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Hiking, turtles and birds: our top three Trinidad eco escapes and adventures

Caroni Swamp. Photo by Chris Anderson

Dawn breaks over the Caroni Swamp. Photo by Chris Anderson

Hiking, turtle-watching, bird-watching, oh my!

Hiking

For beginners:

  • Edith Falls (Chaguaramas, north-western peninsula): a 30-40 minute hike to a 76m/250ft waterfall
  • Maracas Falls (Maracas/St Joseph Valley): 30-45 minute trek to Trinidad’s tallest waterfall (91m/299ft)
  • Rio Seco Falls (Salybia, northeast coast): a 45-60 minute hike. The falls include a lovely natural swimming pool. Part of the Matura National Park.
The trail to Edith Falls in Chaguaramas. Photographer: Caroline Taylor

The trail to Edith Falls in Chaguaramas. Photographer: Caroline Taylor

For intermediate hikers:

  • Turure Water Steps (Cumaca): a roughly 60 minute hike to the bathing pools at the natural limestone Steps with their unique rock face
  • Paria Bay (north coast): a roughly 2 hour hike from Blanchisseuse to Turtle Rock and on to Cathedral Rock/Paria Arch and the white sand beach, where turtles nest in season. A waterfall lies about 15 minutes up river. Also accessible via Brasso Seco
The arch at Paria Bay, Trinidad. Photo: Chris Anderson

The arch at Paria Bay, Trinidad. Photo: Chris Anderson

For advanced hikers:

  • Saut d’Eau (Paramin, northwest Trinidad): roughly a 3 hour trek going downhill to the secluded beachfront…followed by the challenging (and more time-consuming) ascent back to the top
  • Madamas Bay: roughly 3 hours from Matelot or 5 hours from Blanchisseuse to the beach and river at Madamas Bay and nearby waterfall. Also accessible by boat. Turtles nest here in season
  • El Tucuche (north): hiking to the summit of Trinidad’s second tallest mountain takes 2–4 hours (depending on fitness levels, path, stops, and final destination) via Hobal Trace in Maracas Valley, passing through legs with dramatic names like the Devil’s Staircase. This is one of the most challenging and rewarding hikes in Trinidad. What’s more, this mountain has two peaks…

Important things to note:

  • Always carry water, food and first aid supplies, and some dry clothes, in a waterproof bag. Black clothing is the hottest, and attracts mosquitoes. Wear long trousers for bush treks, and comfortable, waterproof shoes with good grip — no open-toed sandals
  • Only go with a reputable guide
  • And please, don’t leave any litter behind.
Leatherback turtle returning to sea. Courtesy The Division of Tourism and Transportation

Leatherback turtle returning to sea. Courtesy The Division of Tourism and Transportation

Turtle-watching

From March to September, Trinidad takes on a very important role: the second largest leatherback turtle nesting site in the world is at Grande Rivière. Leatherbacks are the largest surviving turtle species in the world. Hawksbill, green, and other turtle species, all of which (and their eggs) are legally protected, also come up on the north and east coasts.

During nesting months, females heave themselves on to the shore, laboriously digging their nests in the sand before laying, then covering the eggs over and returning to the sea. Two months later, the eggs hatch, and the baby turtles dig themselves out of their nests and hustle — awkwardly and adorably — to the open sea. Few survive the predators and make it to maturity, but those females that do then return to the beaches on which they were born to begin the cycle anew.

Access to these nesting beaches, particularly Grande Rivière and Matura, is restricted to prevent poaching and to allow the turtles to nest and young hatchlings to emerge undisturbed. They already have to contend with fishing nets, sargassum, plastics, natural predators, and disconcerting man-made light (they follow the light of the moon). Tour operators (and some hotels) can arrange necessary permits and access. Turtles are said to come ashore in greatest numbers late at night and during the full moon, though there are instances of nesting during daylight hours.

Turtle watching essentials

  • Do not touch or disturb nesting turtles or hatchlings in any way. Give them ample space
  • Lights (including flash photography), noise and activity tend to disorient both turtles and hatchlings
  • Do not drive on nesting beaches; the weight of the vehicle can crush eggs buried in the sand
  • The Turtle Village Trust is an umbrella body for the islands’ leading turtle conservation groups — Nature Seekers; the Grande Rivière Nature Tour Guide Association; the Matura to Matelot (M2M) Network; the Fishing Pond Turtle Conservation Group; and SOS Tobago. 638-5953/674-4213
Photo courtesy the Pointe-à-Pierre Wildfowl Trust

Ducks in the lake at the Pointe-à-Pierre Wildfowl Trust. Photo courtesy the Pointe-à-Pierre Wildfowl Trust

Bird-watching

The peak birding season runs from November to May, though birding is rewarding year-round — you can see dozens of species in a single outing, all over the island. The best places are the Pointe-à-Pierre Wildfowl Trust, Asa Wright Nature Centre, Caroni and Nariva swamps, Yerette, and the Hollis Dam & Reservoir. See our Sightseeing section above for more. Some species to look out for: golden-headed manakins, tanagers, blue-headed parrots, channel-billed toucans, trogons, honeycreepers, hummingbirds, hawks, bellbirds, common potoo, herons, ospreys, kingfishers, grey-headed kite, squirrel cuckoo, warblers, and of course the scarlet ibis.

Did you know?

Sir David Attenborough filmed many bird sequences from his acclaimed documentary The Trials of Life here in Trinidad.

By 

writer & editor • actor, singer, producer & director • egalitarian • animal & nature lover • island girl • water baby • perennial discoverer

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