Going Places Educational Travel Blog - Today in Travel History: The Islands of Trinidad and Tobago
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July 31, 2014

Today in Travel History: The Islands of Trinidad and Tobago

On July 31, 1498, famed explorer Christopher Columbus arrived on the island of Trinidad, during his third voyage to the western hemisphere.

Columbus called the island Trinidad in honor of the Holy Trinity.  It was originally named Ieri (“land of the hummingbird”), by the Arawak and Carib Indians who occupied the island before Columbus’ arrival.

The Spaniards were unimpressed to find out that there were no precious metals on the island, so they captured and enslaved the natives and sent them to other Caribbean islands to work.

The island was fought over by the Spanish, French and British during several centuries.  Today, you can still hear inflections of Spanish and French mixed in to the “island-speak” spoken on Trinidad and its sister island, Tobago, if you listen carefully.  Ask a local to speak more slowly, and out will come perfect “Queen’s English.”

Columbus had no interest in checking out Tobago (named for the tobacco being cultivated on the island by the Carib natives), though he did take note of the island in 1498 while in Trinidad.  

Tobago itself was the location of some serious battles between the Caribs and other tribes.  Later, in the 17th century, the English, French, Dutch and Latvians fought over control of Tobago, and it eventually landed in the hands of the English.  It was centuries later, in the late 1800s, that the British annexed Tobago to Trinidad.  

The islands gained independence from Great Britain fairly recently, in 1962, just about the time when the Beatles visited Tobago and stayed at the Arnos Vale Hotel.  Other celebs have spent time on the “Robinson Crusoe Island” of Tobago, including Rita Hayworth, Robert Mitchum, Deborah Kerr, and Jack Lemmon, who each shot films there on location.  Perhaps the most famous film shot on Tobago was Disney’s “Swiss Family Robinson.”  It is known that England’s Princess Margaret often spent her annual holiday taking advantage of the island’s purported “fountain of youth.” Her sister, Queen Elizabeth II, has dipped a toe in the waters where the Atlantic and Caribbean meet, as well.

The island nation of Trinidad and Tobago is rich in tradition and history, and was discovered by western explorers on this day, 516 years ago.

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