Le Grande Almandier‘s outdoor galleries lead to accommodations on two floors. www.NaTour.us
Personally researched by Alison Gardner, Travel with a Challenge Editor
Travel with a Challenge readers are perennially on the lookout for distinctive, small-scale accommodations to complement their more adventurous, culture-curious travel outlook. Rounding out our Trinidad Adventure and Birds of Trinidad & Tobago article collection, I offer here a selection of editor-tested recommendations where the location, the atmosphere and the cuisine are sure to become part of post-vacation tales to share — even though there may not be a hairdryer in the bathroom or a phone on the bedside table.
There is very little vacation accommodation in Trinidad’s northeast quadrant, with the exception of Grande Riviere, population 350, located on the north coast about two and a half hours drive over paved roads from the island’s international airport. Except during the peak turtle-breeding season, it is a laid-back town of narrow hilly streets where locals courteously acknowledge but generally ignore visitors unless business needs to be done. The primary economic drivers are still fishing and agriculture, though that is changing. This weathered sign outside Jamesy’s Stonewall Bar pretty much says it all — Authorized hours of opening: “Any time, any day.”
The grounds of Acajou Hotel have been created with as much attention to detail as has each cottage. www.NaTour.us
Happily, Grande Riviere’s hoteliers are business-focused, delivering good value both in accommodation and meals to suit a variety of budgets. The luxurious riverfront Acajou Hotel, www.AcajouTrinidad.com, is the dream-to-reality project of Laure and Roland, Parisian immigrants who believe they have recognized the eco-tourism potential of Trinidad’s north coast. Fronting on a wide tranquil river that leads to the beach 200 yards away, their 2.5 acre property is a work-in-progress featuring an eco-conscious design and a growing number of secluded garden cottages each with sundecks overlooking tropical gardens the owners have planted themselves.
A riverbank trail takes visitors straight to and from the beach. Roland, a prominent film-maker and architect in an earlier life, has designed and built every stick of furniture for each cottage, giving it a distinctive but very professional character. Laure’s European flair for interior design is evident everywhere. Some cottages have both elegantly mosquito net-draped king-size beds on the main floor and loft bedrooms with steep stairs leading up to them, perhaps making them more suitable for families.
A variety of room and meal plans means you will pay a basic US$100, single or double, for a cottage including continental breakfast, then additional money depending on how many meals you add to the package. All rates include service charges and taxes.
Local fishermen bring in the catch on the beach below Le Grande Almandier Inn. Just a few hundred yards up-river from this junction of sea and fresh water, the Acajou Hotel fronts onto the river bank. Alison Gardner
The mid-priced Le Grande Almandier Inn, www.legrandealmandier.com, is located on the only piece of classic tropical beachfront in the area with perpetual surf just a few yards away. Its popular open-air restaurant and bar attract both locals and visitors. The Inn offers ten colorfully, creatively decorated rooms and suites, cosy but not luxurious, and all with ensuite bathrooms, set around a motel-style courtyard.
Inn owners, Wendy and Cyril, proudly point to Chef Jason as their secret weapon to guarantee repeat clientele. His fresh-baked whole wheat cinnamon coconut bread for breakfast and passionfruit or mango cheesecake on the table by lunch time certainly convinced me he gets up pretty early! Many dishes on the menu reflect Jason’s bold experimental style, and all depend on local fruits, vegetables and herbs usually plucked just hours before from Wendy and Cyril’s’ farm garden down the road. Fresh fish, always on the menu, means it was probably caught a couple of hours ago.
Rates vary with the season, the number of people, and the meal plan selected, but average about US$50-60 per person. Le Grande Almandier also organizes nature tours to explore the hilly hiking/biking trails and mountain forests in the area, and the inn hosts colorful dance and music performances put on by village residents some evenings.
In the extreme northeast corner of Trinidad not far from the historic Galera Point Lighthouse, I discovered the community-based, nonprofit Toco Foundation Agro-Tourism Centre, www.tocofoundation.org. Sprung from a dismal employment situation in this economically-depressed region, the Foundation’s grassroots initiatives have won international praise and awards. Set on a nine-acre working farm that is worth a tour in itself, visitors will find a modern 10-bedroom facility, each room with private bath, and fresh local cuisine served from a sparkling professional kitchen.
The room rate, including breakfast, is US$50 per night; additional meals or picnic lunches are reasonably priced. Nature and guided hiking tours are also professional community employment initiatives launched by Toco, and are available year round. It is a pleasure to feature such community-inspired models of tourism.
Community-based Agro-Tourism Centre welcomes guests to modern accommodation, fresh-prepared meals and guided nature tours. Toco Foundation
Carnetta’s Inn offers an authentic touch of Trinidad hospitality on its sprawling property, abundant with plants and wildlife. www.NaTour.us
Carnetta’s Inn, www.carnettasinn.com, is located at Maraval in the foothills of the Northern Range outside Port of Spain, a cosy family-owned guesthouse of 14 rooms and suites, some with kitchens for self-catering. With a large garden property and a sturdy bridge straddling both sides of a picturesque river, the inn has been a haven for birders, naturalists, and Elderhostel groups over many years.
Owners, Winston and Carnetta, are helpful and knowledgeable veterans of island tourism who will arrange everything from car rental to airport pickup to tour planning. Best of all is the authentic Creole and Caribbean cuisine served in their restaurant, with a strong emphasis on fresh natural, organic ingredients. Carnetta’s pumpkin soup and grilled catfish certainly caught my attention, but the unprogrammed highlight of the evening was witnessing a full lunar eclipse in the star-studded night sky as my second dish of homemade coconut ice cream slid smoothly down my throat.
Historic accommodation, Pax Guest House, is on the estate of the Caribbean’s oldest Benedictine Monastery. Pax Guest House
Truly a jewel of Trinidad’s historical tourism is Pax Guest House, www.paxguesthouse.com, operating since 1916. It is nestled in the hills at Tunapuna on the estate of Mt. St. Benedict, the largest Benedictine Monastery in the Caribbean, established three years earlier by Dutch monks from Brazil. This privately owned and managed guest house, efficiently presided over by Gerard and Oda, has a fabulous back yard of 600+ acres of rainforest and pine plantations laced with well-made walking trails.
In recent years, it has become a stimulating must-stay for hundreds of biological researchers, naturalists and bird-watchers who return annually, so early reservations are a must. The property is a lively place with 140+ bird species, 17 species of mammals, 13 species of reptiles and butterflies and plants in abundance .. a naturalist’s holiday destination in itself!
Though Pax Guest House is less than 30 minutes drive from the capital and the airport, there is a cool crispness in the air at 800 feet above sea level and an atmosphere of grace and peace [living up to its Latin name] that makes it hard to leave this unique 18-room accommodation. Public areas and bedrooms are laden with antique furniture, some brought from Europe and some expertly hand-crafted by the resident monks in bygone times. The elegant traditional dining room and the outdoor Avian Terrace invite mixing and mingling over delectable Caribbean dishes, usually served buffet style, and afternoon tea is a tradition served up with a touch of British elegance.
The tranquil gardens and valley view of the Pax Guest House are just two of its many attractions. Alison Gardner
Trinidad & Tobago’s official tourism website: www.gotrinidadandtobago.com. T&T’s Dry Season runs from January to May, and Wet Season from June to December. My recommended time to visit is the Dry Season when it is most pleasant to be outdoors and pursuing activities such as nature exploration, hiking, cycling or kayaking. Birding is a year round activity, but local experts concede that November through April is best for spotting the greatest variety.
To travel Trinidad’s adventurous byways and backroads, visit our companion feature article about exploring little known regions, parks and reserves throughout the island. To learn more about this nation’s treasure trove of bird species, visit our richly-illustrated bird showcase presented by Trinidad wildlife photographer, Roger Neckles. There you will also see a description of Roger’s Avifauna Tours, specializing in birding, photography and nature itineraries.
Paria Springs Eco-Community Ltd., www.pariasprings.com, specializes in guided exploration of challenging areas of T&T and in searching out small-scale, owner-operated accommodations. Managing Director, Courtenay Rooks, has a lifelong passion for his country’s natural treasures, and a dedicated focus on training local guides and patronizing grassroots hospitality to build both skills and pride in tourism delivery.
Personal tour guide, Ivan Charles, is a knowledgeable, efficient, and entertaining ambassador for the natural highlights, active vacation interests, and cultural experiences of his country, email: email@example.com. Tell him your interests, and he will arrange a day or a week of customized exploration.
Alison Gardner is a travel journalist, magazine editor, guidebook author, and consultant. She specializes in researching alternative vacations throughout the world, suitable for people over 50 and for women travelers of all ages. She is also the publisher and editor of Travel with a Challenge web magazine. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.