In the field of eco-tourism, the Asa Wright Nature Centre was well ahead of the curve, having been a sanctuary for wildlife since 1967. It is famous the world over for the staggering variety of birds which pass through, often on their way to or from nearby continental South America. From Ornate Hawk-eagles to the nocturnal Oilbird and the psychedelic plumage of dozens of tropical species, there is enough here to make a birdwatcher of any skeptic. The center was once a coffee and cocoa plantation, and you can still enjoy lunch or high tea on the broad shady veranda of its old colonial house. Get the most out of your visit by taking a tour; expert guides will be able to point out not just birds but also the huge range of butterflies as well as lizards and other fauna.
Every day, the scarlet ibis, Trinidad & Tobago’s national bird, flies to nearby Venezuela to feed and heads back to its island home in the late afternoon. Watching the birds in their thousands return to roost in the vivid green mangroves of Caroni Swamp, red plumage blazing against the deepening blue sky, is one of the greatest sights the Caribbean has to offer. Take a sunset trip by boat through the serene “canals” and tidal lagoons of the swamp, with guides pointing out snakes, iguanas and other creatures as you glide past. Once anchored, sit back and enjoy the hush of dusk until the return of the ibises.
Trinidad & Tobago’s capital Port of Spain enjoys a superb natural setting at the point where the mountains dip into the Gulf of Paria. One of the pleasures of this buzzing city is realizing that it doesn’t revolve around you, or tourism in general, with tall office buildings proclaiming its importance as a financial hub.
That certainly doesn’t mean there aren’t things to see and do – far from it. Sights include the "Magnificent Seven," a group of fanciful mansions on Queen’s Park Savannah, the more modestly-sized "gingerbread houses," with their intricate woodwork, and the tropical paradise of the Botanical Gardens.
Of course this is also the setting for Trinidad’s world-famous Carnival, with bars and clubs jumping year-round to soca, which, like calypso, was born here. During the day, do as the locals do and head for Independence Square where you’ll get an authentic taste of Trinidad from food stalls serving oysters and fresh fruit.
Caroni Swamp is a 12,000-acre swamp situated just south of Port of Spain on Trinidad & Tobago’s west coast. Being the second largest mangrove wetlands on the island and the natural nesting home for one of the country’s national birds, Caroni Swamp is protected under the Ramsar Convention as a wetland of international importance.
The swamp runs along the banks of the Caroni River and features a maze of channels and lagoons. The central section is designated as a wildlife sanctuary, with the mangrove trees providing the ideal nesting place for the distinctive Scarlet Ibis birds, along with around 100 species of migratory birds, making it perfect for birdwatchers. The main attraction for nature lovers occurs just before sunset, when the ritualistic roosting habits of thousands of the brightly-colored Ibis can be observed close-up. The birds fly in unison to feed and nest here, creating a dazzling cloud of red against the evening sky.
Situated on the picturesque banks of the Arima River at the foothills of the Trinidad’s Northern Range, the town of Arima is the jumping off point for exploring northeastern Trinidad. The name Arima is the native Amerindian word for water. The town itself was founded by Spanish Capuchins in the mid-1700s, but today it’s the only town in the country with an indigenous Amerindian community. To learn more about the Amerindian people and buy native crafts, visit the Santa Rosa First Peoples Centre. You can also visit Cleaver Woods Recreation Park, which has a replica Amerindian thatched hut and displays of native items. From Arima, it is well worth heading just out of town to visit the Asa Wright Nature Centre. The 1,500-acre rainforest wildlife preserve offers naturalist-guided walks, birdwatching tours or you can simply visit the lodge for lunch or high tea.