Trinidad’s human and physical landscapes vary vastly from coast to coast. Starting early and limiting your stops, you can drive the entire island in a day. From Port of Spain (which you must walk to truly experience), head east on the Churchill-Roosevelt Highway (or along the North Coast Road). From Arima, you can either head north toward dramatic Toco and Grande Rivière when you reach Valencia (you’ll have to retrace your steps to head to the southeast), or continue southeast through the “Cocal” toward the windswept Manzanilla and Mayaro beaches. From there, head west through the undulating Southern Range, and then south toward Icacos along the gently lapping water of the south coast; Cedros and Columbus Bays are magical. On your way back to San Fernando, take note of the Pitch Lake (see below) and the oil-based industry that drives Point Fortin. You can head back to Port of Spain along the Solomon Hochoy Highway, but far more rewarding is the Southern Main Road winding past Claxton Bay, the sprawling Point Lisas Industrial Estate, Waterloo Temple and Hanuman Murti. Make sure to head west to Chaguaramas, with its National Heritage Park and marinas of moored yachts from across the globe.
The original cannon and dungeon may be intimidating, but Fort George – built by the British in 1804 after snatching Trinidad from Spain in 1797 – never experienced military action. Since 1883, it has been a tracking station. These days, its greatest asset is its magnificent panoramic view (rivalled only by that from Mount St Benedict) of the entire west coast from 335m (1,100ft) above Port of Spain. Open 10am to 6pm, admission free.
This 25-hectare non-profit is home to many rare bird species (both free-roaming and caged), with a unique opportunity to get close to Trinidad’s national bird, the scarlet ibis. Bucolic wooden walkways take you right around the compound’s two lakes. There is a learning centre at the entrance, with displays and Amerindian artefacts, a boutique hotel, and restaurant.
Probably the island’s best known attraction, and nesting site of the national bird. A rewarding excursion for any nature lover, especially birders. Boat trips leave 4pm (though some companies operate tours all day), meandering through freshwater marshland and mangrove forest. Look for a variety of birds, marine life (including caiman) and tree-dwelling animals like the silky anteater and tree boa.
Grande Rivière is the second largest leatherback turtle nesting ground in the world. During nesting months (March 1–August 31), endangered leatherback turtles heave themselves out of the ocean to come ashore and lay eggs. Two months later, baby turtles scramble to the sea; few survive waiting predators to make it to maturity. It’s worth an overnight (or weekend) trip, and there are several guesthouses right on the beach.
Trinidad’s most popular bird watching retreat. The 193-acre Centre offers day visits, a restaurant, and guest rooms for longer stays. Highlights include the Dunston Cave oilbird colony; the verandah where up-close encounters with hummingbirds, honeycreepers and bananaquits are frequent; and freshwater pool.
Gaspar Grande is the largest offshore island off Chaguaramas and home to the Gasparee Caves. After a boat ride from Chaguaramas, a short hike leads to a descent into the limestone cavern, the electric blue waters of the Blue Grotto, and caves of stalagmites and stalactites sweating percolating groundwater. Some say pirates buried treasure here.
After a winding drive through the Northern Range’s rainforest – with beautiful views of Cyril’s, Balata and Maracas bays and the lookout where food vendors and serenading guitarists await – you’ll find cosy Maracas. Its refreshing sea breeze and a good mouthful of bake and sustainably-produced fish or aloo pie can cure most anything.
The largest of only three natural asphalt lakes in the world, covering about half a square kilometre and producing some of the world’s finest asphalt (mined and exported since 1859). Natural springs, said to have healing properties, appear at its centre during the rainy season. Most parts are hard enough for foot traffic. Legend has it that a tribe of Amerindians were swallowed by the lake as punishment for eating hummingbirds, which hosted the spirits of their ancestors. An on-the-spot museum houses some (sometimes bizarre) artefacts that have been recovered.
A breathtaking and humbling experience is to walk out onto the rocky outcrop at Galera Point beyond the Toco Lighthouse (aka the Keshorn Walcott Toco Lighthouse) at the northeastern-most tip of the island. To the southeast crashes the navy blue surf of the Atlantic Ocean; to the northwest, the gentler turquoise water of the Caribbean Sea. Here the two bodies of water meet, with a distinct demarcation in colour. It is also here that Amerindians, fleeing the Spanish colonials after the Arena Uprising in 1699, are said to have thrown themselves into the perilous waters below rather than suffer further Spanish oppression.