With a spectacularly rugged curve of wave-whipped beach, capped by jungle-covered hills to each side and with a wide, clear river offering calm freshwater swimming, GRANDE RIVIERE is a truly beguiling place, far enough from Port of Spain to feel deliciously remote, but with a sprinkling of appealing places to stay and eat and a welcoming community-based approach to visitors, as many of whom are Trinidadians as foreign. Nicknamed “beyond God’s back”, this close-knit village owes much of its popularity with visitors to the leatherback turtles which lay their eggs in the coarse sand here; with some 500 females lumbering up on to the beach each night at the peak of the season, Grande Riviere is one of the most important nesting sites in the world, and certainly the one with the highest density of turtles visiting to lay. After the beautiful Mt Plaisir Estate hotel opened up right on the beach in the 1990s, a host of local residents and international entrepreneurs established other guesthouses and places to eat, but the end-of-the-road location has kept development low-key and the village remains unspoilt and idyllic. Interaction between visitors and local people has little of the money-oriented duplicity of resorts elsewhere, and local people tend to be genuinely welcoming to visitors.
There’s plenty to do in Grande Riviere even if you don’t visit during turtle season. Most people divide their time between the beach and river and the interior, where there are hosts of waterfalls and river walks as well as excellent birdwatching – the rare piping guan or pawi, a kind of wild turkey that has died out in more developed areas, is quite common here.
Grande Riviere beach
Named after the wide, fast-flowing river that originates deep in the Northern Range and runs down to the sea at the eastern end of town, Grande Riviere also boasts a superlative beach, a gentle curve of coarse sand with a few unobtrusive buildings. Tall headlands border the sand to the east, where you can take a freshwater bath in the river, while a good kilometre away the western end is sealed by rocky outcrops. Strong waves provide an invigorating swim (and can make swimming inadvisable between Nov and Jan), and give leatherback turtles the extra push they need to haul themselves up the sand at laying time; hawksbill and Olive Ridley turtles also nest here. As in Matura, note that the beach is a protected area in the March–August laying season, and you’ll need a permit to enter. During this time, the sand is littered with the shells of empty eggs, some discarded by recent hatchlings, others dug up by turtles themselves as they create their own nests – the high density of turtles that visit Grande Riviere means that it’s almost impossible for the leatherbacks to find a virgin space as the season wears on. If you’re here late in the season, you’ll also be able to see hatchlings emerging from nests and making a break for the sea. Those that emerge during the day are placed in boxes and released en masse around sunset, a beautiful and touching sight. Behind the beach, towards the centre, the GRNTGA have also set up sandboxes into which they transfer eggs from nests made too close to the waterline, (and thus liable to flood) or by less common visitors such as hawksbills.
The liveliest part of the beach centres around the Mt Plaisir and Grande Almandier hotels, where their bars are favourite liming spots and a lovely stall on the beach sells fine calabash art and locally made jewellery.