Official name: Republic of Trinidad and Tobago
Area: 5,128 square kilometers (1,980 square miles)
Highest point on mainland: Mount Aripo (Cerro del Aripo) (940 meters/3,085 feet)
Lowest point on land: Sea level
Hemispheres: Northern and Western
Time zone: 8 A.M. = noon GMT
Longest distances: Trinidad: 143 kilometers (89 miles) from north to south; 61 kilometers (38 miles) from east to west. Tobago: 42 kilometers (26 miles) from northeast to southwest; 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) from northwest to southeast
Land boundaries: None
Coastline: 362 kilometers (225 miles)
Territorial sea limits: 22 kilometers (12 nautical miles)
The islands of Trinidad and Tobago are located off the northeast coast of the South American continent, between the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean and northeast of Venezuela. With an area of about 5,128 square kilometers (1,980 square miles), the country is slightly smaller than the state of Delaware. Trinidad and Tobago is divided into eight counties, three municipalities, and one ward.
Trinidad and Tobago has no outside territories or dependencies.
The temperature varies minimally throughout the year. For the entire nation, the annual average temperature is 21°C (70°F). In Port-of-Spain, the capital, the minimum average temperature in January is 20°C (68°F) and the maximum is 30°C (86°F). In July, the temperature ranges from 23 to 31°C (73 to 88°F). In Trinidad's Northern Range, an increase in elevation causes a corresponding decrease in temperature. Nighttime temperatures are usually cool. For the most part, Tobago is cooler than Trinidad, owing to the more constant northeast trade winds.
Annual rainfall exceeds 250 centimeters (100 inches) in Trinidad's northern and central hill areas and throughout Tobago. In certain areas, the rainfall exceeds 380 centimeters (150 inches). Most hills receive 200 centimeters (80 inches) or more of rain, while in the lowlands the average is below 165 centimeters (65 inches). The wet season occurs between June and December, followed by a relatively dry season from January to May. The dry season is not a season of drought, however, since rain still falls every few days in most areas.
Trinidad and Tobago are situated on the continental shelf of South America and are geographically, but not geologically, part of the West Indies. Trinidad, the larger of the two, is within sight of the Venezuelan coast and was once a part of the mainland. Tobago, a few miles northeast of Trinidad, is part of a sunken mountain chain related to the continent. Trinidad, second-largest of the Commonwealth Caribbean islands, is roughly rectangular in shape with peninsular extensions at the northeast, northwest, and southwest corners. Tobago lies to the northeast of Trinidad and is separated from its sister island by a channel about 32 kilometers (20 miles) in width. Both islands sit on the South American Tectonic Plate.
The Trinidad and Tobago islands are surrounded by the Caribbean Sea to the north and west and by the Atlantic Ocean to the east. In the Caribbean, southwest of Tobago, the Buccoo Reef houses coral gardens.
An oval-shaped body of water, the Gulf of Paria, separates Trinidad from Venezuela. The Gulf of Paria can be entered from the north by Dragon's Mouth Strait (Boca del Dragon) or from the south through Serpent's Mouth Strait (Boca de la Sierpe), both of which were named by Christopher Columbus.
The Chacachacare and Monos Islands, as well as most of the numerous small islands close to the Trinidad shoreline, are located in or near the Dragon's Mouth Strait. Tobago has several small satellite islands. The largest are Little Tobago Island and St. Giles Island (Melville).
On the north coast of Trinidad, the shoreline is heavily indented and the bays are rockbound. There is no coastal plain between the tidewater and the steep mountain cliffs. On the south, the water is shallow and the bays are narrow. The eastern coast is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean and features several beaches. On the west, the land slopes gently from the Gulf of Paria to an interior of fertile hills and plains.
Although the town of Scarborough on Tobago is the only important port, there are several small harbors and the coastline is indented by numerous inlets and sheltered beaches.
There are no significant natural lakes, but extensive swamps occur along the eastern, southern, and western coasts on Trinidad. Some are mangrove swamps, separated from the sea by wide sandbars. The most extensive of the swamplands are the Caroni Swamp and the Oropuche Lagoon on the Gulf of Paria, and the Nariva Swamp on the Atlantic coast to the east. The waters of most rivers and streams ultimately drain through these swamplands.
Rivers and streams on Trinidad and Tobago are numerous but short. The longest rivers are located on Trinidad. The Ortoire is the nation's longest river, extending 50 kilometers (31 miles) eastward to the Atlantic Ocean in the south. The second-longest river, the Caroni at 40 kilometers (25 miles) long, runs westward to the Gulf of Paria in the north. The Navet River begins in the dead center of the island and flows east to the ocean. Flowing to the southern coast is the Inniss.
The only notable river on Tobago is the Courland River, which runs westward into the Caribbean Sea between the coral platform and the Main Ridge (a series of mountains near the northeastern coast).
There are several beautiful waterfalls in Trinidad and Tobago. The Blue Basin Falls and pool is located near Port-of-Spain, in the Diego Martin River. The Paria Waterfall is located on the Paria River.
There are no desert regions in Trinidad and Tobago.
The Caroni Plain, between the Northern and Central Ranges, is the country's most extensive lowland. South of the Central Range the land is undulating, with the Nariva Plain to the southeast and the Naparima Plain to the southwest. Each of the plains has a large swampy area: the Caroni Swamp, the Nariva Swamp, and the Oropouche Lagoon. Throughout the lowlands, the terrain ranges from flat to gently undulating. Narrow patches of coastal plain are found around the mouth of the Courland River on Tobago.
About 31 percent of the land is covered by forests, with four-fifths of this forestland owned or administered by the government. Much of this land is located in the hill regions.
Trinidad is traversed by three mountain ranges: the Northern Range, the Central Range, and the Southern Range. The principal mountain system is the Northern Range, a rugged chain that covers the entire northern portion of the island. It includes the highest point in the country, Mount Aripo (Cerro del Aripo), with an elevation of 940 meters (3,085 feet). The Central Range runs diagonally across the island. Average elevations for the Central Range are 61 to 152 meters (200 to 500 feet), with a maximum elevation at Mount Tamana: 307 meters (1,010 feet). Along the southern coast, the low and discontinuous Southern Range reaches a maximum elevation of a little less than 304 meters (1,000 feet) in the Trinity Hills of the southeast.
Tobago is generally mountainous. It has an uneven terrain dominated by the Main Ridge, a series of mountains near the northeast coast about 29 kilometers (18 miles) long, with elevations reaching a maximum of about 548 meters (1,800 feet). South of the Main Ridge on Tobago are lower hills in which rivers have cut numerous deep and fertile valleys. The southwestern part of the island consists of an extensive and fairly level coral platform.
The Aripo Caves near Mount Aripo are part of the most extensive cave system in Trinidad and serve as home to many different types of birds.
The Gasparee Caves are located on the offshore island of Gasparee. These caves were formed as the underground limestone deposits dissolved through a combination of wave action, acidic rainfall, and percolating groundwater. The Blue Grotto is one of the larger caverns of the Gasparee Caves. It is lined with stalactites and stalagmites that sometimes form columns where they have joined. The caves house bats, yellow-headed parrots, rufus-necked wood rails, and pelicans.
There are no significant plateau regions in Trinidad and Tobago.
There are no major man-made structures affecting the geography of Trinidad and Tobago.
Bereton, Bridget. A History of Modern Trinidad. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann Educational Books, 1981.
O'Donnell, Kathleen, and Harry S. Pefkaros. Adventure Guide to Trinidad & Tobago . Edison, NJ: Hunter Publishing, 1996.
Winer, Lise. Trinidad and Tobago . Philadelphia: J. Benjamins, 1993.
Williams, A.R. "Trinidad and Tobago." National Geographic, March 1994, 66-89.
Government of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago. http://www.gov.tt/about (accessed April 11, 2003).