Nelson Island once served as a detention spot for prisoners and was also home to a quarantine station. // © 2016 Trinidad & Tobago Tourism Development Company
Feature image (above): Suggest that clients take a day trip from Port of Spain to the islands off the northwest coast of Trinidad. // © 2016 iStock
Most clients vacationing in Trinidad will make the island’s capital, Port of Spain, their base of operations — and for good reason, as Port of Spain is an exciting city, and definitely the pulse point of Trinidad. Here, visitors will find the island’s most modern hotels, restaurants serving up Creole and East Indian Caribbean cooking and nightlife venues showcasing Trinidad’s signature “soca” and steel pan music. Being based in Port of Spain also positions visitors for easy day trips to Maracas Beach and Caroni Swamp to observe the nightly nesting of scarlet ibis on the swamp’s islets.
But what about clients who have “been there, done this” and are looking for off-the-beaten path adventures? They can make like the locals of Port of Spain and take a day trip to visit one or more islands off the northwest coast of Trinidad. Boat tours regularly depart from the Chaguaramas Heritage Park marina, located 8 miles outside Port of Spain, to the islands of Chacachacare, Monos, Nelson, Huevos and Gaspar Grande.
Offbeat Historical Attractions
The unusual historical sites on the islands are one of the most intriguing reasons to plan a day trip. Chacachacare Island is a former leper colony that is said to be haunted. Legend has it that sometime in the middle of the 20th century, the colony’s head nun hanged herself in the chapel. More than one person has claimed to witness the ghost-like figure of the nun walking around the colony at night, holding a lantern. There are also accounts of people hearing spectral voices, being nudged by spirits and suddenly feeling cold at locations in the colony. Chacachacare has even attracted professional ghost hunters and was featured on the reality television series “Ghost Hunters International.” A less spooky site on the island is the lighthouse — said to be the second highest in the world — which dates back to 1896 and is still in operation.
Nelson Island has quite a history, as well. It was a quarantine island and still contains remnants of the Quarantine Station, which was built in 1802. Additionally, the station was Trinidad and Tobago’s version of Ellis Island, and Nelson Island was once a former detention island for prisoners.
Touring Gasparee Caves
The Gasparee Caves are found on the island of Gaspar Grande, about a 15-minute boat ride from Chaguaramas. Calling Gaspar Grande an island is a bit of a stretch, since it’s actually a large hunk of coral that has risen up out of the ocean. The caves, which are 90 feet underground and were once used by pirates to hide away their plunder, are now home to a variety of creatures, including harmless bats. In addition to stalactites and stalagmites, there’s also an underground pool available for a quick dip. (Note: Tours to Gaspar Grande must be booked through an official guide and can be arranged through the Chaguaramas Development Authority at 868-225-4232 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)
A trip to the islands provides a mix of land and water activities. Kayakers can navigate the calm and protected Williams Bay in Chaguaramas, which presents good conditions for novices. More challenging kayaking can be found around Gaspar, Monos and Boca Islands. Both Scotland Bay and Chacachacare offer guided snorkeling tours, stand-up paddle lessons, wakeboarding, fly boarding and stand-up paddle yoga. More adventurous types can take an excursion to Centipede Island, which features cliffs that visitors can rappel down or dive off.
The Chaguaramas waters of Trinidad are one of the top locations for tarpon fishing. June to November are prime fishing months, when the waters provide perfect conditions for tarpon to thrive. The destination’s annual Tarpon Thunder Tournament takes place each August; this year’s tournament will take place Aug. 12-14.
Clients who want a little more relaxation time can rent a vacation house on one of the islands and indulge in one of Trinidad and Tobago’s signature experiences: beach liming. “Liming” basically means hanging out with friends. A beach lime might consist of having a beach barbecue and rum punch, listening to music and arranging a day or evening sail. Many of the islands offer house rentals, which can sleep up to eight or 10 people.