A far cry from your average sun-sand-and-sea Caribbean destination, T&T offers plenty to do beyond the beach. The hugely rich natural environment affords many opportunities for birdwatching, hiking and freshwater swimming, either in rivers or in the pools below waterfalls, while offshore pursuits include an impressive range of watersports.

Birdwatching

Trinidad and Tobago ranks among the world’s top ten countries in terms of bird species per square kilometre, boasting a diversity unmatched in the Caribbean: more than 430 recorded species and around 250 known to breed. Migrant species from South America are most common between May and September, while birds from North America visit between October and March. The dry months (Jan–March or April) are traditionally the most popular time for birders to visit; during the wet season, however, birds grab whatever chance they can to feed between showers, so you’ll still see a lot of activity.

The best place to start in Trinidad is the Northern Range at the acclaimed Asa Wright Nature Centre (wasawright.org); workers there assert that even on a relatively short visit you can see as many as 150 species. Other stops include the Caroni Swamp, where you can take an afternoon boat tour to see the flocks of scarlet ibis, the national bird and most arresting of the 156 species that live in this swampland. The Point-a-Pierre Wildfowl Trust is an important waterfowl conservation centre nestling amid an industrial wasteland, with a successful breeding programme and the opportunity to see ibis up close.

The best book to bring is Richard French’s encyclopedic Guide to the Birds of Trinidad and Tobago, which describes calls as well as plumage, habitats and behaviour. Online, visit Trinidad Birding (wtrinidadbirding.com). Plenty of tour companies and guides specialize in birding tours. A short list of good places to go birdwatching in Trinidad include the Aripo Savannahs and Arena Dam, just south of Arima, Mount St Benedict; Brasso Seco, off the Arima–Blanchisseuse Road; Nariva Swamp on the east coast; and Oropuche Lagoon in the southwest. Note that permits are needed for some of these sites; the guides can arrange these for you.

In Tobago, head for Little Tobago (or Bird of Paradise Island) on the windward coast to see sea birds in their natural environment; the Bon Accord Lagoon, Adventure Farm and the Grafton Caledonia Bird Sanctuary are also fine birdwatching sites. At the protected Tobago Forest Reserve, there are plenty of well-trained guides to accompany you.

Hiking

Trinidad and Tobago are ideal for hiking, despite the heat – the best plan is to start early and cover plenty of distance before midday, or choose a hike that goes through forest. You don’t have to be supremely fit for most trails, nor do you need special equipment. In Trinidad, there is excellent hiking to be had in the forests of the Northern Range especially around Paria and Brasso Seco; or the Chaguaramas hills. Of the numerous waterfall hikes, Guanapo Gorge is particularly spectacular. The best hiking in Tobago is to be had in the rainforest reserve.

Don’t hike alone. In addition to incidents of robberies on remote trails, there is no one to provide assistance should you run into problems; experienced local hikers always set out with two or more people. Plenty of tour companies provide private hiking trips, but another, less expensive option is to join one of the excellent local groups on their regular weekend jaunts into rural areas, such as Hike Seekers (check hikemaster Laurence Pierre’s Facebook group for details): you assemble at 7am, pay around TT$50 and set off. The group can normally arrange transport for you if you don’t have your own (call ahead), though you must provide your own food and water. Bear in mind, though, that group sizes can be large. Many other groups set out each weekend; scheduled hikes are posted in the “what’s on” sections of the daily newspapers, including those by the hundred-year-old Trinidad and Tobago Field Naturalists’ Club (t687 0514, wttfnc.org), a slightly less visitor-friendly group that hike on the last Sunday of each month, leaving from Lower St Vincent Street in Port of Spain at 6.30am (TT$30). Their Trail Guide makes essential reading, describing fifty walks in minute detail. You could also check out hashing, a kind of cross-country race (which can be done as a walk) with lots of beer and rum drinking; if you want to have a go, contact the Port of Spain Hash Harriers (wposhhh.org).

Be sure to abide by hiking etiquette: stick to paths and trails wherever possible, which avoids soil erosion and safeguards you from getting lost; bring rubbish – including cigarette butts – home with you, and bury used toilet paper; do not discard matches or cigarettes and make sure any fires are completely extinguished; and finally, don’t collect plant or wildlife specimens.

In terms of equipment, sturdy shoes with good grip will suffice if you don’t have boots, though trainers work as a last resort; and always wear socks to protect against blisters and ticks. If hiking along a river-course, stout sandals are your best bet. Wear long trousers or leggings to protect against nettles, razor grass and insects (tuck trousers into socks); a long-sleeved shirt may also be advisable. A hat is good protection against sun and rain, and a light waterproof is useful in rainy season. Jeans are best avoided as they quickly become uncomfortable if wet. A dip is very often on the agenda, so wear swimming gear; a set of spare clothes left in the car is a good idea for when you finish walking.

Watersports

While snorkelling and scuba diving are popular on both islands, they are far better in Tobago, where the water is clearer away from the sediment-heavy currents from the South American mainland. The best dive spots are centred around Speyside on the windward coast, where you can see pristine reefs and a host of fish, including deep-water manta rays and the odd shark. Other top spots are offshore Charlotteville and the Sisters Rocks on the leeward side, as well as the Shallows or Flying Reef at Crown Point; Buccoo Reef remains popular, as the disintegrating coral sadly reveals. Everywhere, you’ll see a dazzling variety of fish, from barracuda and grouper to angel, parrot, damsel and butterfly fish as well as spiny sea urchins and lobster nestled among the coral. Throughout the Guide, we have listed reputable dive operators (most of whom also rent snorkelling gear); for more details on prices.

Most of the larger Tobago hotels have all you need in the way of watersports – kayaks, small sailboats, windsurfing and so on, and there’s an excellent watersports outlet, Radical Sports, at Pigeon Point beach. In Trinidad, Chaguaramas is the main watersports area, where you can kayak and stand-up paddleboard, while there’s also the option of wakeboarding, waterskiing and wakesurfing offshore of Port of Spain.

During the winter, big breakers – especially around Mount Irvine in Tobago and Toco in Trinidad – make ideal conditions for surfing. You can rent boards in Tobago, but in Trinidad you’ll probably need to bring your own; check with the Surfing Association of Trinidad and Tobago (wsurftt.org) for details and further contacts.

T&T also boasts excellent sport fishing at around US$300 for a half day and US$600 for a full day – though not cheap, many boats accommodate up to six, and rods, tackle and bait are included. You’re pretty much guaranteed some excitement; main catches include marlin, sailfish, tuna and dolphin. Boats for charter are listed throughout the Guide wherever available, and if you want more information about sport fishing, contact the Trinidad and Tobago Game Fishing Association (wttgfa.com).

Tour operators in Trinidad and Tobago

Tour companies’ offerings range from eco-oriented hiking, birdwatching trips and kayaking to more conventional driving tours of the islands’ “highlights”: the list here represents the very best of the bunch. We’ve specified whether each company is based in Trinidad or Tobago; most offer trips primarily in their home island, plus a few basic options in their sister isle. Note that you’ll often get a reduced rate if you book in groups of four or more; some operators will not set out with less than four in any case. In addition to those listed here, try Cristo Adonis (t 664 5976 or t 488 8539), whose Carib descent has ensured a thorough knowledge of Amerindian culture as well as medicinal plants and mountain trails.

Tour operators (Trinidad)

Avifauna Tours Port of Spain t633 5614 or t477 2650, wrogernecklesphotography.com. Trini-English owner Roger Neckles is one of T&T’s most respected wildlife photographers, and his tours – from Asa Wright to Nariva and Aripo Savannah, and Tobago – are conducted in a comfy a/c SUV and are excellent for ornithologists, photographers and amateur birdwatchers alike. US$100–150 per person.
Banwari Experience Bourg Malatress, Lower Santa Cruz, Trinidad t675 1619, t681 2393 or t223 1657, wbanwaricaribbean.com. Wide-ranging company offering sightseeing throughout Trinidad and Tobago, plus a few novel options – Carnival, river limes, sports, beach picnics, shopping, hikes and waterfalls. From US$80.
Caribbean Discovery Tours c/o Stephen Broadbridge, 9b Fondes Amandes Rd, St Ann’s, Port of Spain t620 1989 or t339 1989, wcaribbeandiscoverytours.com. Entertaining, informative hikes plus safaris aboard a Land Rover, all with a birdwatching and animal-spotting slant. One of the best for Nariva, as well as Brasso Seco/Asa Wright and Northern Range waterfalls/hikes, nights in host homes and Paramin. Central Trinidad options include Caroni Swamp, birdwatching and rare-plant spotting at Aripo Savannah, while as well as the usual Pitch Lake trip in south Trinidad there’s an Icacos tour with visits to small-scale soap and coconut-oil makers, and wetland birdwatching. Day tours US$100 per person, including lunch and transfers.
Chaguaramas Development Authority Airways Rd, Chaguaramas t634 4364 or t634 4349, wchagdev.com. Waterfall and walking tours around Tucker Valley, as well as trips “down the islands”, including Gasparee caves and hiking on Chacachacare. Transport to and from Chaguaramas and lunch/refreshments aren’t included. Tours cost TT$30–220.
Ieri Nature Adventures Arima t 667 5636 or t 685 6206, [email protected] Dynamic guide Ivan Charles is a former national road cyclist, and offers both relaxed road trips and more hardcore mountain biking, plus tours covering most of Trinidad’s natural attractions, from expert hiking adventures to Northern Range peaks and waterfalls, Tamana caves, kayaking at Caroni Swamp and visits to turtle-nesting beaches (including a two-night camp on a nesting beach). All-inclusive full-day trips from US$80 per person.
Indiversity Tours Port of Spain 743 1604, [email protected] As well as running a destination management company, owner Jalaudin Khan offers thoughtful historical and heritage tours that offer insight into cultural sights islandwide, especially Hindu temples, mosques and out-of-the-way places in the underexplored south. Hiking, birding and arts-based trips are also available. Full-day tours from US$80.
In-Joy Tours 2 Himorne Court, Hibiscus Drive, Petit Valley t633 4733 or t753 2775, winjoytours.com. Great option for “down the islands”, trips take in Gasparee caves plus swimming and relaxation at Chacachacare or Monos islands. Other possibilities include Trinidad’s National Museum and Maracas Bay; panyard tours, the Pitch Lake and other things south; and a day-trip to Tobago. Carnival packages available. Tours US$40–100.
Island Experiences 11 East Hill, Cascade, Port of Spain t621 0407 or t756 9677, wislandexperiencestt.com. Lively and knowledgeable eco-cultural tours led by charming, knowledgeable guides who provide an excellent insight into Trinidadian life; groups are kept small and itineraries personalized. Great for mas camps and panyards at Carnival, and evening and daytime city tours that provide a thorough grounding in the art of liming, including live calypso and steel pan, as well as bars and clubbing if the mood takes you. Daytime excursions combine stock stopoffs such as Asa Wright or Caroni with more unusual places such as a steel pan maker to see the instruments being produced, or to St James for roti and a bar lime. Other tours include the Pitch Lake and San Fernando, or Chaguanas markets and Felicity pottery. German- and English-speaking guides available. Half-day and evening tours US$45, full-day from US$80.
Limeland Tours Old Plum Rd, Manzanilla t668 1356 or t774 3438, wlimeland-tours.com. Tours are led by a very personable former sport fisherman turned wildlife lover who lives near Nariva and has an exhaustive knowledge of the area’s trails and wildlife – one of the best for the area, with the option to look for whatever wildlife you’re interested in, be it manatees or monkeys. Also offers trips to Tamana caves and around the Manzanilla area. Full-day tours from US$95.
Paria Springs Tours 1 Mar Che Rd, St Ann’s t620 8240, wpariasprings.com. Excellent and well-informed birdwatching and eco-adventure tours with experienced naturalist, Courtenay Rooks. Options include birdwatching all over Trinidad, Northern Range waterfalls, Tamana bat caves, adventurous and soft mountain-bike excursions (with tuition if needed), plus lovely kayak paddles “down the islands” and to Caroni Swamp. For the more adventurous, there’s wakeboarding, waterfall rappelling and rock climbing, too. From US$85 per person.

Tour Operators (Tobago)

NG Nature Tours t660 5463 or t754 7881, wnewtongeorge.com. A fantastic birding guide, Newton George offers tours for both serious birdwatchers and those with just a passing interest, pointing out hard-to-see birds with the aid of a light pen. Trips cover the Forest Reserve, Little Tobago, Bon Accord Lagoon, Grafton Caledonia Bird Sanctuary and the Magdalena Grande wetlands, and there are also some ornithological Trinidad options. Full-day tours US$75–95.
Peter Cox Wildlife Tours t751 5822 or t294 3086, wtobagonaturetours.com. One of the top birding guides on Tobago, with Main Ridge walks that include a night-time option (great for seeing nocturnal creatures such as armadillos and owls) and trips tailored for children in which you explore forest rivers and pools home to wabeen and crayfish. All the birding hotspots are covered too, from Little Tobago to the Magdalena Grande wetlands, as are Argyle Falls and the Tobago Cocoa Estate, Scarborough market and Fort King George, round-the-island sightseeing and turtle-watching during the laying season. Full-day tours US$90–115.
Yes Tourism t357 0064, wyestourism.com. A reliable all-round operator, offering sightseeing tours around Tobago (Caribbean coast, rainforest walks, Speyside glass-bottom boat to Little Tobago, Tobago Cocoa Estate etc plus waterfalls and shopping trips). Full-day tours US$95–125.

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