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Stephen Broadbridge on Trinidad’s Best Eco Adventures

A Caroni Swamp boat tour at dusk. Photographer: Stephen Broadbridge

A Caroni Swamp boat tour at dusk. Photographer: Stephen Broadbridge

Stephen Broadbridge of Caribbean Discovery Tours shares his favourite Trinidad eco breaks

Why Trinidad?

Trinidad has such a concentrated wealth of South American and Caribbean flora and fauna. I can show people numerous ecosystems in a single day; for accessibility and convenience that’s unbeatable. The biodiversity is unparalleled in the Caribbean: there are 108 mammals, 620 butterfly species and 470+ bird species.

Everything we have is the Caribbean’s best: Nariva Swamp is the largest freshwater swamp; Caroni is the best and largest mangrove swamp; the Northern Range has the highest bird count; Tamana bat cave is unique. Also Trinidadians themselves are genuinely friendly and welcoming, which makes visiting a pleasure.

Nariva Swamp and Bush Bush Wildlife Sanctuary

One of my favourite trips, explore it by kayak, dinghy or on foot in the dry season. Nariva is 6,254 hectares of wetlands, marshes and swamp/mangrove forests teeming with life. More than 200 bird species (flycatchers; kingfishers; macaws and ducks) amongst fantastic flora (nymphaea water lilies, moriche and royal palms), and there’s a chance to spot the elusive manatee.

Adjacent Bush Bush [Wildlife Sanctuary] has some beautiful forest and is excellent for channel-billed toucans, red howler and white-fronted capuchin monkeys as well as tree-climbing porcupine. We’ve also spotted anaconda to 15ft there.

Visit Kernahan, the villagers are hospitable and it offers a glimpse into a unique, tolerant and self-sufficient lifestyle.

Northern Range Hikes

The forested foothills of El Tucuche, Trinidad’s second highest peak, are a popular hiking destination. They feature mid-course terrain and wondrous rainforest vegetation with giant trees, varying exotic plants, and birds such as euphonias, tanagers and honeycreepers, as well as mammals like armadillo, agouti, quenk (wild pig) and manicou (possum).

Tacarib and North-East Coast

The rough triangle of Brasso Seco, Blanchisseuse and Matelot, offers some of Trinidad’s best hiking. Swim in waterfall pools, explore gorges and caves and chat with village residents at the forest fringe.

A hike I love is from Brasso Seco to Tacarib through mountainous tropical rainforest, overnighting at Tacarib before continuing to Matelot. You pass through wonderful terrain, with Madamas Lagoon offering the chance to see freshwater otters, but the stop at Tacarib is exceptional. The beaches are deserted, without a hint of development, and you can watch leatherback turtles nesting at night.

Asa Wright Nature Centre

The century-old coffee and cocoa plantation house at Asa Wright is very atmospheric and the verandah view is stunning. See hummingbirds, bellbirds, mannequins, tanagers, toucans and hawks at this world famous nature centre, established in 1967.

There are some nice rainforest hikes further up the Arima-Blanchisseuse road, around communities like Brasso Seco and Morne La Croix.

Paramin

Paramin offers some spectacular ocean and forest views and probably your best chance to see channel-billed toucan. The road up, through local farming communities, can be hairy but if you’re in a four-wheel drive it’s more comfortable.

Aripo Savannah and Scientific Reserve

Aripo, a huge system of 10 interlinked savannahs, is a haven for botanists and the landscape is astonishing. Endemic species, some not just to Trinidad but to the area, are plentiful. Favourites are the sundew plant, which is like a venus flytrap, and several species of ground orchid. Moriche palms grow here too, which ensures regular red-bellied macaw sightings.

Caroni Swamp & Bird Sanctuary

Watching thousands of vibrantly-plumaged scarlet ibis, Trinidad’s national bird, flocking to roost at dusk over the expansive Caroni Swamp is unforgettable.

Caroni isn’t just ibis though; it’s 40 square miles of the Caribbean’s best quality mangrove (some trees growing to 100ft) where you can see silky anteaters, tree boa constrictors, red-capped cardinals and freshwater caimen. The birdlife and panoramic wetland views are incredible.

Nearby, in the Gulf of Paria, there’s also the chance to see pink flamingos.

Caves

Caura, Lopinot and Brasso Seco are noted for their cave systems but there are a number worth visiting. Gaspar Grande (Gaparee Island) is good for stalactites and stalagmites; Lopinot, Dunstan, Aripo and Cumaca (also known as Oropouche) are inhabited by oilbirds; and Tamana, which is my favourite.

The summit of Mt. Tamana, the Central Range’s highest point, affords some of the best views in Trinidad. An expanse of forest stretches as far as the eye can see, it’s breathtaking. But Tamana’s main attraction is bats. Between 5.30 and 7pm each evening 1 to 1.5 million bats, of 11 species, flood out of the cave in a continuous flow. It’s dramatic and one of nature’s spectacles.

Down the Islands

A trip “Down the Islands”, aka DDI (outcrops extending off Trinidad’s north-western tip), is very much worthwhile. In particular, Gasparee, for its caves, and Chacachacare. As well as marine life (such as dolphins) hiking and great views, Chacachacare has a rich history: it has been a cotton plantation, whaling station, leper colony, and revolutionary Santiago Mariño even launched a Venezuelan invasion from there.

Dams and reservoirs

Arena Dam and Reservoir (near San Rafael) and Navet Dam and Reservoir (near Tabaquite) are great for waterfowl, including black-bellied whistling ducks, and kingfisher. Arena forest is a scenic spot and good for toucan and trogons.

Turtle watching

The most popular observation spots for nesting leatherback and hawksbill turtles are Matura and Grande Riviere. Overnighting at Grande Riviere is recommended as it provides a good early morning chance of seeing the Pawi (Trinidadian Piping Guan, the nation’s only endemic bird) in the nearby rainforest.

Trinity Hills Wildlife Sanctuary and Reserve

Although often described as low, the Trinity Hills have incredible views. A fairly strenuous climb brings you onto a narrow ridgeline, with a steep drop on either side. It’s a bit scary but offers fantastic scenery. Expect to see white-fronted capuchin monkeys and red howlers.

Wildfowl Trust

The Pointe-a-Pierre Wildfowl Trust, within the Petrotrin Oil Refinery, consists of 74 acres and two manmade lakes. Originally established as two wildfowling lakes this is a good area for fulvous and black-bellied whistling ducks, muscovy ducks, anhinga, purple gallinule, jacanas, freshwater turtles and caimen. (Mon-Fri 8am-5pm, Sat and Sun 10am-5pm. Advance bookings required. T: 658-4200 ext 2512, 628-4145)

Devil’s Woodyard Mud Volcano

Trinidad’s most accessible mud volcano, which are actually mudflows pushed to the surface by subterranean gas. Other larger ones exist in the Moruga area. Picnic tables, toilets, children’s play area.

La Vega Estate

La Vega is more of a parkland experience than a wilderness experience. You can picnic in 250 acres of maintained grounds, take leisurely walks, fish or hire bikes and boats. Open 9am-5pm daily, except Christmas, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day. Admission TT$15 (under 12 TT$8). T: 679-9522.

Pitch Lake, La Brea

Being the world’s largest pitch lake is the obvious attraction but it’s also fantastic for birding. There’s wattled jacana, gallinule, ducks, osprey and plenty of raptors in the winter months. I’ve observed osprey here throwing captured fish onto the hot asphalt, cooking them, to soften the meat. Open daily 9am-5pm. Admission TT$30 (ages 6-12 TT$12), includes a guided tour. La Brea Pitch Lake Tour Guides Association, T: 651-1232

General advice and information

  • Permits are needed for some locations but any reputable guide/tour operator will arrange these for you.
  • Don’t attempt a long hike without a guide, it’s easy to get lost or have an accident.
  • Snake bites and scorpion stings are rare; the biggest natural danger is the Portuguese Man-of-War. Seek local advice on whether these jellyfish are present. Don’t depend on season. Vinegar is good if you get stung.
  • Where long trousers for lengthy bush treks and never wear open-toed sandals. Comfortable shoes with good grip are recommended.
  • Avoid wearing black, it attracts mosquitoes and if you’re in the open, soaks up the heat.
  • Only hire Trinidad and Tobago Incoming Tour Operators’ Association registered guides. They are professionally trained and have public liability insurance.

About Caribbean Discovery Tours

Stephen Broadbridge, owner of CDT, has been in the business for over a decade. CDT offers custom-designed nature and cultural itineraries with expert guiding though forested mountains, rivers, waterfalls, secluded beaches, wetlands and villages. The clientele includes eco-adventure and family vacationers, bird watchers, scientists, university faculties, and film and television crews. Package itineraries (including local transportation and accommodation) are available. Contact: (868) 624-7281/620-1989 • www.caribbeandiscoverytours.com

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

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