Just south of La Brea, the Pitch Lake is touted by some Trinis as the eighth wonder of the world. It may not look particularly impressive from a distance, bearing a remarkable resemblance to a flooded car park (albeit one ringed with cashew trees and Bird of Paradise flowers), but this 40,000-square-metre site is the largest deposit of pitch in the world, and it’s well worth taking a guided tour of the lake to learn more about its intriguing complexities.
Although there’s nothing stopping you from exploring the lake on your own, it’s pretty much essential to take a guided tour; some parts of the lake are unsafe to walk on, and a guide will provide some illuminating commentary as well as ensuring that you stay safe (and don’t leave with your shoes covered in tar). Official guides (identifiable by their orange T&T-monogrammed shirts) are available via the museum, the complex on your left as you enter the lake. On arrival you’ll probably be approached by unofficial guides, too, who will usually negotiate on tour prices and who are based at the yellow snack shop on the left as you enter the lake; they charge a little less but may not offer as full a tour.
Taking up some 25 percent of the total surface, the gooey, tar-like “mother of the lake” is not firm enough to walk on and virtually impossible to remove if caught on clothing – soft patches are difficult for the uninitiated to recognize, and guides will guide you through safely. They’ll also explain the lake’s history and its various geological features, and use a stick to scoop up some of the soft tar, which feeds the pitch, but is in itself useless for making asphalt. Dotted with reeds and water lilies and frequented by wading birds, the pretty pools around the edges of the lake are popular spots for locals to take an evening dip, as their sulphur-rich waters are said to be good for mosquito bites and skin conditions. Lake tours also include a look around the museum, which covers the lake’s history, from the Amerindian legends to commercial pitch extraction.