Trinidad: A Road Trip Through the Island

By Karen Johnson

Caroni swamp, Trinidad.
Caroni Swamp, Trinidad

As I landed at the Piarco airport in Port of Spain, Trinidad, I wasn’t sure what to expect.

I’d heard of the diverse culture, the dynamic culinary scene and of course their explosive Carnival celebration, but I was sure that the southernmost Caribbean island would have so much more to offer — I just didn’t realize how much.

Steelpan players are common sites in Trinidad.
Steelpan players are common sights in Trinidad.

To rent a car in Trinidad, most foreign visitors need to present a driver’s license and credit card and must be over the age of 25.

Before departing for Trinidad, I reached out to Ministry of Tourism of Trinidad & Tobago to inquire about maps, directions, and suggestions for excursions.

Day 1

As soon as I hopped off the plane and made my way through customs, I made a quick pit stop at the tourist board’s office in the airport for recommendations outside of my research and to finalize my itinerary.

Eager to begin my four-day road trip through Trinidad, I found myself feeling like a child again. I took an overnight flight on Caribbean Airlines into Trinidad from New York so I arrived early morning, allowing me to make the most of my first day.

After enjoying doubles, two pieces of fried flatbread filled with curried chickpeas, mango, cucumber, and other toppings, a breakfast mainstay in Trinidad, just outside the exit of the airport, I made my way to the Maracas Falls to begin my day.

Maracas Falls

Being one of the most accessible waterfalls on the island, I had to first navigate through the early morning traffic and make my way up Waterfall Road through a residential area and parked in the designated lot. After a scenic 25-minute hike through the open trail, I reached the breathtaking Maracas falls.

Maracas waterfalls in Trinidad. Kristin Braswell photos.
Maracas waterfalls in Trinidad. Kristin Braswell photos.

I spent a few minutes basking in the beauty and taking a dip in the water before making the drive over to Chaguaramas for the “down the islands” excursion, which I previously booked.

Chaguaramas, located at the northwest corner of Trinidad outside of Port of Spain, offers various activities including zip-lining, hiking, golfing and a booming marina/boating industry. Directly off the coast lie a variety of islands, mostly uninhabited, while others have privately owned vacation homes.

Gasparee Caves

Ariapita Avenue.
Ariapita Avenue.

Our tour took us to Gaspar Grande to explore the Gasparee Caves.

After being captivated by the teal waters in the caves we saw some of the other nearby islands, like Chacachacare.  This is the home of an abandoned leper colony. Another island, Carrera was once a prison island.

I made my way to my hotel, the Hyatt Regency, to check-in and relax before my night on the town—I heard Trinis really know how to party!

Nightlife of “limin” in Trinidad is a must and from my research and speaking with the hotel concierge, I headed straight to Ariapita Avenue or “The Ave,” the center of nightlife for Port of Spain–it did not disappoint.

The Ave is a street is lined with various bars, restaurants, clubs, food vendors and people. Choosing a spot to eat and take in all the sights and sounds was no easy task, so I did my best to try as many of them as I can. Trinidadians are some of the happiest and friendly people I’ve come across in my travels and I soon made friends along the way.  After some good laughs, a bite to eat and some drinks, I headed back to the hotel to get some rest.

Day 2

After enjoying an array of local Trini and American foods for breakfast at the Hyatt, I set off to tour Paramin, a village located on one of the highest points of the western area of the Northern Range in Trinidad.

It is a sprawling, steep and mountainous village whose residents have traditionally been farmers, producing herbs like chives, thyme, parsley and chadon beni (similar to cilantro) as well as vegetables like tomatoes and yams.

A turtle laying eggs in Tobago.
A turtle laying eggs on a beach in Tobago.

I parked my car at the bottom of the mountain and boarded an old Toyota Land Cruiser, the main mode of transport in Paramin. My guide was a local resident who had lived in Paramin her entire life.

I met some of the farmers behind the produce and sampled some of their work, including fresh coconut, sliced open with a machete. At the east end of Paramin sits the North Deck, a lookout, which offers panoramic views of the Caribbean Sea and also serves as an event space.

The guide stopped outside the house next door and honked her horn for a woman to come out and unlock the gates for us to enter. The residents of Paramin take the preservation of their land seriously and it was evident as we drove through the massive hills.

Hyatt Regency Trinidad pool. Nice!!
Hyatt Regency Trinidad pool. Nice!!

The Famous Bake n Shark

The guide drove me back to my car where I then headed to Maracas Beach to try the famous bake n shark, fried dough filled with fried fish or shark and covered with various toppings.  The drive from Paramin to Maracas Bay is short, through many windy mountain roads.

A waterfall kiss in Trinidad.
A waterfall kiss in Trinidad.

I stopped at the Maracas lookout where I bought local delicacies such as mango chow, which consists of green mango, chadon beni, scotch bonnet pepper and sea salt, from a local vendor.

After snapping a few photos of Maracas Bay, I headed to the beach to finally taste the bake n shark.
Maracas Beach is wide and not too crowded, with tall palm trees lining the beach. There are multiple bake n shark vendors located near the beach, but I recommend trying Richard’s as that it is the most popular.

Las Cuevas Beach

After relaxing on the beach for about an hour, I drove over to Las Cuevas beach, a much more secluded area that is little-known to tourists. The sun started to set and I headed back to the hotel to get ready for dinner. My night began with an amazing street food experience that started at the Lady Young Lookout which is located a few feet away from the ‘upside-down’ Hilton Hotel.

From the vantage point, I had one of the most panoramic night views of the city while indulging in authentic Trini corn soup. A few Trinis told me about Savannah West, which resembles a fair and is a 10-minute drive from Lady Young Lookout.

I made my way down the winding hill to Queens Park Savannah, which is Port of Spain’s largest open space and the world’s largest traffic roundabout, located across the street from Trinidad’s National Academy for the Performing Arts.

Richard's bake n shark, a Trinidad culinary tradition.
Richard’s bake n shark, a Trinidad culinary tradition.

I enjoyed some chicken roti, a flatbread made of chickpea flour filled with curried chickpeas, vegetables and some sort of protein, before tasting some of the best coconut ice cream I’ve ever had while listening to a steelpan band play.

There’s plenty of parking at Savannah West and it was very close to my hotel, where I headed shortly after to get some shut-eye.

Day 3

After breakfast, I checked out of the hotel and made my way south, past San Fernando to explore the natural phenomenon, Pitch Lake, which is in the village of La Brea. Far from being water, the “lake” is 40 percent pitch, 30 percent water, and 30 percent colloidal clay.

A gift of nature and a national treasure, Pitch Lake provides the entire country and many of the neighboring islands with the pitch for building roads. In fact, many of the roads in New York City were paved with asphalt from Pitch Lake.

Hindu Culture on Trinidad

Maracas Beach on Trinidad.
Maracas Beach on Trinidad.

After a brief guided tour, I drove up to the Chaguanas area to immerse myself in the Hindu culture, which makes up 40% of Trinidad’s population, and visit the tallest Hanuman Murti statue outside of India.

Standing 85 feet tall, the red and pink statue of the Hindu deity represents wisdom, righteousness, and strength. Out of respect, I removed my shoes in order to enter the temple area and was in awe of the structure. Just a short drive away is the Temple by the Sea, which was built by only one man by hand in 1947.

A Diverse Culture

These are important places to visit for those who wish to immerse themselves in Trinidad’s diverse culture. I started to get hungry so I stopped along the road at a popular roti shop for some shrimp roti before heading to Asa Wright Nature Center, a 270-acre conservatory, and the Pointe-a-Pierre Wild Fowl Trust.

Asa Wright Nature Center is a nature conservatory dedicated to the breeding and reintroduction of various bird and waterfowl species to the wild. I had a few hours to explore some trails before I needed to depart for Caroni Bird Sanctuary, a large mangrove swamp, to see Trinidad’s national bird, the Scarlett Ibis.

Bake n shark, a fish sandwich famous in Trinidad.
Bake n shark, a fish sandwich famous in Trinidad.

At sundown, thousands of Scarlett Ibis’ head back to the sanctuary from Venezuela to nest, a beautiful spectacle of red against the green swamp. Although I was tired from the long day, I headed over to the west coast to stay in a more secluded ‘boutique’ hotel, for my last night on the island.

After a long drive, I finally arrived at my hotel, Mt. Plaisir Estate Hotel & Spa, which is situated on the Northeast coast of Trinidad, on the beach in the village of Grande Riviere, about 54 miles from the Piarco International Airport.

Day 4

After some much-needed rest, I woke up early to take advantage of my last day in Trinidad. After an energizing morning yoga session, I enjoyed a local Trini breakfast of bake and bujol (saltfish and roasted vegetables with fried dough) at the hotel.

I decided to take a stroll on the beach and luckily, I witnessed a nest of leatherback turtle hatchlings making their way to the beach. Afterward, the hotel put me in touch with a tour guide for an easy stroll along the Ju-Trail for the most breathtaking view of the North Coast.

Then I headed down the west coast to Salybia to see if I could spot any turtle hatchlings at the beach there. No such luck this time around but I did enjoy some time lounging on the beach before making my way back to the airport to drop off my rental car and fly back to the states.

Karen Johnson is a regular visitor to Trinidad who lives in Miami Beach Florida.

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