serving up some of the best casual dining in town after dusk. Head for the cluster of white tents, bright lights and music and stroll through, picking up corn soup flavored with vinegar and studded with chunks of carrots and corn on the cob, pholourie (dumplings, lightly fried and served with a sweet dipping sauce), chicken feet and cow heels pickled with slices of cucumber (called souse). Then finish with a bag of the sweet and savory “chow”: slices of peeled fruit, often underripe mango, salted and doused with a peppery garlic sauce. Dinner for two, around 100 Trinidad/Tobago dollars, or about $15. Vendors on the perimeter of the park will open a fresh coconut for 10 dollars.
4) 9 p.m. Out at the box
One of the most cosmopolitan venues in Trinidad, the Big Black Box hosts events Friday evenings — from sets by EDM (electronic dance music) DJ.s to plays by local writers. Just off Ariapita Avenue (known as “the Avenue”), the Box is a sophisticated yet friendly place where hip young Trinis come for something different. The open-air venue has a bar, basic seating and a stage. Check its Facebook page to see what’s on.Saturday
5) 8 a.m. To market
Explore the outdoorsy parts of Trinidad that are within easy reach of Port of Spain. Begin at the Green Market Santa Cruz, a farmers’ market set in a garden a 20-minute drive from the city on the road to Maracas Bay. It is part of a working farm; vendors sell organic produce, mango chutneys and jars of chadon beni sauce (made from a cilantrolike herb), flowers and crafts, as well as snacks like Venezuelan arepas and the uniquely Trini “doubles,” the version here made with pigeon peas instead of chickpeas, well spiced and sandwiched between two pieces of fried bread. Add a cup of cocoa tea, a sweet local drink made from ground cocoa beans and spices.
6) 10 a.m. Hit the beach
Drive north from the Green Market to Maracas Bay, along a narrow road of hairpin turns with gorgeous views from the cliffs’ edge down to the water. Maracas Bay is the most popular beach within reach of the capital, and on Saturdays it can get crowded with people swimming in the clean, warm sea backed by lush green hills. One reason locals come here is for the “shark n’ bake” that’s sold at seaside food stands: a portion of shark (although skeptics say it’s just “fish”) battered and fried, then tucked into the “bake,” a folded-over circle of fried bread (35 dollars). Try it at Vilma’s, where the sauces are homemade, and add a cold Carib beer.
7) 1 p.m. History and houses
Head back into town to the National Museum and Art Gallery (free), on the edge of the Queen’s Park Savannah. The museum is dated, indifferently air-conditioned, and the exhibitions are chronologically disordered, yet it’s worth spending an hour here digging into Trinidad’s fascinating history. There are evocative old photos of the sugar, rum and oil industries and the capital, and exhibits on Spanish and British colonization, the abolition of slavery and the development of trade unions. (The second-floor Cazabon Gallery houses works by Trinidad’s most famous painter, Michel-Jean Cazabon; check the website for hours.) The museum is a short stroll from the historic “Magnificent Seven,” a series of grand 20th-century mansions that line the west side of the Savannah, and exist in various states of disrepair. The red-and-gray Queen’s Royal College is the most striking; it dates to 1904 and is still in use.
8) 2 p.m. Birds by boat
Head south on Uriah Butler Highway toward Pêche Pâtisserie, 30 minutes from the capital. Stop for lobster bisque and crab-stuffed prawns with creamed cassava. Then drive 10 minutes north to the Caroni Swamp wetlands for some top-notch bird-watching. Nanan’s runs daily two-and-a-half-hour boat tours (60 dollars) at 4 p.m. Guides steer green pontoons down the calm waterways, stopping to point out the different types of mangroves that line the banks, as well as snowy egrets, herons and, depending on the day, caimans, anteaters and snakes hanging from tree branches. The tour pauses before sunset for the startling sight of hundreds of bright scarlet ibises flying home to roost.
9) 9 p.m. Liming in St. James
Lined with Chinese restaurants, bars and stores that stay open late, Western Main Road in the St. James neighborhood is the place to come for an evening of partying (called “liming”). Take a long, slow stroll starting at Cawnpore Street, and head west, stopping for the occasional cold, local Carib or Stag at a bar blasting soca music. Have a heavy street snack of Indian roti stuffed with chicken, beef or goat curry topped with potatoes, pumpkin and spiced mango (ask for “slight” pepper to avoid too much heat, around 25 dollars). Or pick up a “punch” (the Trini word for juice); vendors sell shakes of soursop, passionfruit or sea moss, blended with ice and condensed milk.Sunday
10) 9 a.m. Open-air breakfast
In the shadow of the Hyatt Regency hotel, just off busy Wrightson Road, the Breakfast Shed serves up local food from stalls with names like Bern’s Tasty Pot and Dollo’s Delights. The Shed is the place to come for pillowy fried bread, stewed okra and eggplant, and salted and fried fish (around 35 dollars). Wash your breakfast down with a tamarind or sorrel (hibiscus) juice. The no-frills picnic tables look over the water.
11) 11 a.m. Shop local
Drive north from the Green Market to Maracas Bay, along a Head north to the St. Ann’s neighborhood to find a wealth of souvenirs at the Shop at the Normandie, a small complex of stores in the Hotel Normandie that showcase local designers and makers. Pick up books, jewelry, fudge and bars of chocolate, shea butter soaps and beauty products produced from local ingredients, along with swimsuits and colorful resort wear by designers like Meiling and Rebel. Then step across the parking lot to B3 Wine & Spirits, a chic booze shop that also functions as a bar, where you can find one of the country’s most famous exports, Angostura Rum (the 1919 is a popular choice). Throw in a bottle of Angostura Bitters while you’re at it.
12) 12:30 p.m. Sunday dinner
Sunday midday dinner is a Trini tradition. Head to Creole Kitchen, a cafeteria-style restaurant that looks out of place among the newer businesses that have sprung up around it. Locals pop in to pick up hearty takeaway containers of stewed chicken, macaroni pie topped with toasted cheese, and callaloo, a West African-influenced dish of taro leaves and coconut milk, but there are also tables for eating in.