Diwali: Festival of Lights Week in Trinidad

Join us on a NEW tour to Trinidad to experience the Hindu Festival of Lights, Diwali. Take in the happiest holiday of the year in this vibrant multi-cultural country that celebrates more holidays than any other nation in the world!   Spend time at the world-renowned Asa Wright Nature Centre and Lodge, a 200-acre wildlife sanctuary in Trinidad’s rain-forested Northern Range.  Learn about WWII history in Chagauramas, a former US naval base and air station, now transformed as Trinidad’s most popular community, one full of parks, ocean-front dining, and lovely homes with plantings.

Participants in the Diwali: Festival of Lights tour sample excellent birding, along with a unique mix of nature and culture. New sightings abound, even for those who have visited the country before. These may include Red Howler Monkeys and the endemic Trinidad Piping Guan for those who choose the extension. We spend time in Port of Spain to explore the Royal Botanical Gardens, the Magnificent Seven, and to taste delicious local cuisine.  We have set aside ample time at the Centre to soak in the ambiance of the rainforest and all its riches.  Two days will be focused on the Centre, allowing you to relax on the Verandah or take advantage of the extensive opportunities for exploration. Walk the trails to spot and photograph manakins, bellbirds, and hummingbirds or ask one of AWNC’s expert guides to help you find interesting wildlife.

Mahese Ramlal, a senior guide for the Asa Wright Nature Centre, will be the guide for this special tour. He has graciously offered to share a fabulous annual fireworks show at his home, in celebration of Diwali. This Hindu  festival commemorates light prevailing over darkness, knowledge over ignorance, good over evil, and hope over despair. There are five days of celebration, determined by the darkest new moon between mid-October and mid-November according to the lunar-solar calendar.

This tour has a strong natural history and birding theme, visiting new sites from our regular tours. Shorebirds are arriving for the winter and we sample several mudflats. A community nearby the Asa Wright Nature Centre has abundant birding, and an excellent ecotourism program and they share with us a wonderful lunch highlighting local cuisine. We won’t miss two classics of Trinidad, the Scarlet Ibis at Caroni Swamp and the Oilbirds at Dunston Cave. Centre naturalists lead walks each day on the grounds and they have prepared an evening program on bats of the region.

Trinidad is a surprisingly large island, nearly the size of Delaware, and in this tour, especially with the optional extension to Grand Riviere, we get a feel for the size and diversity across the Northern Range, both geographically and culturally.

We may be fortunate enough to be near an event for Ramleela, the oldest open air theatre in the Caribbean, with parades and enactments occurring over a 10 day period in celebration of Lord Rama and his consort Sita. As this is often in October as well, we will try to be flexible to add it in to our schedule. Ramleela was brought to Trinidad with East Indian immigrants and has been celebrated with colorful pageantry for over 160 years!

Photo: Courtesy of Trinidad and Tobago government.

 

 

Sat. Oct. 18: Arrival and Welcome to Port of Spain

Our guides will meet all flights that arrive at Trinidad’s Piarco International Airport in Port-of-Spain. For our first night, they will take us in to a hotel on the Queen’s Park Savannah in the city, so the next day we can easily enjoy time at the Royal Botanic Gardens, see the architectural gems of the Magnificent Seven and have a Caribbean lunch at a local hotspot. If you can organize a flight in by afternoon, you can see more of the city or enjoy a walk among locals that are out jogging and enjoying views of the Northern Range that lie beyond the city. If you arrive on a late flight you will still be met at the airport, but you may want to consider coming in on the late flight a night early. For those here in time, we’ll have dinner at or near the hotel.

Accommodations in Port of Spain (D)

 

Sun. Oct. 19: Royal Botanic Gardens / Magnificent Seven / Lunch at a Local Hotspot / Birding Mudflats and Forests of Chaguaramas Peninsula NW Trinidad / Sunset on the Waterfront at Crew’s Inn

The Botanic Gardens, just north of the Queens Park Savannah, were established in 1818 on an abandoned sugar estate. They once housed the residence of the governor of the colony. In the Caribbean, only the Botanic Gardens in St. Vincent are older. Enjoy the variety of plants, including nutmeg trees and Rainbow Eucalyptus.

The Magnificent Seven is a group of mansions at one corner of Queen’s Park Savannah. The beautiful buildings, mostly in good condition, represent a number of styles and influences.

After lunch, we go to the Chaguaramas Peninsula and the Chaguaramas National Heritage Park. The area is home to some 90 species of birds and an array of mammals including red howler monkeys. We will spend time birding the mudflats and forests.

We will finish this day enjoying sunset on the waterfront of the nearby Crew’s Inn hotel.

Accommodations at Crew’s Inn (B,L,D)

 

Mon. Oct. 20: Birding and Red Howler Monkeys at Chaguaramas National Heritage Park / Edith Falls Hike / Diwali Nagar, the Most Important Indian Cultural Event of the West Indies

The Chaguaramas National Heritage Park shares much of its biodiversity with nearby Venezuela. Once home to a massive United States military base, Chaguaramas is now a thriving area for recreation, nature, and culture. Mammals include Silky Anteaters and even Ocelots. We might also come across giant iguanas and caiman. Trinidadians consider Chaguaramas to be the home of some of their greatest natural treasures including the Saltpond, Gasparee Cave, and more. We take a brief hike through old cocoa and tonka bean plantations to Edith Falls. This 200 foot waterfall is at its peak at this time of year.
Tonight we spend the evening at the Diwali Nagar; more information will be available as the event gets closer. Afterwards, we will drive to the Asa Wright Nature Centre.

Accommodations at Asa Wright Nature Centre (B,L,D)

 

Tues., Oct. 21: Forty Species Before Breakfast / Orientation walk and Verandah Time at AWNC

This morning begins with the raucous calls of Crested Oropendola and a host of other exotic sounds. A first-time visitor might see forty species before breakfast! Return visitors treasure the rainbow of color at arm’s length as honeycreepers and hummingbirds come in to feed.

After breakfast, we offer a guided birding tour of one of the several trails that traverse this rich and diverse wildlife sanctuary. On our introductory walk we should see such species as Guianan Trogon, Channel-billed Toucan, Chestnut Woodpecker, White-bearded Manakin, Golden-headed Manakin, Rufous-browed Peppershrike, and Turquoise and Bay-headed Tanagers. Centre naturalists also discuss plants and other life forms as we traverse the grounds.

The Centre is situated in the Arima Valley of Trinidad’s Northern Range. The area has been a traditional locus of coffee, cocoa, and citrus plantations and many of these plants are still maintained on the grounds. Natural second-growth has taken over and festooned the abandoned plantation vegetation with vines and a host of epiphytes. The effect is one of being deep in a tropical rainforest. The Centre is currently involved in projects to encourage other landowners to use wise wildlife practices and we will hear more about this effort during our stay.

This afternoon, you’ll be free to relax or enjoy the trails on a guided walk if you like. The Centre has an active outreach program to local schools, and this afternoon we hear about the recent years’ activities as we enjoy our 4 p.m. tea. Birding from the Veranda of the Asa Wright Nature Centre as the day winds down is one of the world’s most pleasant and exciting ornithological experiences. Ruby-topaz Hummingbird, Tufted Coquette, Barred Antshrike, Green Honeycreeper and Bare-eye Thrush are among the many species that can be easily seen.

Accommodations at Asa Wright Nature Centre (B,L,D)

 

Wed., Oct. 22: Blanchisseuse Road Birding and Brasso Seco / BBQ Lunch with Local Community / Temple Village for Fireworks to Celebrate Diwali!

The community of Brasso Seco is a place where one can forget about time, a peaceful oasis in a country that is also the busy financial hub of the Caribbean. Mountains rise on all sides, vegetation is lush, and birds visit us as we share a BBQ and perhaps some music with locals.

Trinidad is one of the most multi-cultural nations in the world, and one of their secrets to getting along is to jump in and celebrate ALL the holidays. There are lights on homes of Hindus, music and song in the streets, and on this day, family feasting. All of this and you can wake up to watch Agoutis!
This evening, our guide Mahese Ramlal shares his home with us, as we feast and celebrate Diwali. Mahese is the son of Jogie Ramlal who was one of the first guides at the Centre and nearby Simla Research Station. We follow a few Diwali traditions and learn more about this holiday and its significance.

Accommodations at Asa Wright Nature Centre (B,L,D)

 

Thurs., Oct. 23: Oilbird Cave Walk and Great Birding at Asa Wright Nature Centre from the Trails or Verandah / Diwali Celebration with Lights at AWNC

This morning we offer a walk down to the Dunston Oilbird Cave, a beautiful riparian grotto located in the sanctuary, to view the breeding colony of the fascinating nocturnal Oilbird. This is one of the most accessible Oilbird caves in the entire world and access is limited to protect this rare species. On the short but steep hike to the Cave, we could see some of the secretive birds of the deep forest such as Red-crowned Ant-Tanager, Black-faced Antthrush, White-bellied Antbird, and Gray-throated Leaftosser. Or watch for toucans and trogons from your perch on the Verandah, a pleasant place to relax as the naturalists scan for species. Many trees should be in bloom and butterflies abound.

This afternoon and evening will be spent at the Centre, walking trails and enjoying views from the Verandah. We will have our own celebration with lights here in keeping with the tradition of being with home and family this evening.

Accommodations at Asa Wright Nature Centre (B,L,D)

 

 

Fri., Oct. 24: Morning at Asa Wright / Temple of the Sea / Caroni Swamp

Today we set out to see one of Trinidad’s most beautiful Hindu Temples, the Temple of the Sea. Its location at the end of a hand-built spit that reaches into the sea, surrounded by colorful prayer flags, leaves a lasting memory. Large-billed Terns can be seen flying about, along with Brown Pelicans and Neotropic Cormorants. Nearby we see a remarkable 85 ft. statue of Hanuman, the largest outside of India. As time allows we see the nearby Dattatreya Temple and Yoga Centre.

We will also have an opportunity to visit the Indian Caribbean Museum, the only one of its kind in the world. This museum is dedicated to the preservation of the history of over one million descendants of East and South Indians in the Caribbean. After the abolition of slavery, Indian immigrants began arriving in the Caribbean to work as indentured laborers.

Caroni Swamp comprises 6000 hectares of protected area, including National Park lands. It hosts a very specialized mangrove forest that contains several genera and species of mangroves, showing classic examples of plant adaptation in a unique brackish water community. From the Centre, we drive in the direction of Port of Spain, close to the airport. This wild land area is just south of the growing sprawl of the city, but worlds away from the city’s congestion. Before our boat departs, we have the opportunity to seek out mangrove species from the roadside. Black-crested Antshrike, Rufous-browed Peppershrike, Straight-billed Woodcreeper and Masked Cardinal are some of the possibilities.

While the highlight of the afternoon is the Scarlet Ibis spectacle, we will spend an hour or so slowly navigating some of the mangrove channels seeking out those specialties of the area such as Green-throated Mango, Greater Ani and Bicolored Conebill. Gliding through the peaceful mangrove habitat, we seek out some of its more specialized denizens — Neotropical Cormorants, Anhingas, Striated Herons, White-cheeked Pintails, Large-billed Terns, Pied Water Tyrants, and striking Masked (Red-capped) Cardinals. Often there are roosting Tropical Screech-Owls and a Common Potoo close to the water and we have a distinct chance of spotting a kingfisher or two with Green, Ringed and American Pygmy all living in the swamp. There is also an outside chance of a Boat-billed Heron, the least confiding of our salt-water herons.

On the way, the boatman will keep a special eye out for Ruschenberger’s Tree Boa roosting in the branches close to the river – these snakes feed almost exclusively on small birds and can grow to about 7-8 ft. long. We also have a chance of spotting a roosting Silky Anteater or even a Spectacled Caiman.

We then moor up, sip our rum punch and wait for parties of Scarlet Ibis, plus smaller numbers of Tricolored and Little Blue Herons and Snowy Egrets flying in to roost in the mangroves. The star attraction will be the spectacular flight of Scarlet Ibises, which occur often by the 100’s, and in some months by the 1000’s, returning to their mangrove roosts at dusk. This is truly one of the world’s most dramatic natural moments. We leave as light begins to wane, retracing our steps back, arriving at the dock at dusk. We then return direct to the Centre for a late dinner.

Accommodations at Asa Wright Nature Centre (B,L,D)

 

Sat., Oct. 25: Departures or on to the Grand Riviere/Piping Guan Extension

Our week of nature, birding, and enjoying Trinidad’s festive culture comes to an end. You may schedule flights out at a time convenient to you, keeping in mind you need to be at the airport at least two and half hours ahead of your flight. Afternoon flights are great, but if you have to take an early flight to make it home (often so for the American or United flights) we will get you to the airport in time.

 

 


 

Optional Extension to Grand Riviere for the Piping Guan, October 25–27, 2014

 


 

Sat. Oct. 25: Aripo Agricultural Station, Toco Lighthouse, and on to Grand Riviere

Today’s drive takes us to the northern coast of Trinidad. We leave after breakfast and head towards the Aripo Agricultural Station. Here, Great Kiskadees and Tropical Kingbirds regularly perch on overhead utility wires, Carib Grackles abound and Short-tailed Swift is the most common aerial feeder. Just below the foothills of the Northern Range lies the Aripo Agriculture Research Station which works primarily with livestock breeding a cross of Water Buffalo and Brahma cattle. There are numerous species here not found at the Centre, and photographic opportunities abound.

This open countryside and rough pasture allows us the opportunity to seek out a number of new species including Cocoi Heron, Savannah Hawk, Gray-headed Kite, Yellow-headed Caracara, Wattled Jacana, Southern Lapwing, Green-rumped Parrotlet, Fork-tailed Palm-Swift and White-winged Swallow. White-headed Marsh and Pied Water-Tyrants and Yellow-chinned Spinetails rattle throatily from the grasses whilst Red-breasted Blackbirds add a splash of color. This is also the only site where we can reliably find Grassland Yellow-Finches and there is a chance of Ruddy-breasted Seedeater.

We continue our journey, stopping at the Victorian-era Toco Lighthouse on our way to Grand Riviere and our delightful lodgings on the beach, the Mt. Plaisir Estate Hotel.

Accommodations at Mt. Plaisir (B,L,D)

 

Sun. Oct. 26: Trinidad’s Endemic Piping Guan

Today, a local guide helps us find the Trinidad Piping Guan. Here, we drive up a wide forested track, park up and look out over a superb viewing area, specifically scrutinizing the wild nutmeg trees that are their preferred feeding habitat. Having hopefully found our main quest, we will continue driving down a steeply wooded slope into some riverine forest where we continue birding. Other exciting finds could include Gray-headed and Plumbeous Kites, Short-tailed Nighthawk, Crimson-crested Woodpecker, Silvered and White-bellied Antbirds, Green-backed and Guianan Trogons, Channel-billed Toucan, Black-tailed Tityra and Trinidad Euphonia.

We enjoy our last afternoon in Trinidad in Grand Riviere; those who wish can tour the boutique cheese factory run by the chef and owner of our hotel.

If anyone is on a red-eye flight (Jet Blue, United to Newark) you may leave this day just after midnight on Oct. 27th. You can have dinner with the group, take a shuttle to the airport by 9PM, and we will back out the cost of this final evening.

Accommodations at an airport hotel in Port of Spain to facilitate early flights. (B,L,D)

 

Mon., Oct. 27: Departures

Our hotel has a shuttle, so you book flights out at your convenience today.

 


 

Photos

Oilbird, Channel-billed Toucan, Banded Peacock Butterfly, Green Honeycreeper, Bouganvilla, Green Hermit on Ginger, Bearded Bellbird, Collared Trogon, Crested Oropendola and Wattled Jacana, by Robert Martinez, Violaceous Euphonia by Greg Smith, Trinidad Piping Guan by Dave Ramlal, and cultural images and scenic by Peg Abbott.

 


 

Cost of the Journey

Cost of the journey is $1895, based on double occupancy, from Piarco Airport in Port of Spain. Tour cost includes airport transfers, accommodations for 7 nights, all meals, professional guide services, park and program entrance fees and miscellaneous program expenses. Single supplement is $360. Cost of the extension is $550 per person with transfers, and is based on a minimum of 3 persons. Single supplement is $165. Grand Riviere is approximately 3 hours away from the Asa Wright Nature Centre.

Cost of the tour does not include: round-trip airfare to and from Port of Spain, Trinidad, items of a personal nature such as laundry, telephone, drinks from the bar; or gratuities for guides and personal services.

 

Travel Information

The airport for this tour is Port of Spain, Trinidad (POS). Most major airlines service this very centrally-located airport. Plan to arrive on or before October 18, and depart on October 25. If you wish to join the Grand Riviere Piping Guan extension, plan to leave on or after October 27.

 


 

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