Courtenay Rooks on Trinidad’s eco adventures | Q&A

Discover T&T talked to Courtenay Rooks — a tour operator, naturalist, and conservationist with decades of experience — about what makes Trinidad such a compelling destination for eco lovers and those looking for unique, immersive vacations

CAROLINE TAYLOR: What makes the island special as a destination for eco and adventure lovers?

COURTENAY ROOKS: What you’re essentially getting is a South American destination on a Caribbean island. But compared to the rest of the Caribbean, we were connected to South America which means you’re really getting South American flora and fauna… When I hike in Suriname or Brazil or go birdwatching, it is more familiar to me than if I do that in Dominica or Barbados. There is a greater level of familiarity in South America.

And then culturally, pretty much any movie that wants to tell you that you’re in the Caribbean, they throw on some steelpan. The swagger and all of that is basically Trinidad’s culture, so you’re truly getting a South American eco adventure destination on a Caribbean island that gave the Caribbean a lot of its culture. From an eco-tourism point of view, you can’t get better than that.

Rare and protected birds – the Trinidad piping guan. Photo by Rapso Imaging

Rare and protected birds – the Trinidad piping guan. Photo by Rapso Imaging

CT: For those who love nature and the outdoors, what are the sites you think locals and visitors should absolutely visit?

CR: It depends on what you’re looking it. If you’re doing birdwatching, then the Asa Wright Nature Centre, Yerette — Home of the Hummingbird, and Caroni Bird Sanctuary are a must. You can build your itinerary around those three, and then you start to bring in Nariva Swamp and so on. If you’re a general naturalist, and loving nature, then I’d time the visit around the nesting of the leatherback turtles (March–September), because that really is an opportunity of a lifetime.

There’s also a supporting cast with things like the Tamana Caves with the tens of thousands of bats, if you like that sort of thing that really is amazing. Then you can see the red howler monkeys in places like Nariva Swamp, where the atmosphere is pretty awesome. Then there are several hikes you can do — places like Guanapo Gorge, going up El Tucuche, a trip down Chaguaramas for the Gasparee Caves are some of the best eco adventure things.

And for me, within eco-tourism, no trip to Trinidad or Tobago, whatever you’re doing, is complete without a genuine cultural interaction…really getting some true Tobago blue food, a proper buss-up-shut or roti, sitting down with Trinidadians and having a real interaction. Because you can get other places that are amazing — other amazing birding lodges, other Guanapo Gorges, caves with millions of bats… So there are other places that are as nice, or nicer. The real thing that separates Trinidad is getting all of them in such a compact area, and tying it in with the culture makes it a really special experience.

The Gasparee Caves, off Chaguaramas. Photo by Tarun Jagessar

The Gasparee Caves, off Chaguaramas. Photo by Tarun Jagessar

CT: Hiking is a popular and rewarding activity. What are some of your favourite treks, from easy to advanced?

CR: Real easy waterfall would be Avocat waterfall, Rio Seco waterfall — those are lovely. Guanapo Gorge is one of my favourites, and of course the Tamana Bat Caves, which is a moderate sort of hike with big adventure. And for me, depending on how you’re doing it like with camping, the Matelot to Blanchisseuse trek is a big adventure. And of course, the El Tucuche is a tough, done-in-a-day hike.

The Rio Seco waterfall. Photograph by Anu Lakhan

The Rio Seco waterfall is one of many deliciously cool watering holes in the country. The height from the top of the waterfall to the pool is about 20 feet. Photograph by Anu Lakhan

CT: What are your favourite beaches, coast to coast, and why?

CR: There is something about Las Cuevas that I have always loved. It’s a combination of ease of access with still very rugged scenery — and that’s from my personal point of view, like going surfing and things like that. It’s not necessarily only a tourism point of view. I think our best beach for eco-tourism is really Grande Rivière — it’s combination of nature hiking with the piping guan, the birds, the turtles… It truly is a multi-dimensional destination that’s hard to beat.

A leatherback makes its way to the sea at Grande Riviere. Photo: Stephen Jay Photography

A leatherback makes its way to the sea at Grande Riviere. Photo: Stephen Jay Photography

CT: Any tips and advice for eco adventurers as far as health and safety?

CR: Always make sure that your backpack is properly equipped — knife, cutlass, first aid, extra water and food, a working flashlight. Those sort of standard safety things. Something Victor Quesnel taught me many years ago is that if you’re not too sure where you are or what you’re doing and 2pm catches you, then it’s time to go home!

The long crescent bay at Las Cuevas, Trinidad's Blue Flag Beach, and our favourite for 2017. Courtesy the Tourism Development Company

The long crescent bay at Las Cuevas, Trinidad’s Blue Flag Beach, and our favourite for 2017. Courtesy the Tourism Development Company

CT: If people only had one day — or even just a half day — to get a taste of Trinidad, what day/half-day trips or tours would you recommend?

CR: An easy day if you’re just popping in to Trinidad is Asa Wright Nature Centre and the Caroni Bird Sanctuary. Depending on what you’re looking at, if you’re looking for adventure, I do mountain biking down in Chaguaramas combined with the Covigne River, so you get the biking, hiking, and river swimming. Even though the river is small, it’s very pretty and it’s lots and lots of fun where you can climb some little waterfalls and so on. A bigger adventure is really a long day, so you head out early and do Guanapo Gorge and then run to Tamana after. That’s leaving at 5am or 6am and then flying out at 9pm or 10pm — so first flight in and last flight out, that sort of thing.

Scarlet ibis fly home to roost in the Caroni Swamp & Bird Sanctuary. Photo by Rapso Imaging

Scarlet ibis fly home to roost in the Caroni Swamp & Bird Sanctuary. Photo by Rapso Imaging

CT: If you have a particular place or experience that’s your absolute favourite in Trinidad, what is it, and why?

CR: After travelling the world, what I love about Trinidad is the multiplicity of things and experiences you can have on any given day. You can have a mountain biking adventure then go have some curry and then go lime on the Avenue or something like that. When people ask me what my favourite bird is, the answer is that what I love is the variety of birds we have here. And it’s the variety of experiences that I really enjoy, and that’s what I do with Bush Mountain. It’s not just trails, it’s not just boot camp, it’s not just yoga… It’s those things and so much more.

Rare and protected birds – blue and gold macaw. Photo by Rapso Imaging

Rare and protected birds – blue and gold macaw. Photo by Rapso Imaging


About Courtenay Rooks

Photo courtesy Courtenay Rooks

Photo courtesy Courtenay Rooks

Courtenay “Bush Man” Rooks has over a quarter century of eco adventure tourism experience and a lifetime of adventuring and studying the natural history of Trinidad & Tobago, as he has dedicated his life to conservation. He founded Paria Springs Tours in 1993, and runs Bush Mountain, a wildlife sanctuary located in the hills of St Ann’s at the back of the Cascadia Hotel. It is an eco-project that brings health to Trinidad through active participation in nature and its conservation. Immerse yourself in nature and achieve your health and wellness goals through trail walking, running, yoga, boot camp, forest bathing, rappelling at a conservation sanctuary. One mountain, two paths, for rejuvenating your optimal mind, body and spirit.

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Posted by Caroline Taylor

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

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