Wild Guide to Trinidad and Tobago
As I lifted a spoonful of creamy dasheen soup topped with crabmeat to my mouth, and gawked at the glitterati arriving for the Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival, it was hard to imagine that earlier that day I’d been hiking a waterfall trail in an old-growth rainforest and exploring the best of Trinidad and Tobago beaches. .
The combination of outdoor adventure and big city sophistication is an adventure for the senses. It’s also what makes the dual island country of Trinidad and Tobago a truly unique Caribbean destination.
Craving some untamed nature, the way the Caribbean was before mega resort developments hit, I began my explorations on the island of Tobago. Just a quick 20-minute flight from Trinidad, it’s small in size but rich in natural resources with pristine beaches, old-growth tropical rainforest and coral reefs that seem custom made for snorkeling.
First up was a swim in the warm waters of Pigeon Point Heritage Park, the island’s best-known beach. Its white sand beaches were free of crowds; my only swimming companions a mother and her young child. A beach bar offered a toes-in-the-sand relaxation as well as a hearty lunch buffet featuring Trinidadian dishes such as stewed pigeon peas, macaroni pie and pelau, a savory one-pot rice dish made with caramelized chicken.
Other beach pleasures included a cruise on the Island Girl catamaran ( now closed unfortunately!). Departing Mt. Irvine Bay just before sundown, I sailed along Tobago’s north shore where white-mist waterfalls could be seen in the dense foliage of the mountainous island interior. Seabirds soared overhead, drawn to the rich sea life in Buccoo Reef, a protected habitat where star coral, elkhorn coral and brain coral thrive.
More birds were on the agenda the next day during a hike to Argyle Falls, Tobago’s highest waterfall. Located in the heart of the Main Ridge Forest Reserve, a hilly backbone covering 60% of the island, it’s the oldest protected rainforest in the western hemisphere and provides habitat for 250 species of birds. I hiked along an empty trail flanked by graceful bamboo, splashed in a cool pool at the base of the misty waterfall and listened to the raucous call of the cocrico, Tobago’s national bird.
Even my hotel on Tobago was immersed in nature. Set amid virgin mangroves and tropical gardens, the Magdalena Grand Beach Resort offers a breezy take on plantation design with shutters, intricate wooden lacework and vaulted ceilings.
My room overlooked a wild Atlantic coast where giant leatherback turtles come to nest on a long expanse of empty beach. That night, I floated on my back in a secluded swimming pool and watched the stars come out. It felt like the true Caribbean.
Although it was tempting to spend more time exploring Tobago, the more developed island of Trinidad deserved attention too. Overlooking the racing yachts and cargo ships in the Bay of Patria, the sleek Hyatt Regency Trinidad in Port of Spain bustled with dignitaries, fashion models and executives working in the country’s booming oil sector. With one foot in the Caribbean and another in South America (Venezuela is just 11 kilometres away), the city is a hub of commerce and sophistication.
But tranquility wasn’t far away. After check-in, my first stop was the Dattatreya Yoga Centre in the nearby town of Carapichaima. Here, inner peace is the mantra. Surrounded by abandoned sugar fields, a gigantic 26 metre tall statue of the monkey-faced Hindu god Hanuman, the tallest outside India, welcomed people of all faiths to enjoy the centre’s peaceful meditative spaces, take a yoga class or request a blessing.
Also offering peaceful meditation is the nearby Temple of the Sea, the world’s only temple built in the ocean. A domed structure with windows open to the sea, its prayer flags and offerings of pottery, flowers and fruit serve as symbols of Trinidad’s religious tolerance. Siewdass Sadhu, an ex-indentured labourer from India, chose the site because the clear, blue waters reminded him of the holy Ganges.
A delicious stop for curry and roti at Alpine Roti fuelled me for my next adventure at Zipitt, a zip line in Maqueripe Bay.
The one-hour adventure offers seven zip lines with a total length of 600 metres, the highest soaring above ancient rainforest and offering panoramic water views. I opted for ground-based adventure and wandered along hiking trails amid yellow butterflies, hummingbirds and peeping frogs.
I wrapped up my nature experiences with a yacht cruise through the sea caves known as the Bocas off the northwest shore. Although developers, including Trump, have been eyeing this stunning island archipelago, for now it remains uninhabited. The mysterious limestone caves are places of legend from ghosts to fairies. I swam in a sheltered bay and then watched dolphins frolic in the waves and a grey heron dive for its evening meal.
For my final night in Trinidad I went upscale and headed to the Woodbrook district, a neighbourhood that’s a mecca for Port of Spain’s style-makers. With the pulsing DJ music, celebrity photographers and international stars of the Trinidad Tobago Film Festival, it was a sophisticated urban scene pulsating with island life.
Yet for all its vitality it was reassuring to know that wild, untouched Trinidad and Tobago was just minutes away.
Hyatt Regency Trinidad: A prime waterfront location near major attractions, with a wellness spa, fine dining and a rooftop infinity pool make this hotel a top choice for a stylish stay in Port of Spain. Trinidad.hyatt.com
Magdalena Grand Beach Resort: This expansive property offers 178 deluxe rooms, plus 22 suites with terraces and ocean views. It features three swimming pools, a golf course, spa, dive centre and a pristine beach. wwwmagdalenagrand.com
Official Tourism Board: www.gotrinidadandtobago.com
Trinidad + Tobago film festival: Events take place September 20-27, 2016 on both islands, but major venues are in Port of Spain, Trinidad. www.ttfilmfestival.com
Gail’s Exclusive Tours: Professionally guided hiking, waterfall, culture, culinary and beach tours on both Trinidad and Tobago. exclusivetourstnt.com
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