Central Trinidad encompasses a fantastic variety of landscapes. Alongside the brash commercial centre of Chaguanas, the gritty, industrialized west coast holds unexpected natural oases such as the Caroni Swamp, home of the scarlet ibis, while the peaceful pools of Point-a-Pierre Wildfowl Trust to the south boast an unlikely location within a huge oil refinery. In the centre of the island, the flatlands of the Caroni Plains are dotted with the somnolent villages that characterize Trinidad’s centre, an overwhelmingly rural area where many still make their living from the land. The plains rise gently to the wooded Central Range and Montserrat Hills to the south, and are bordered to the east by the remarkable Aripo Savannahs, a beautiful protected area and prime birdwatching spot. There’s more excellent birdwatching along the banks of the Caroni Arena reservoir and the Navet Dam, while the Tamana caves make for an awesome spectacle at dusk, when millions of bats fly out to feed.
To the northeast of the region, the chaotic market centre of Sangre Grande is the gateway to the east coast, where the road runs parallel to the sea for some 46km and offers a spectacular drive past the stunning Manzanilla Beach, where the Cocal avenue of palms forms a coastal barrier that protects the starkly beautiful Nariva Swamp, and on to drowsy Mayaro, a popular local getaway with another spectacular undeveloped beach. Central Trinidad’s population is mostly descended from the Indian indentured labourers who arrived in Trinidad during the 1840s following the abolition of slavery, and today this heritage is very much in evidence. Hindu shrines and prayer flags adorn front gardens, and ornate temples are ten-a-penny, but the Waterloo Temple, sitting on the brown waters of the Gulf of Paria south of Chaguanas, is particularly stunning, as is the towering Hanuman Murti statue nearby. Both are given some context by the nearby Indian Caribbean Museum at Carapaichima, which provides a fascinating insight into Indo-Trinidadian history and culture.
Accommodation in untouristy “Central” is minimal; there are a few options on the west coast geared towards business travellers, but this isn’t a particularly enticing place to stay, and it’s far better to base yourself in Port of Spain or San Fernando and see the area on day-trips. The only exception is Mayaro on the east coast, where a string of beach houses and hotels offer the opportunity of some Trini-style beach time. As for eating, there are innumerable hole-in-the wall places selling delicious roti and Creole food, while doubles and other Indian snacks are also easy to find, as are fast-food joints, Chinese takeaways and, of course, rum shops.