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Organized Tours

Sightseeing tours are offered by Trinidad & Tobago Sightseeing Tours, 165A Western Main Rd., St. James (tel. 868/628-1051; www.trintours.com), in late-model sedans with a trained driver/guide. Several different tours are offered, including a daily city tour that takes you past (but not inside) the main points of interest of Port-of-Spain. The 2 1/2-hour tour costs $40 per person for two.

You'll see tropical splendor at its best on a Port-of-Spain/Maracas Bay/Saddle Road jaunt, tours lasting 3 1/2 hours. The tour begins with a drive around Port-of-Spain, passing the main points of interest in town and then going on through mountain scenery. The cost is $52 per person.

Port-of-Spain

One of the busiest harbors in the Caribbean, Trinidad's capital, Port-of-Spain, can be explored on foot. Start out at Queen's Park Savannah, on the northern edge of the city. "The Savannah" consists of 80 hectares (198 acres), complete with soccer, cricket, and rugby fields, and vendors hawking coconut water and rotis. This area was once a sugar plantation, but a fire in 1808 swept it and destroyed hundreds of homes.

Among the Savannah's outstanding buildings is pink-and-blue Queen's Royal College, containing a clock tower with Westminster chimes. Today a school for boys, it stands on Maraval Road at the corner of St. Clair Avenue. The Roodal clan's family home -- affectionately called the "gingerbread house" by Trinidadians -- is on the same road. It was built in the baroque style of the French Second Empire.

Nearby stands Whitehall, a former private mansion turned into the office of the prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago. In the Moorish style, it was erected in 1905 and served as the U.S. Army headquarters here during World War II. These houses, including Hayes Court, the residence of the Anglican bishop of Trinidad, and others, form what is known as the "Magnificent Seven" big mansions standing in a row.

On the south side of Memorial Park, a short distance from the Savannah and within walking distance of the major hotels, stands the National Museum and Art Gallery, 117 Frederick St. (tel. 868/623-5941), open Tuesday to Saturday from 10am to 6pm, Sunday from 2 to 6pm. The free museum contains a representative exhibition of Trinidad artists, including an entire gallery devoted to Jean Michel Cazabon (1813-88); permanent collections of artifacts giving a general overview of the island's history and culture; examples of Amerindian archaeology; British historical documents; and a small natural-history exhibition including geology, corals, and insect collections. There's also a large display filled with costumes dedicated to the colorful culture of Carnival.

At the southern end of Frederick Street, the main artery of Port-of-Spain's shopping district, stands Woodford Square. The gaudy Red House, a large neo-Renaissance structure built in 1906, is the seat of the government of Trinidad and Tobago. Nearby stands Holy Trinity Cathedral, with a Gothic look reminiscent of the churches of England.

Another of the town's important landmarks is Independence Square, dating from Spanish days. Now mainly a parking lot, it stretches across the southern part of the capital from Wrightson Road to the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. This Roman Catholic church was built in 1815 in the neo-Gothic style and consecrated in 1832.

The cathedral has an outlet that leads to the Central Market, on Beetham Highway on the outskirts of Port-of-Spain. Here you can see all the spices and fruits for which Trinidad is known. It's one of the island's most colorful sights, made all the more so by the wide diversity of people who sell wares here.

North of the Savannah, the Royal Botanical Gardens (tel. 868/622-4221; www.bgci.org) covers 28 hectares (69 acres) and is open daily from 8am to 4pm; admission is free. The park is filled with flowering plants, shrubs, and rare and beautiful trees, including an orchid house. Seek out the raw beef tree: An incision made in its bark is said to resemble rare, bleeding roast beef. Guides will take you through and explain the luxuriant foliage. In the gardens is the President's House, official residence of the president of Trinidad and Tobago. Victorian in style, it was built in 1875.

Part of the gardens is the Emperor Valley Zoo (tel. 868/622-3530), in St. Clair, which shows a good selection of the fauna of Trinidad, as well as some exotic animals from around the world. The star attractions are a family of mandrills, a reptile house, and open bird parks. You can take shady jungle walks through tropical vegetation. Admission is $1.60 for adults, 80¢ for children 3 to 12, and free for children 2 and under. It's open daily from 9am to 6pm.

Around the Island

One of the most popular attractions in the area is the Asa Wright Nature Centre (tel. 800/426-7781 in the U.S., or 868/667-4655; www.asawright.org). If you're not a guest of the hotel, you can call and reserve a space for its noonday lunch for $22 Monday to Saturday or $32 on Sunday. It's also possible to reserve one of the daily guided tours of its sanctuary at 10:30am or 1:30pm, which cost $10.

On a peak 330m (1,083 ft.) above Port-of-Spain, Fort George was built by Gov. Sir Thomas Hislop in 1804 as a signal station in the days of the sailing ships. Once reached only by hikers, today it's accessible by an asphalt road. From its citadel, you can see the mountains of Venezuela. Locals refer to the climb up the winding road as "traveling up to heaven." The drive is only 15km (9 3/4 miles), but to play it safe, allow about 2 hours.

Pointe-à-Pierre Wild Fowl Trust, Le Riene Town House, Flagstaff Hill, Long Circular Road (tel. 868/658-4200, ext. 2512), is a 10-hectare (25-acre) bird sanctuary, 2 hours by car south of Port-of-Spain. The setting is unlikely, near an industrial area of the state-owned Petrotrin oil refinery, with flames spouting from flare stacks in the sky. However, in this seemingly inhospitable clime, wildfowl flourish amid such luxuriant vegetation as crape myrtle, flamboyant soursop, mango trees, and even black sage bushes said to be good for high blood pressure. You can spot the yellow-billed jacana, plenty of Muscovies, and, if you're lucky, such endangered species as the toucan or the purple gallinule. Admission is $2 adults, $1 children 3 to 12, and 50¢ kids 2 and under. Hours are Monday to Friday 8am to 5pm, Saturday and Sunday by appointment only from 10:30am to 1:30pm.

Enhanced by the blue and purple hues of the sky at sunset, clouds of scarlet ibis, the national bird of Trinidad and Tobago, fly in from their feeding grounds to roost at the 104-sq.-km (40-sq.-mile) Caroni Bird Sanctuary (tel. 868/645-1305), a big mangrove swamp interlaced with waterways. The setting couldn't be more idyllic, with blue, mauve, and white lilies; oysters growing on mangrove roots; and caimans resting on mud banks. Visitors are taken on a tour through these swamps to see the birds (bring along insect repellent). The most reliable tour operator is James Meddoo, Bamboo Grove Settlement, 1 Butler Hwy. (tel. 868/662-7356), who has explored the swamps for some 25 years. His 2 1/2-hour excursion leaves daily at 4pm and costs $10 per person, or $5 for kids 5 to 11. The sanctuary is about a half-hour drive (11km/6 3/4 miles) south of Port-of-Spain.

Pitch Lake is on the west coast of Trinidad, with the village of Le Brea on its north shore. To reach it from Port-of-Spain, take the Solomon Hocoy Highway. It's about a 2-hour drive, depending on traffic. One of the wonders of the world, with a surface like elephant skin, the lake is 90m (295 ft.) deep at its center. It's possible to walk on its rough side, but we don't recommend that you proceed far. Legend has it that the lake devoured a tribe of Chayma Amerindians, punishing them for eating hummingbirds in which the souls of their ancestors reposed. The lake was formed millions of years ago, and it's believed that at one time, it was a huge mud volcano into which muddy asphaltic oil seeped. Churned up and down by underground gases, the oil and mud eventually formed asphalt. According to legend, Sir Walter Raleigh discovered the lake in 1595 and used the asphalt to caulk his ships. Today the bitumen mined here is used to pave highways throughout the world. You can tour Pitch Lake on your own, paying an admission of $5 per person. Trinidad & Tobago Tours (tel. 868/628-1051) runs guided tours of the lake for $70 per person. You'll find some bars and restaurants at Le Brea.

The Saddle is a humped pass on a ridge dividing the Maraval and the Santa Cruz valleys. Along this circular run, you'll see luxuriant grapefruit, papaya, cassava, and cocoa trees. Leaving Port-of-Spain by Saddle Road, going past the Trinidad Country Club, you pass through Maraval Village and St. Andrew's Golf Course. The road rises to cross the ridge at the spot from which the Saddle gets its name. After going over the hump, you descend through Santa Cruz Valley (rich with giant bamboo), into San Juan, and back to the capital along Eastern Main Road or Beetham Highway. You'll see panoramic views in every direction; the 29km (18-mile) tour takes about 2 hours.

Nearly all cruise-ship passengers are hauled along Trinidad's "Skyline Highway," the North Coast Road. Starting at the Saddle, it winds for 11km (6 3/4 miles) across the Northern Range and down to Maracas Bay. At one point, 30m (98 ft.) above the Caribbean, you'll see on a clear day as far as Venezuela to the west or Tobago in the east -- a sweep of some 160km (99 miles).

Most visitors take this route to the beach at Maracas Bay, the most splendid beach on Trinidad. Enclosed by mountains, it has the charm of a Caribbean fantasy: white sands, swaying coconut palms, and crystal-clear water.


Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.