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Trinidad sightseeing: our picks for 2017

The Temple in the Sea at Waterloo at sunset. Photo by Nyla Singh

The Temple in the Sea at Waterloo at sunset. Photo by Nyla Singh

Our favourite sightseing and eco escapes for 2017

With four distinct coasts (plus offshore islands), this is an island with range. Tour operators offer full-day, half-day and customised tours. For eco adventures, book a registered tour operator or guide (see gotrinidadandtobago.com and visittobago.gov.tt). For easy day trips and sightseeing — and if you feel confident on the road — you could rent a vehicle, pick up a Discover T&T map, and go exploring on your own! Here are just a few of our favourites. Explore the rest of our Trinidad Touring & Sightseeing section for in-depth coverage of sites by region.

 

Port of Spain

Historic buildings

If you’re into history and cultural preservation, you’ll be interested in the work of the National Trust (nationaltrust.tt, 225-4750/277-6105). In addition to their mandate to preserve buildings of historical importance (churches and cathedrals, mosques, mandirs, colonial-era mansions and estates, museums, and much more), they also arrange heritage tours, lectures, exhibitions, and film screenings to promote awareness and appreciation.

ANGOSTURA MUSEUM AND BARCANT BUTTERFLY COLLECTION

Angostura (east Port of Spain) offers tram tours introducing you to the history and making of their world-famous bitters and celebrated rums. You can also view their collection of Trinidad’s butterflies, including the beautiful blue emperor. Tours (two hours) begin at 9:30am and 1:30pm, Monday–Friday; advance booking required. facebook.com/AngosturaMuseumAndBarcantButterflyCollection, 623-1841

CATHEDRAL OF THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTION (Catholic)

Recently refurbished and standing at the eastern end of the Brian Lara Promenade downtown, the Cathedral was built between 1816 and 1832. Designated as a minor basilica, one of its most distinctive features is its stained-glass windows, which depict Trinidad’s history.

The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. Photo: Stephen Broadbridge

The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. Photo: Stephen Broadbridge

CATHEDRAL OF THE HOLY TRINITY (Anglican)

Completed in 1818 in the Gothic revival style, with its hammerbeam roof made of local wood, this is one of several historic buildings overlooking Woodford Square: the Hall of Justice (northern side); to the west, the Old Fire Station and National Library (the Station was originally built in 1897, then refurbished and integrated into the new Library); the Red House (originally built in 1844, formerly the seat of Parliament, but currently being restored — work has been slowed by the discovery of First Peoples remains and artefacts dating to 430–1400 AD); and the remains of the razed Greyfriars Church.

HOLY ROSARY CHURCH (Catholic)

Also undergoing restoration works, this Gothic revival church near the eastern end of Park Street dates back to 1866. Like the Cathedral downtown, its stained glass is absolutely stunning.

The Marionettes perform at a fundraiser for Holy Rosary Church. Photo: Maria Nunes

The Marionettes perform at a fundraiser for Holy Rosary Church. Photo: Maria Nunes

THE “MAGNIFICENT SEVEN”

These colonial-era homes on the northwestern edge of the Savannah are in varying degrees of repair and use, reflecting their diverse histories and ownership. From south to north: Queen’s Royal College (1904, boys’ secondary school); Hayes Court (1910, Anglican Bishop’s residence); Milles Fleurs (1904, law association headquarters); Roomor (private home); the Roman Catholic Archbishop’s residence (1903); Whitehall (1907); and Killarney or Stollmeyer’s Castle (1904).

Stollmeyer’s Castle. Photo by Caristock

Stollmeyer’s Castle. Photo by Caristock

THE NATIONAL MUSEUM & ART GALLERY

Headquartered on upper Frederick Street, the Museum houses new collections, retrospectives of the island’s major artists (including the works of 19th-century artist Jean-Michel Cazabon), period installations, mineral and marine displays, ethnic artefacts, and the Sports Foundation Gallery. The Museum has small branches in Fort San Andres (South Quay), and the Museum of the T&T Police Service (Old Police Headquarters on St Vincent Street). Admission is free, and guided tours are available. Open Tuesday–Saturday • nmag.gov.tt, 623-5941/0339

Fort George

Built in 1804, this “virgin fort” (which never saw military action) offers a magnificent panoramic view from 335m (1,100ft) above sea level. On a clear day, you can see to south Trinidad, and west to Venezuela. Open 10am–6pm, admission free

Fort George. Photographer: Stephen Broadridge

Fort George. Photographer: Stephen Broadridge

Queen’s Park Savannah

This is a hub of recreational activity. Originally part of the Peschier family’s Paradise Estate, a portion of land in the centre remains a burial ground; it was converted into a city park in 1817. The Caribbean’s oldest recreation ground — and reported to be the world’s largest roundabout at approximately 3.5km/2.2 miles and 260 acres — the Savannah is popular for sports, kite-flying (especially around Easter), walking, joggers, and food/drink vendors.

A yellow poui blooms at the Savannah in Port of Spain. Photographer: Nisha Kong

A yellow poui blooms at the Savannah in Port of Spain. Photographer: Nisha Kong

Royal Botanical Gardens and Emperor Valley Zoo

The Gardens (est 1820) — a favourite for picnics and walks — are home to one of the oldest collections of exotic plants and trees in the western hemisphere. Founded in 1947, and recently upgraded, the Zoo’s nearly 7.2 acres house hundreds of animals (both endemic and exotic birds, fish, mammals, and reptiles, including two rare white Bengali tigers born in 2015). There’s an outdoor café, enclosures, and paths for animal viewing. Zoological Society of T&T: zstt.org, 622-5344

Chaguaramas

The Chaguaramas National Heritage Park is managed by the Chaguaramas Development Authority (CDA, chaguaramas.com, 225-4232). There’s controversial construction along the main waterfront and significant traffic in and out on weekends, but it remains popular for beach-goers, boaters, cyclists, foodies, golfers, hikers, history buffs, partiers, and those wanting an accessible escape into nature, even if only to laze under magnificent samaan trees or amble along the Boardwalk.

The Bamboo Cathedral and Old Tracking Station

A relaxing, easy walk under a beautiful stretch of arching bamboo forest — unless you plan to trek uphill on the gravelly path to the top of Morne Catherine and the abandoned World War II tracking station (a popular spot for astronomers and star-gazers).

With no cars allowed, the bamboo cathedral is popular with cyclists, walkers, joggers and hikers. Photo by Stephen Broadbridge

With no cars allowed, the bamboo cathedral is popular with cyclists, walkers, joggers and hikers. Photo by Stephen Broadbridge

Down the Islands (DDI)

For those who don’t own or rent holiday homes on these islands, the CDA and other operators offer tours. In order, heading west, they are:

  • the Five Islands of which there are actually six. Nelson Island was used to quarantine indentured immigrants
  • the Diego Islands
  • Gaspar Grande, with the stunning Gasparee Caves
  • Monos and Huevos
  • Chacachacare, with its salt pond, lighthouse, chapel, and defunct leprosarium.
The Gulf of Paria at night

The waters of the Gulf of Paria reflect the bright lights of holiday homes down the islands, off the northwest coast of Trinidad.

Military & Aviation Museum

Located on the Western Main Road next to the coastguard training ground and the heliport, it chronicles the military history of the country from 1498 to the present. facebook.com/militarymuseumtt, 634-4391

 

The north & northeast

The Keshorn Walcott Toco Lighthouse

Walk out onto the rocky outcrop at Galera Point, beyond the lighthouse (built in 1897, and named after the island’s double Olympic javelin medallist), and you’ll experience something beautiful and unusual. Here, at this northeastern-most point of the island, two bodies of water meet: the navy blue Atlantic Ocean to the east, and the turquoise Caribbean Sea to the north. There is a distinct demarcation in colour between them. The site is also sacred to the island’s First Peoples, whose ancestors are said to have jumped to their deaths here rather than be recaptured by the Spanish after the 1699 Arena Uprising; and to Orisha devotees, who celebrate the Olukun Festival of the ocean here each February.

Lopinot Historical Complex

Lopinot (near Arouca) is popular for picnics, river limes, family days, retreats, sports, bird-watching, hiking (there are also caves nearby), or enjoying delicious meals at Café Mariposa. At Christmas time, the area comes alive with parang and pastelles. The village’s heritage is still a quintessentially Trini mix of First Peoples, European, African, and East Indian — some still speak Spanish, French, and patois. There’s a museum on site, comprising the former tapia estate house, prison, and slave quarters. The complex was originally developed as a cocoa estate (1806) by the French Compte Charles Joseph de Lopinot. He had fled to Trinidad in 1791 to escape the Haitian revolution. Legend has it that on dark, stormy nights, the count appears on a black horse dressed in military regalia and gallops across the savannah. Locals have laughed it off for years — until, perhaps, Ghost Hunters International (of the USA’s SYFY Channel) visited in 2011, and reported that they had found more evidence of paranormal activity here than anywhere else in the world …

Lopinot estate and historical complex in Trinidad. Photo: William Barrow

Lopinot estate and historical complex in Trinidad. Photo: William Barrow

Mount St Benedict

Peace and rejuvenation await here at the Caribbean’s oldest Benedictine monastery. Its 600 acres are perched 245m (800ft) above the Central plains in Tunapuna, offering stunning views, walking and hiking trails, bird-watching from the terraces, a tea house, delicious yoghurt made by the monks, and — of course — holy masses. There is a guesthouse on site.

Zoology Museum

Based at the University of the West Indies’ St Augustine campus, this is the largest and most significant collection of zoological specimens in the country. The Banwari Man is also preserved here — the human skeleton found lying in a crouched burial position by the T&T Historical Society in 1969, and still the oldest evidence of human activity on Caribbean soil. The area in which it was found (Banwari Trace) has yielded artefacts belonging to the Ortoiroid people, dating back to 5,000 BC. Tours of the Museum can be booked 8am–4pm, Monday–Friday. facebook.com/uwizoologymuseum, 662-2002 x 82231

 

Central Trinidad

Hanuman Murti (statue) & Dattatreya Yoga Centre

Donated by an Indian swami, this 26m/85ft statue of Hanuman (the Hindu monkey god of strength) is reputed to be the tallest of its kind outside India. It towers above the adjoining Dattatreya Yoga Centre in Carapachaima.

The Dattatreya Yoga Centre near Chaguanas. Photographer: Marc Seyon

The Dattatreya Yoga Centre near Chaguanas. Photographer: Marc Seyon

Waterloo Temple in the Sea

Forbidden by colonial officials to build a Hindu temple on land, Siewdass Sadhu tirelessly built his “floating mandir” some 150m/500ft out into the Gulf of Paria instead. He laboured for 25 years, but sea erosion prevented him from completing it before his death. In 1994, the government completed it for the 150th anniversary of the arrival of the island’s first Indian indentured immigrants. Though the structure is most impressive at high tide, the exposed mud flats at low tide are great for bird-watching. The causeway opens 6am–6pm, and the temple itself at the caretaker’s discretion

 

In the south

Pitch Lake

This natural wonder is the largest asphalt lake in the world. But, since it is a giant lake of self-replenishing bitumen (oozing up from a geological fault), it does look a bit like a 100-acre car park. Most of the surface is firm enough to walk on, though some spots are too soft for traffic. Natural springs, reputed to have healing properties, appear at the centre during the rainy season. You can also smell the gases escaping from bubbling puddles on the surface. The lake (75m/250ft deep) has been commercially mined since 1959, and its asphalt exported around the world. Before that, however, it was a sacred site for the First Peoples, who believed that a tribe had once been swallowed up by the lake as punishment for eating hummingbirds, which hosted the spirits of their ancestors. A small museum houses artefacts recovered from the lake, which has been called a “slow-motion black hole”, with “feelers” stretching out for miles. La Brea Pitch Lake Tour Guides Association: 651-1232

The Pitch Lake. Photo courtesy TDC

The Pitch Lake. Photo courtesy TDC

San Fernando Hill

Taking its name from the First Peoples (for whom it was a sacred site), the hill rises above the hubbub of industry below, offering views of the city, the southwest peninsula and — on a clear day — up the west coast to Port of Spain, and the mountains of eastern Venezuela. It was saved from further scarring from quarrying by being declared a National Park in 1980. Open daily, free of charge, 9am–6pm

 

Advertorial: brand voices

Caribbean Discovery Tours

Stephen Broadbridge and Caribbean Discovery Tours offer custom-designed nature and cultural itineraries featuring expert guiding though forested mountains, rivers, waterfalls, secluded beaches, vast exotic wetlands, and diverse cultures of villages and communities. Their clientele includes eco-adventure and family vacationers, bird-watchers, scientists, university faculties, and film and television crews. Package itineraries (inclusive of local transportation and accommodation) are also available.

(868) 624-7281/620-1989 • caribbeandiscoverytours.com

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

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