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Touring Trinidad: Central & the West Coast

The Caroni Swamp in Central Trinidad. Photographer: CafeMoka

The Caroni Swamp in Central Trinidad. Photographer: CafeMoka

Exploring Central & The West Coast

Caroni Bird Sanctuary—Chaguanas—La Vega Estate—Ajoupa Pottery—Pointe-à-Pierre Wild Fowl Trust—San Fernando —Princes Town—Navet Dam; Carapichaima—Waterloo—Point Lisas

The landscape of central Trinidad is marked by rivers, rolling plains, swamps and cane fields. Cocoa, sugar cane and rice plantations were once the main economic earners of the area. Vegetable and rice farmers still use the central plains to earn a living, but today, the oil and petrochemical industries at Pointe-à-Pierre and Point Lisas are more important than agriculture. Dominated by the Indian community, the area is rich in religious and cultural festivals. It is a region where village and community living are important.

From the Churchill-Roosevelt Highway, turn right onto the Uriah Butler Highway (named after a legendary labour leader of the 1930s) and across the Caroni River onto the Caroni plains. The highway runs straight to San Fernando (about 50 minutes from Port of Spain) and a little way beyond, passing the Caroni Swamp on the right.

  • The Caroni Swamp and Bird Sanctuary is the roosting ground for the national bird, the scarlet ibis, and a birder’s and naturalist’s paradise. Visitor centre open daily from 7am to 7pm. A permit is required unless you are on a guided boat trip, which leaves around 4pm and returns at dusk. Wear insect repellent. T: 645-1305.
  • Divali Nagar: ust before Chaguanas, the site on the left is a cultural centre for Indo-Trinidadian events and performances, especially Divali (the Hindu festival of lights). The National Council of Indian Culture is based here.
  • Chaguanas: named for the Chaguanes Amerindian tribe. Known for bargain shopping and cheap housing, in the last ten years Chaguanas has become the fastest growing town on the island. Nobel laureate VS Naipaul was born here in 1932, and the Lion House or Anand Bhavan (Mansion of Bliss), located just a few yards from the Chaguanas market on the main road, is the model for Hanuman House in Naipaul’s novel A House for Mr. Biswas.
  • La Vega Estate: the Couva exit takes you onto the Couva Road (left). Between Gran Couva and Pepper Village, just north of the road, La Vega is a sprawling and peaceful 250-acre hideaway on what were once sugar and cocoa plantations, a perfect site for peaceful recreation and relaxation. In its sculpted gardens are a wealth of birds, butterflies, native trees and plants. There are gentle hiking trails, and lakes; bikes, kayaks, fishing rods and pedal-boats for rent; and tropical plants for sale. Open daily 9am to 5pm except Sundays and public holidays. Admission fee. T: 679-9522.
  • Pointe-à-Pierre Wild Fowl Trust: when you see the towers and tanks of an oil refinery on your right, you have reached Pointe-à-Pierre and the Petrotrin oil refinery. Hidden away on its grounds is the Pointe-à-Pierre Wild Fowl Trust, 25 hectares with free roaming wildlife and enclosed breeding areas. The learning centre at the entrance displays insects, shells and Amerindian artefacts. Wear insect repellent. Open Monday to Friday 8am to5pm, Saturday and Sunday 10am to 5pm. Advance bookings are necessary to enter the refinery. Admission fee. T: 658-4200 ext. 2512 (Petrotrin) or Molly Gaskin at 628-4145.

Along the Coast

Instead of whizzing up and down the highway, though, take some time to explore Trinidad’s west coast. Leave the highway at the Chaguanas exit (there’s an underpass) and head west, then almost immediately south again on the Southern Main Road through Felicity and Edinburgh. In Chase Village a series of small potteries is worth a stop. Soon after that, turn right onto Orange Field Road towards Carapichaima and Waterloo.

  • Dattatreya Yoga Centre & Hanuman Murti: at Carapichaima there’s a fine view of an 85-foot Hanuman Murti, a depiction of Lord Hanuman, the Hindu monkey god of strength. It was donated by an Indian swami, consecrated in 2003, and towers over the adjoining Dattatreya Yoga Centre temple and ashram. It is reputed to be the second largest such murti in the world outside India.
  • Temple in the Sea at Waterloo: Orange Field Road turns into Waterloo Road, which winds its way through Waterloo village to the Gulf of Paria and the Waterloo Temple which stands in the water 500 feet offshore at the end of a causeway. It was built in the 1940s by a devout East Indian labourer named Sewdass Saddhu (whose statue is in the temple’s parking lot): forbidden to build a temple on land, he built it in the sea instead, beyond the control of colonial officials and sugar owners. It was extensively renovated and enlarged in 1995 to commemorate the 150th anniversary of indentured Indians’ arrival in Trinidad. The causeway is generally open from 6am to 6pm: the temple itself is open at the caretaker’s discretion.
  • Brechin Castle: from Waterloo, head south along the Southern Main Road, past the old Brechin Castle sugar factory near Couva, and into Trinidad’s industrial belt. As sugar declined, the government decided to use the country’s oil and natural gas to replace it, not simply as exports, but as fuel for industrialisation.
  • The Point Lisas Industrial Estate: south of Couva, was the start of this in the 1980s, and the process has now extended down the southwest coast to Point Fortin and beyond. Natural gas, piped across the island from the east coast, fuels ten methanol plants, seven ammonia plants, a urea plant, a steel mill, four LNG plants, power generation, and a range of smaller projects; one and possibly two controversial aluminium smelters are due to be added.

More in our Round-the-Island Trinidad Tour:

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A team of of writers discovering Trinidad & Tobago for 25 years and counting!

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