It was a country like no other. Here’s what I loved about the beautiful islands of Trinidad and Tobago and why you should grab the chance to visit.

Ipswich Star: Ellis Trinidad & Tobago, July 2016Ellis Trinidad & Tobago, July 2016 (Image: Archant)

What did I expect my first visit to the Caribbean to be like? I expected glorious sandy beaches stretching for miles, with water so clear you can see your feet and the fish that swim around them. I expected there to be traditional Caribbean music following me wherever I went, and coconuts in abundance. And I wasn’t far wrong.

This country has left me speechless, captivating me with it’s beauty, it’s culture and it’s zest for life. Of course, there is the almost endless choice of beautiful beaches, and Pigeon Point on the west side of the island well and truly steale my heart – it really is the epitome of what you expect from the Caribbean. I even put my fear of the sea to one side and learned to paddle board and, much to my surprise, didn’t fall in once - a feat even more astonishing once I had spotted a baby shark and a sizeable sting ray swimming beneath us. While I wasn’t quite ready to venture into the world of surfing, Tobago is said to be something of a hidden gem when it comes to the sport – particularly at Mount Irvine Bay, which is known to offer some quite sizeable waves.

From the equally beautiful beach at Store Bay, in Crown Point, we set off aboard a glass-bottomed boat and across crystal seas to Buccoo Reef Nylon Pool – which got its namesake from Princess Anne who likened the water to being ‘clearer than her nylon tights’. The Nylon Pool is a sandy haven in the middle of the Caribbean sea, with water less than two foot deep and coral which is said to make you look 10 years younger. The only touch of heartbreak the beaches gave, other than that I couldn’t stay longer, was not witnessing the leatherback turtles coming to lay their eggs.

But the beauty doesn’t end when you leave the glorious coastline. The spectacularly beautiful Argyle Falls, which stands at around 175ft near Roxborough, just calls for you to trek to its top to bask in the views of its surroundings, and the Tobago Main Ridge Forest Reserve, the oldest protected forest in the Western Hemisphere, offers glimpses of stunning wildlife. The island is fast becoming a popular destination for eco tourists, and it’s no wonder why. It boasts around 220 species of birds, including the white tail sabre hummingbird, the red-crowned woodpecker, the blue-backed manikin and the blue-crowned motmot, many of which can only be found in Tobago. The forest was practically destroyed by Hurricane Flora in 1963, making it even more of a spectacular experience to be able to admire its beauty today.

Ipswich Star: Ellis Trinidad & Tobago, July 2016Ellis Trinidad & Tobago, July 2016 (Image: Archant)

It is impossible to explore the island without getting a sense of its culture – it surrounds you on every beach, in every town, at every hotel. Calypso music forms a huge part of this, born in Trinidad and Tobago in the early 20th century to act as a ‘voice of the people’. And of course, you can’t venture to the Caribbean and not hear the beautiful tones of the steelpan.

Tobagonian culture runs strong in the many annual events it holds, from the traditional goat and crab races over Easter to the harvest festival which sees households in towns and villages open their doors to the community at weekends across the calendar. Whatever time of year you travel, there will be a traditional event underway. Our Caribbean visit coincided with the Tobago Heritage Festival, which runs from mid-July to November, and so we got to sample just a glimmer of the carnival action when the celebrations came to the small town of Plymouth. The streets came alive, dancing with bold colours of blue, gold and red. It seemed everyone in the town dressed up for the affair, following trucks carrying huge speakers and bands of steelpans as they paraded through the streets. But this was nothing on the main carnival event, which comes to a head on Ash Wednesday, with the celebrations bigger in Trinidadian and Tobagonian culture than Christmas is. While in Trinidad, we visited a Hart mass camp – a place where carnival costumes are made - and colour bounced out of the room. Local men and women will spend on average up to 15,000TT on their costumes each year, equivalent to around £1,600, giving you just a sense of the extravagance of the affair.

The whole country runs on ‘Tobago (or Trinidad) time’, and it is a refreshing break from the hustle and bustle of British, and particularly city, life. At times it can be frustrating, but you soon adjust. It means that you can sit down in a restaurant at 7pm, but could not get your main meal until 9pm. It encompasses the Tobagonian culture of ‘liming’ – just sitting back, relaxing and drinking with friends.

The food is fantastic – but prepare to overdo it on carbohydrates. Tobagonian cuisine is bursting with flavour, from rich barbecue sauces to cover the meat, to the delicious breadfruit and macaroni pies and traditional callaloo and coocoo – and there is always a fresh fish or seafood alternative on offer. Traditional dishes include crab and dumplings (which can prove rather messy, with you having to break the crab’s shell to suck out the flesh), doubles (curried chickpeas sandwiched between bara, or fried pancakes) and my favourite – roti stuffed with chicken curry. I have spent the weeks since my return dreaming of Jemma’s Treehouse restaurant in Speyside. Miss Jemma, as she is known, is something of a celebrity in Tobago for having served up the best traditional Tobagonian grub on the island for the past 30 years.

Ipswich Star: Ellis Trinidad & Tobago, July 2016Ellis Trinidad & Tobago, July 2016 (Image: Archant)

For the first half of the trip we stayed at Blue Waters Inn, a beautiful beachfront hotel on the eastern side of Tobago. Every morning I woke to the sound of the sea lapping the shore. The only downside of staying in eastern Tobago was that we faced lengthy hour-long journeys to most of our destinations, but the tranquility that the eastern region offers is well worth it. The west side generally proves more attractive to tourists, and has more of nighttime offering than in the east.

We spent two days in Trinidad, just a short 20 minute flight from Tobago at a cost of around £20-£25. While the island doesn’t boast the same sandy beaches and the peacefulness of Tobago, it is rich in history. The streets in Trinidad are bustling and the traffic, and on every street corner there is a vendor selling anything from fresh fruit to clothing.

We visited the Caroni Swamp and the Winston Nanan bird sanctuary where we caught sight of many scarlet ibis – a gloriously beautiful and vibrantly red bird - and the Temple in the Sea near Waterloo, a magnificent Hindu temple, the original version of which was built single-handedly by Siewdass Sadhu, a former Indian-born sugar worker who lived on the island. However, when in Trinidad, you do need to be careful and keep your wits about you, particularly when you venture off the more popular tourist trail.

Trinidad and Tobago together claim to be “the true Caribbean”, and I certainly wouldn’t argue. Part of the beauty of the islands, and Tobago in particular, is that their culture hasn’t adapted to accommodate western tourists. The islands remain true to their heritage, giving visitors a real taste for West Indie life.

Ipswich Star: Ellis Trinidad & Tobago, July 2016Ellis Trinidad & Tobago, July 2016 (Image: Archant)

Tobago is the gift that keeps on giving, and I’m certain that this was the start of a very long relationship with the Caribbean.