Round-the-Island Tour part 6:
the East-west Corridor, East & Northeast coast
Port of Spain—Northern Range valleys (two hours)—Toco (two hours)—Matelot (three hours)—Manzanilla/Mayaro (two hours)—Guayaguayare (three hours)
Northern Range Valleys
Although the East-West corridor, stretching from Port of Spain to Sangre Grande, is Trinidad's most densely-populated area, it's quick and easy to leave the heat and suburban sprawl behind to enjoy a quiet afternoon in one of the many cool valleys of the Northern Range. A 20-minute drive on the Churchill-Roosevelt Highway takes you to the heart of the East; or you can take the slower, but infinitely more interesting Eastern Main Road. The EMR runs from Port of Spain along the southern edge of the Northern Range to the west coast at Matura and Manzanilla. Villages and towns along the route have merged into one continuous urban chain through San Juan, St. Joseph, St Augustine, Tunapuna, Tacarigua, to Arima. Further east, Valencia, Sangre Grande, and Matura are still discrete townships. Rivers running off the Northern Range watershed flow east and west.
- Angostura distillery: Tour the rum factory and home of world-famous Angostura Bitters. Tours at 8:30am and 1pm Tuesdays and Thursdays.
- St. Joseph: along the Main Road, St. Joseph is the first town you will meet outside of Port of Spain. It is also the oldest town in Trinidad, and its first capital (San José de Oruña, 1592–1783). In 1837, the year before emancipation, an African chief named Daaga led a rebellion against British rule and slavery; he was executed in what is now George Earl Park just below the church. For serious hikers, a trail from Luengo Village at the far end of the valley crosses the mountains to emerge at Maracas Bay.
- Maracas Waterfall: turn left onto Abercromby Street, opposite the St. Joseph mosque and the road (which becomes Maracas Royal Road) winds gently up into the hills below El Tucuche; look for Waterfall Road on the right (about 15 minutes): at the end you can park and walk (about 30 minutes) to the Maracas Waterfall, Trinidad’s highest. At 91 metres, Trinidad’s highest fall cascades off the upper reaches of the Maracas St. Joseph valley into a pool. The trail is well kept, and there are cool bathing pools below the fall, which is best seen in the wet season (during the dry season it can slow to a trickle). Popular with nature lovers and picnickers, it is also a sacred place for Hindus, Orishas and Spiritual Baptists.
- Mount St. Benedict Church and Monastery: back on the Eastern Main Road, the village of Tunapuna, about 15 minutes drive from Port of Spain, is the jumping-off point for a visit to Mount St. Benedict, the largest Benedictine Monastery in the Caribbean. Soon after you pass the entrance to the University of the West Indies, turn left onto St. John’s Road (by Scotia Bank) and climb the hillside to the monastery of Mount Saint Benedict (1912), 800 feet above the plains. The monastery can be seen for miles around, and offers glorious views over central Trinidad. Its Pax Guesthouse is simple and comfortable (the manager is a storehouse of knowledge about the surrounding nature trails, birds and animals, plants and trees). The monks make and sell yoghurt, and the Pax Abbey Shop sells religious items. Higher up, the Upper Room Art Gallery and Artists Retreat offers studio space to artists and occasionally hosts exhibitions. Afternoon tea is available. Below the monastery, on the other side of the Main Road, lies the St. Augustine campus of the University of the West Indies.T: 645-1905 or 622-4992, W: www.upperroomarts.com
- El Dorado & Caura Valley: in the predominantly East Indian village of El Dorado, the large Shiv Mandir (Hindu temple) welcomes visitors and is a favourite spot for colourful Hindu weddings, complete with tassa drummers. The road through the village takes you to the Caura Valley, where avenues of bamboo lead to two pools in the Caura River, popular for swimming or enjoying riverside picnics of mouth-watering curried duck.
- Lopinot: a few kilometres past El Dorado, a 20-minute drive off the Main Road, past Surrey Village and on through lush rain forest, lies the Lopinot complex. In Arouca, further along the Eastern Main Road, Lopinot Valley is signposted and leads to a village community enclosed by foothills. A cocoa and coffee estate was established here around 1806 by Count Charles Joseph of Lopinot (Compte de Lopinot), who had fled to Trinidad in 1791 to escape the Haitian revolution. He built a tapia estate house, prison and slave quarters and died in 1819, but legend has it that on dark, stormy nights he appears on a black horse dressed in military regalia and gallops across the Lopinot savannah. The visitor centre/museum is on the site of the old great house, near the remains of a cocoa house, a jail, and the Count’s grave. The village has a strong Spanish heritage, and is a parang music stronghold.
- National Science Centre: the Eastern Main Road continues towards Arima, Sangre Grande and Toco, but if you return to the Churchill-Roosevelt Highway there are two other places of interest: the Arena Dam, and the National Science Centre. An enviro-lab and a robotics area allow kids to conduct their own experiments, and a playground for the younger ones leaves parents free to enjoy exhibits of interest to all age groups, including ones on the human body and the environment. You can experience the different intensities of an earthquake in the Raging Planets section, and gaze at the changing night sky in the planetarium. A complete tour takes about two and a half hours. T: 642-6112, W: www.niherst.gov.tt. Open Tuesday to Friday 9am to 4pm, Saturday 11am to 6pm, Sunday 2pm to 6pm. Admission TT$15 (TT$12 for children aged five to twelve).
- Hollis Reservoir: north of Valencia, this scenic area is rich in bird and aquatic life. Picnic area and trails. You will need a permit from the Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA), St. Joseph.
- The Arena Dam and Reservoir, Trinidad’s largest, feeds much of northern Trinidad. It is a protected area, popular with birdwatchers. To visit, you need a permit: consult a tour operator, or you can get one from the Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA) at 662-2302 or 662-WASA. (This is not exactly a fast-track process: a detailed written request must be submitted a week in advance to the WASA head office at Farm Road, St. Joseph, just before the turn-off to Maracas Valley. The fee is TT$10, TT$5 for children.). To reach the dam, turn southwards off the highway as it skirts Arima, taking Tumpuna Road towards San Rafael. In the village, turn left and follow the signs for the Arena Dam. The Arena Road deteriorates steadily as it winds through the forested Arena Reserve (twenty minutes), but at the reservoir there are picnic huts and children’s swings and plenty of scope for walking and hiking.
Where Atlantic and Caribbean currents collide in the passage between Trinidad and Tobago, waves crash against the eastern end of Trinidad’s Northern Range, shaping a wild and rugged coast with small sheltered bays and coves. At Sangre Grande, the road forks. The north fork leads to Matura, and around Galera Point to the north coast villages of Toco, Grande Rivière and Matelot. The Valencia Road turns into the Toco Main Road after a T-junction (turn left). The south fork reaches the coast at Manzanilla and takes you through the cocal – miles of coconut trees bending to the sea – to Mayaro and Guayaguayare with the onshore installations of energy company, BP Limited. At Matura and Grande Rivière, see nesting leatherback turtles. Beaches with Atlantic waves are popular with board surfers.
- Matura: a popular spot for turtle-watching between March and August (permission is required to visit this protected beach at night). During nesting months (March-August) endangered leatherback turtles come ashore at north coast beaches at night to lay their eggs. Hatchlings emerge two months later. Matura is a major observation site and a protected beach. In the shadow of the satellite tracking station, Nature Seekers Inc. provides guides to the protected beach where the leatherback turtles nest. At Grande Rivière there are several small hotels, guest houses and cottages for rent, so it is easy to overnight. Permits are required for turtle watching at all protected beaches. Tour operators can arrange these, or call the Grande Rivière Visitor Facility (670-4256) or the Wildlife Section of the Forestry Division (662-5114).
- Salybia: (aka Sally Bay) near Salybia village is great for a picnic and a refreshing dip. In the Matura Forest Reserve, a three-mile trail leads to Salybia Falls.
- Balandra: At the village end, there’s a lagoon-calm beach protected by a long narrow spit of land, making it good for swimming, while it’s possible to bodysurf at the rougher end. Cross over to a more typical windy beach. Enter at the fishing village.
- Toco: Toco marks the northeastern tip of Trinidad. You’ll find craft and tourism projects, and a small folk museum at Toco Composite School. There’s good bathing at Salybia and Patience Bay. Turn right in the centre of the village for Salybia Bay, a long, scenic bay, often windswept, with surging breakers and a small fringing reef (not to be confused with the village of Salybia you passed earlier). This is a popular surfing spot between October and April when the waves are up. There are changing rooms and shower facilities. At the end of this side road, the Toco Lighthouse (1897) stands on a rocky outcrop overlooking Galera Point, and affords a view of the rocky coast shaped by wind and ocean currents, as well as the point here the deep blue waters of the Atlantic Ocean meet the turquoise ones of the Caribbean Sea.
- Grande Rivière: back in the village, the Paria Main Road heads westward along the north coast, past Sans Souci, a sloping bay with often choppy waves, popular with surfers between October and April. After curling inland for a while through forested hills and valleys, it emerges at Grande Rivière, then on to the small village of Matelot, after which the only way forward is on foot. Then the road heads inland through forested hills and valleys to Grande Rivière. The “Big River” (Grande Rivière) runs into the sea here, making for good river and ocean swimming. The beach is the second largest leatherback turtle nesting ground in the world. Cross the river before descending to the beach where turtles nest. Nature resort Mt. Plaisir Hotel offers accommodation on the beach, restaurant, hiking, birdwatching, horse riding, boat trips and snorkelling. The trail to Paria Bay and Blanchisseuse takes about two days. There are controversial plans to build a road along the coast between Matelot and Blanchisseuse.
- Matelot: at the end of the road on the north-east coast is this tiny fishing village, offering good river bathing and hiking. Matelot Waterfall is a half-day hike from the village. Go by boat to Madamas, Petit Tacaribe or Paria.
More in our Round-the-Island Trinidad Tour:
- Touring Trinidad part 1: A walk around the capital, Port of Spain
- Touring Trinidad part 2: Around the Queen's Park Savannah
- Touring Trinidad part 3: the Port of Spain suburbs
- Touring Trinidad part 4: Chaguramas & the northwest peninsula
- Touring Trinidad part 5: Heading north: the north coast & northern range
- Touring Trinidad part 7: The east coast: Mayaro & Manzanilla
- Touring Trinidad part 8: Central & the west coast
- Touring Trinidad part 9: The second capital: San Fernando
- Touring Trinidad part 10: Trinidad's southwest: the "deep south"