Maracas goes green

A new eco-friendly park at in Maracas, Trinidad offers fun, flowers, and fruit, as well as contributing to local food security

Crossing the river brings you to the main park area. Photograph courtesy the Maracas Bay AgriTourism ParkThe park, with the Northern Range looming in the distance. Photograph courtesy the Maracas Bay AgriTourism Park

If you like golf or have always wanted to try it, but you’re not ready for the big league, there’s another choice out there: miniature golf. And if you’re anything like me, then the Maracas AgriTourism Park is the place for you. Perhaps you’ll discover, as I did, that any version of the game isn’t as easy as it looks on television. The park has a nine-hole miniature golf course, which I’ve tried – and I am sad to say, as a novice, I pretty much sucked (forget about a hole in one: my main aim was to actually hit the ball on my first swing, not the 21st). But it was still loads of fun!

This and much more can be found a short distance away from Maracas Beach, on the north coast of Trinidad. The five-acre park is the brainchild of Naushad Ali, who wants to change the way people view agriculture and the benefits it can bring. With climate change and global warming on everyone’s lips and increasingly on the world’s agenda, Ali wants the park to play a part in encouraging people to contribute to food security in Trinidad & Tobago.

The idea came to him after attending a friend’s 50th-birthday celebration at a river lime in Valencia in north-east Trinidad: he thought it would be the perfect way to celebrate his own 50th the following year. He wanted to do something that would be more than an ordinary river lime, “a tourist attraction [for both locals and visitors] to indulge in a safe and eco-friendly environment”. It would include showcasing “tropical agriculture to the tourism market”. And so the park was born.

When he told his wife, Pearl, about his plan, Ali said, “She was very sceptical, since this was a new business venture in Trinidad, but is very supportive with ideas, and deals with customer service”. His older son, Rayaaf, was very excited about the park, since he’s very eco-conscious and environmentally aware. The park is a family affair: as well as Pearl, who is the general manager and takes care of bookings and correspondence, Rayaaf and Ali’s other son Clint help run the business.

Rayaaf handles the website, marketing and sales, and has also purchased five acres of land in the area, where he plans to construct log cabins and open an eco-friendly resort. Clint is the chief executive officer, while working with his father in Ali’s main business, importing vegetable seeds. As an importer, Ali “develops and markets new varieties with added advantages, mainly to increase food production and profitability for the farmer”, which ties in with what he is trying to do with the park.

The golf course is to the left when you enter the park, and you have to cross the bridge over a shallow river that runs through the centre to reach the rest of the property. The park – which is more fun than its name suggests – has a wide variety of fruit trees and vegetables, from the commonplace to the “exotic”. A visitor will find limes, portugals, king oranges, tangelos (a cross between a grapefruit and a tangerine), longhorns (a type of lychee), balata, pomegranates, pimento, cucumbers, mammy apples, and barbadine, as well as tropical flowers, such as gingers, orchids, heliconias and anthuriums. And that’s just some of the varied flora to be found at the park. Of course, this attracts a wide variety of birds – hummingbirds, parrots, doves, and parakeets, among others.

Trinidad & Tobago began to experience extreme dry conditions earlier this year, accompanied by almost constant forest fires, but Ali says this is not a problem at the park, where the water table is very high. This means trees and plants can be plagued by fungus and insects, but Ali treats the vegetation with “mainly organic and biological chemicals, fertilisers and biostimulants”. That’s in keeping with the park’s “Gone Green” motto.

If you want to do a spot of fishing, whether just to practise your skills or learn new ones, the park has ponds filled with tilapia, and cascadura, and all the equipment you need is available for rent. The park practises a catch-and-release system, so there’ll be no chance for you to eat what you’ve caught. No worries, though, you can bring your own to grill or barbecue, and there are huts with firewood and fireplaces (also known as chulhas) for cooking for the river lime.

The park has the backing of the government-run Tourism Development Company (TDC) which is advising Ali on the requirements the park needs to fulfil in order for them to endorse and recommend it. Ali is also working with the TDC to become their first camping-ground facility, where campsites will be available complete with tents and bathroom facilities. There are also educational tours for schools on field trips, led by the Ministry of Agriculture officer for the area, who can introduce young people to Trinidad & Tobago’s biodiversity.

The park is open from Wednesday to Sunday, from 10.30 am to 6.30 pm, and has been busiest on weekends since it opened in March 2009. Going to the beach is a national pastime in Trinidad & Tobago, and because Maracas Beach is a top tourist destination, with the park a short distance away, it is only natural that a day’s excursion could include a visit. Ali offers the option of becoming a park member, with attendant perks that include free entry and extended opening hours.

For more information call (868) 305-0489 or visit www.maracasbayagritourismpark.com