Trinidad and Tobago is one of the wealthiest countries in the Caribbean, thanks to its large reserves of oil and gas, the exploitation of which dominates its economy.
Inhabited mostly by people of African and Indian descent, the two-island state enjoys a per-capita income well above the average for Latin America and the Caribbean.
Dependence on oil has made the country a hostage to world crude prices, whose fall during the 1980s and early 1990s led to the build-up of a large foreign debt, widespread unemployment and labour unrest.
As with other nations in the region, Trinidad and Tobago - a major trans-shipment point for cocaine - has been troubled by drug- and gang-related violence, which threatens the tourism industry.
Calypso music and steel drum bands feature in carnival celebrations on Trinidad. Tobago attracts diving enthusiasts and nature lovers.
President: Paula Mae Weekes
Paula Mae Weekes was sworn in as the country's first female president in March 2018.
Her nomination for the post by the ruling People's National Movement (PNM) was endorsed by the opposition United National Congress party.
She had a long career in the legal profession. She was called to the bar in 1982 and worked as a lawyer and as an appeal judge before her retirement in 2016.
In 2017 she was sworn in as a judge of the Turks and Caicos Islands Court of Appeal, a post she gave up when she was chosen for the presidency.
The president's role is largely ceremonial.
Prime minister: Keith Rowley
Keith Rowley was sworn in in September 2015 after he led the People's National Movement party to victory in a general election.
A volcanologist with a PhD in Geology, specialising in Geochemistry, he first ran for political office in 1981. He served as an opposition senator in parliament from 1987 to 1990 and has been a member of the House of Representatives for Diego Martin West since 1991.
Dr Rowley was first appointed as a cabinet minister in 1992 as minister of agriculture and later went on to hold the planning and development, housing and trade and industry portfolios.
Following the People's National Movement 's defeat in the June 2010 elections, he was elected as party leader and as the opposition leader in the House of Representatives. He was staunchly opposed to Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar's introduction of a state of emergency following an upsurge in crime in 2011 and he filed multiple motions of no-confidence in her government.
Privately-run TV6 dominates the ratings in Trinidad and Tobago. The state-owned Caribbean New Media Group (CNMG) operates a TV network and radio stations.
Some key dates in the history of Trinidad and Tobago:
1498 - Christopher Columbus visits the islands, naming Trinidad after the three peaks at its south-east corner and Tobago after a local type of tobacco pipe.
1802 - Spain cedes Trinidad to Britain under the Treaty of Amiens.
1814 - France cedes Tobago to Britain.
1834 - Slavery abolished; indentured workers brought in from India to work on sugar plantations.
1889 - Trinidad and Tobago administratively combined as a single British colony.
1976 - Trinidad and Tobago becomes a republic.