Trinidad and Tobago are two islands connected as one nation with very different characters. Next to Venezuela, Trinidad is the busier of the two and the most southerly of all the West Indian islands. In the bustling capital, Port of Spain, on Trinidad’s northwest coast, you’ll find impressive examples of colonial and renaissance architecture, as well as an eclectic cultural mix of Creoles, Africans, Amerindians, Europeans and East Indians. Popular beaches with palm-fringed beaches are nearby, and three forested mountain ranges cut through the island, creating some striking landscapes.

The naturally beautiful Tobago is Trinidad’s little sister. Rainforests, reefs and white sand beaches are the main tourist attractions here, with excellent snorkeling and diving opportunities. The islands attract many independent travelers who appreciate the unpretentious atmosphere and dramatic topography. In particular, both islands are known for their superb birdlife with many bird species from neighboring South America enriching the biodiversity. Trinidad and Tobago is also famous for its carnival, which took place on the Monday and Tuesday before Ash Wednesday.

Maracas bay, Trinidad

About 40 minutes northeast of Port of Spain, Maracas Bay is one of Trinidad’s most famous beaches. A deep bay protects this strip of golden sand, one of the most beautiful beaches near the city. From the port of Spain, a scenic drive through mountainous rainforest provides breathtaking views of the lush peninsulas jutting out into the sea. Food vendors and showers are available on the beach.

Pigeon Point, Tobago

Many consider Pigeon Point’s white sands and aquatic seas to be the most beautiful beach in Tobago. Also known as Pigeon Point Heritage Park, this popular stretch of coral sand coast requires an entrance fee and includes eateries, shops, dressing rooms and a straw chair. Sun loungers are also available for rent. Boats leave from here to snorkel the Buccoo Reef and swim in the Nylon Pool, a deep sea sandbar with crystal clear turquoise water that looks like a giant pool.

Port of Spain, Trinidad

Capital of the nation, this bustling business center boasts many fine examples of colonial-style architecture, as well as a few tourist things to do if you stay here for a few days. Architectural features include the impressive Renaissance style Red House Parliament at Woodford Square and The Magnificent Seven, a group of elegant mansions along the sprawling green expanse of Queen’s Park Savannah. Adjacent to this park you’ll also find the Royal Botanic Gardens, bordering the President’s residence, and the National Museum and Art gallery, with exhibits on local art, history and culture. The Port of Spain comes alive on the Monday and Tuesday before Ash Wednesday with Carnival, the extravagance of colorful costumes, limbo competitions and the infectious rhythms of calypso and soc.

For an overview of the city, try the 3-hour Spanish Port Tour. They operate in the morning and afternoon and include entrance fees to some of the attractions.