Carnival hideouts

If you’re not in the mood for bacchanal, Trinidad and Tobago offer ample quiet Carnival-time escape options

Castara. Photograph by Stephen Jay PhotographyCoconut trees on the road to Icacos. Photograph by Chris AndersonRoadside stall selling all manner of homemade sauces, jams and fruit. Photograph by Chris AndersonThe cliffs at Icacos are spectacular. Photograph by Chris AndersonThe ruins of the old jailhouse at Bonasse. Photograph by Chris Anderson

Trinidad Carnival is the greatest show on earth — right? But let’s be honest: some years you just can’t face the music, or the (ecstatically gyrating) crowds, or the dust in your face. You could just barricade yourself at home, but the Carnival jumbie has a way of squeezing itself through doors left ajar — and who wants to be housebound when the rest of the island is out having fun (of one kind or another) in the sun?

Luckily, Trinidad is big enough to offer many Carnival weekend escape options that don’t involve jumping or waving. For some, it means a refreshing beach-break. Others take to the hills. Or you could get off the island altogether. And dedicated mas fans know that these escape options work just as well to charge your wining batteries ahead of the festivities, or recover in the aftermath.

Our correspondents Chris Anderson and Desiree Seebaran journey to opposite ends of the twin-island republic — to Trinidad’s breezy south-west peninsula and Tobago’s idyllic leeward coast — and find that peace and quiet are still possible even in the midst of the Carnival season.

 

South-west passage

Near Trinidad’s south-western tip, rural Cedros is a quiet and charming costal village — a great choice for a family day out, or to do some exploring. As a photo enthusiast, I always pack my gear on road-trips, and for Cedros I might just pack my swimming trunks as well. If you’re from “far” like me (Diego Martin, a suburb of Port of Spain), then take a map or at least look at one online to get an idea of the route. Road conditions vary, but I can honestly say that the dreaded potholes are quite rare.

Tall coconut trees and the wide Gulf of Paria welcome you to Cedros Bay and the village of Bonasse. If you’re there to swim and picnic, then you needn’t go any further. Parking, the beach, and some liming facilities are all here. But if you’re like me, have a camera, and love exploring, then on we go. Bonasse runs along a sandy beach and has lots of unique history, so keep your eyes open. Speaking to the older locals can be a treat. Look out for the sculpture of an indentured Indian family arriving on a galleon, or drive to the end of the long beach to see the ruins of the old jailhouse.

You can even walk along the beach to the next village of Fullarton, or get back on the road, find the Fullarton turn-off, and you begin the miles of coconut experience, very pretty any time of day. Fullarton is a “T” junction village — turn right and you get to the fishing depot and beach, turn left and you pass my dream house (more than seventy years old), more coconut trees, and beautiful Columbus Bay. The beach is popular for bathing, but has some hidden treasures as well. I love Los Gallos — seven huge rocks standing out of the sea, which supposedly reminded the Spanish of fighting cocks — and the magical sandstone cliffs to the right.

Some may seek rest here, but real explorers head back half a mile and take the turn on to Icacos Bay. In a short while the coconut trees give way to open wetland as far as the eye can see. The road actually goes through the marsh — I recommend a walkabout. Icacos Village is just beyond. I often finish my days taking photos at the old Constantine Estate, or enjoying the sunset on the beach at Bank. I can’t think of any other seaside area of Trinidad that has such a variety of unique sights — immensely picturesque and full of the friendliest folks. If you’re eyeing up your free days at Carnival time, I recommend Cedros for the best photos — and memories.

Chris Anderson

 

The quiet life

How far do you want to go? There are escape options up and down both Trinidad and Tobago.

Northern Range
Explore tiny valley villages, or head higher into the clear air. There are dozens of small escape options in Trinidad’s northern hills, ranging from the birdwatchers’ paradise of the Asa Wright Nature Centre to the Pax Guesthouse on the grounds of the monastery at Mt St Benedict (famous for afternoon tea) to rustic guest cottages in the Heights of Aripo. Or put on your hiking boots and explore one of the numerous trails that wind up and across the steep slopes.

North Coast
Maracas and Las Cuevas are close enough to Port of Spain to get crowded during Carnival. Head further east along the coast for more secluded spots. The paved road ends at Blanchisseuse, but Paria and Gran Tacarib — sand, coconut trees, and space to pitch your tent — are a healthy hike or a lazy boat ride away. At the other end of the North Coast, Toco, Sans Souci, and Grande Riviere offer spectacular scenery and bracing sea air.

Central Range
This old cocoa country is dotted with tiny villages, citrus estates, and secluded villas. The jewel-like wooden church of Our Lady of Montserrat, dating back to 1878 and recently restored, gives a glimpse of the area’s human past, and the Tamana Caves, home to tens of thousands of bats, do the same for the central hills’ natural history.

East Coast
Miles and miles of coconut trees twisted by the Atlantic winds give Manzanilla and Mayaro their distinctive landscape. Locals will warn you to be wary of riptides along the wide beaches — perfect for meditative strolls if you prefer not to get into the water. The Nariva Swamp, best explored by boat or kayak, is home to manatees, macaws, and monkeys.

Down the Islands
The islands just off Trinidad’s north-west peninsula — Gasparee, Monos, Huevos, Chacachacare — are within easy reach of Port of Spain, but can feel like another world. Some lucky Trinidadian families have owned beach houses here for generations, perched around small, tranquil bays. Many are available for rent, or you can hire a boat and visit Scotland Bay at Trinidad’s north-western tip, or the eerie remains of a Victorian leprosarium on Chacachacare, from where Venezuela feels like a stone’s throw away.

 

 

Cosy in Castara

The Carnival jumbie has been known to stretch its beguiling fingers from Trinidad all the way over to Tobago, especially to urban and big tourist centres like Scarborough or Crown Point. So to make a total escape, you’ll have to travel north-east into the quieter, more remote parts of the island. One good place to consider lies along the island’s Leeward Road, past Black Rock, Plymouth, and Moriah: the fishing village of Castara.

The village is small: you can walk through it in less than thirty minutes, but it offers plenty of hidden treasures for those who just want to listen to themselves think, instead of listening to soca at crucifying decibels. Although the villagers still depend heavily on fishing, a quiet, non-commercialised tourism industry has also sprung up. There are signs dotted throughout Castara indicating rooms for rent. And at any time you’ll see visitors walking with bags of shopping, or bargaining with beach vendors for colourful souvenirs. Self-catering is usually the name of the game here, and whether you want to book a spot online or visit the place yourself and ask around, there are plenty of options for comfortable, rustic housing. And of course, it’s easy to get fresh sea food.

Castara is nestled right into the western slope of Tobago’s Main Ridge Forest Reserve, the oldest reserve in the western hemisphere. Several guesthouses or cottage owners can help you arrange hikes or bird-watching tours into the rainforest nearby with reputable tour companies, or you can make your own arrangements with a preferred provider. Some self-contained apartments have great views of the forest and wildlife nearby, if you’re quiet enough to look and listen. Or you can spend your days lazing on Castara Bay, which is small but lovely, or at nearby Englishman’s Bay, a few minutes north up the Leeward Road. Both are perfect for swimming or snorkelling, and you may be lucky enough to see manta rays as well as several species of fish.

Don’t expect much of a nightlife, but Castara is famous for hosting one of the few remaining dirt ovens in Tobago. Visitors and locals alike place orders weeks in advance, and stand in line to get the yummy baked goodies that this historical relic produces. And you’ll definitely find small family grocers in the village where you can buy supplies, small restaurants serving rustic and home-cooked Tobago cuisine, and the ubiquitous rumshops that inhabit every West Indian village — if you’re particularly wanting a drink, a lime, or a dance to a little calypso. No one said that you had to leave the jumbie behind completely.

Desiree Seebaran