Ditch the wheels and take a stroll through the streets of ‘down tong’ (town in dialect), as the locals call the capital. In the last five years the skyline of Port of Spain has changed dramatically, with a few more towers lighting up the night along the Waterfront area ‘ including a Hyatt Regency hotel and an International Finance Centre and the National Academy of the Performing Arts, which, at the right angle, does a lilting impression of the Sydney Opera House.
But Port of Spain’s real charm is not the awkward attempts to make it a modern city, but the many historic buildings and parks that have survived the onslaught of steel, concrete and glass from its most recent construction boom.
From the promenade named after cricket wonder Brian Lara, you can walk north along any street and you will end up at the magnificent Queen’s Park Savannah, whose one-way traffic makes it the world’s largest roundabout. On Frederick Street, which is like a Main/High Street, the pavements are always heaving with office workers and vendors selling everything from newspapers and nuts to pirate CDs and leather slippers. Be sure to look up ‘ above the jewellery store windows sparkling with diamonds and 24-karat gold, you can see the delicate fretwork and balustrades that tell the age of these buildings.
Architecturally, Frederick Street offers the stately Trinity Cathedral, and Woodford Square, which is home to some of the most vociferous lobbyists in the country – literally, since many of them are homeless and sleep in the park at night.
For the adventurous, Charlotte Street is a rather rambunctious route to the Savannah. This is Chinatown, and almost every store is owned by Chinese shopkeepers, who have been here for more than a century. Shoppers who piss off the proprietor usually get an earful of choice words, first in Cantonese, then Trini English.
At the top of the street, you can rest your feet in the Memorial Park, which is usually deserted for unknown reasons, and admire the National Academy of the Performing Arts just across the street. Then, grab a cold coconut from one of the trucks parked up by the Savannah, and get ready for the two-mile stroll around the largest park in the Caribbean.
To the west is the spectacular ensemble of early 1900s great houses known as the Magnificent Seven. From early November to midnight on Carnival Sunday, you can easily get stampeded by the hundreds of Trinis ‘ men and women – walking around the Savannah, try desperately to get into shape to fit into their (very expensive) Carnival costumes. Their faces, grim with determination, and their goods nicely packaged in spandex, make sitting on a bench around the Savannah a great spectator sport.