Join Caligo Ventures to enjoy holiday time at the world-renowned Asa Wright Nature Centre (AWNC) and Lodge, a 200-acre wildlife sanctuary in Trinidad’s rain-forested Northern Range. Participants on the Christmas Week at Asa Wright Tour enjoy ample time at the Centre to soak in the ambiance of the rainforest and all its riches. This Christmas, we’re proud to have field guide author Martyn Kenefick as our celebrity host. He presents his Birds of Trinidad slide show and joins the tour for some excursions.
Martyn Kenefick is the author of The Field Guide to the Birds of Trinidad and Tobago, and also a board member at the Asa Wright Nature Centre. His love of AWNC and infectious enthusiasm make the Christmas tour a special experience.
For this special Christmas tour, we emphasize time on the grounds of the Centre, so participants can walk the trails and spend time on the famous verandah. The pace is more relaxed than our usual tours, but there are still field trips to some favorite locations. And we can offer this at a special holiday price. Special meals, local fun, plus great birding await!
Mon., Dec. 21 : Arrival & Welcome to the Asa Wright Nature Centre
Our guides meet all flights arriving at Trinidad’s Piarco International Airport in Port of Spain. Or, for those spending time in the city, we can arrange a pick-up in Port of Spain for the scenic one-hour transfer to the Asa Wright Nature Centre and Lodge. Expect a warm greeting at the Centre, where the colors of the birds rival decorations for the holiday, and hospitality is shared to make you feel welcome. Coffee and tea is served at 4:00 PM, Rum Punch at 6:00 PM, both accompanied by one of the most amazing bird shows of any eco-lodge in the world! Share dinner with other tour participants and guests staying at the Lodge in the Centre’s cozy dining room.
In the evening, we walk the Centre’s driveway though lush overhanging forest, listening to night sounds and with luck, the call of Tropical Screech Owl. If your flight arrives late in the evening, you may wish to come in the day before so as not to miss anything. Or, despite the late hour, come on up and get settled, knowing you will wake up to the birds!
Tues., Dec. 22 : Lopinot Valley: Nature, Agriculture & History | Café Mariposa
Today we explore an adjacent and very peaceful valley of Trinidad’s Northern Range. You can choose to hike there on an old road, now a lush trail, from the Blanchisseuse Road just above the Centre, or drive with a guide that shuttles the van around to pick up those walking. A Collared Trogon is a hopeful find on this walk.
Lopinot is a charming village resting about 20 miles northeast of Port of Spain in the foothills of Trinidad’s Northern Range. This idyllic community features a gourmet cafe, historic estates, and winding hiking trails taking one to the “Charral,” a stunning rock formation with challenging climbs and scenic vistas.
Charles Joseph Count de Loppinot, the town’s namesake, was a French military officer who amassed significant wealth through operating large sugar plantations in Haiti, having settled there after a first attempt in Louisiana, soon to be purchased as territory in the USA. Following slave rebellions in 1791, Loppinot left Haiti for the island of Trinidad. Here, he petitioned the British governor to grant him land in exchange for his temporary service to the Crown. The governor agreed, and Loppinot ventured into the Northern Range to establish a cocoa plantation.
Loppinot’s estate remained practically untouched until the Trinidadian government took over the village in 1944. The village was then officially named Lopinot. In the 1970s, sensing the town’s unique characteristics and tourist potential, the government began restoring old structures. Cocoa estates flourish in the Lopinot Valley to this day.
The first cocoa was planted in Trinidad in 1525, and the plant has been deeply woven into Trinidad’s cultural fabric ever since. The industry was not without hazards; in 1716, the notorious pirate Edward “Blackbeard” Teach raided a ship loaded with cocoa in the Gulf of Paria, off the coast of what is now Port of Spain.
The cocoa legacy was largely accomplished through the labors of Trinidad’s large population of indentured servants, many from British Crown colonies such as East India, which allowed British colonizers to meet the trade demands created by Europe’s growing desire for chocolate. The robust cocoa economy eventually enabled many emancipated slaves to establish their own plantations. Families stayed on making Trinidad the fascinating multi-cultural nation it is today.
Cocoa is a major source of income for Lopinot and the industry is seeing a nationwide resurgence. In Lopinot, the Guerrero family runs Café Mariposa and produces an appetizing collection of cocoa products. We hope to dine with the Guerreros this week, as they host guests in their beautiful outdoor cafe, composing inventive dishes using many ingredients found in their abundant gardens. Frozen cocoa pods enhance savory beverages and hand crafted desserts, and Café Mariposa serves among its repertoire a chili con carne using the local cocoa to create a uniquely Lopinot chili. The family is known to accompany meals with a song — perhaps demonstrating the local parang.
The community of Lopinot is recognized as a leader in artisan chocolates, with several events held by Café Mariposa and some sponsored by Trinidad’s government. Great for holiday feasting!
Wed., Dec. 23 : Forty Species Before Breakfast | Exploring Centre Trails
Enjoy a full day right at the Centre without getting into a car. Morning begins with the raucous noise of the Crested Oropendola and a host of other exotic sounds. A first-time visitor might see 20 – 30 life birds among the 40 or more species often seen before breakfast! Treasure the rainbow of color at arm’s length as honeycreepers and hummingbirds come in to feed.
After breakfast, we offer a guided tour of one of the several trails that traverse this rich and diverse wildlife sanctuary. On our walk we should see such species as Guianan Trogon, Channel-billed Toucan, Chestnut Woodpecker, White-bearded Manakin, Rufous-browed Peppershrike, and Turquoise and Bay-headed Tanagers.
The Centre is situated in a typical valley of Trinidad’s Northern Range. These sites have been traditional centers of coffee, cocoa, and citrus plantations and many of these plants are still maintained at the Centre. Natural second- growth has taken over and festooned the abandoned plantation vegetation with vines and a host of epiphytes. The whole 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 hear more about this effort during our stay.
The afternoon today is free to allow you to relax or enjoy the trails on an afternoon guided walk if you like. The Centre has an active outreach program to local schools, and this afternoon we hear about the recent year’s activities as we enjoy our 4:00 PM tea. Birding from the verandah 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 are seen.
This evening or perhaps another during the week, we invite a steel-drum or other local band in to perform for us at the Centre!
Thurs., Dec. 24 : Caroni Marsh & the Spectacle of Scarlet Ibis
What better way to celebrate the holiday than the vivid show of rich magenta displayed on the wings of thousands of Scarlet Ibis coming in to roost! The Scarlet Ibis was recently portrayed on the cover of a book about the world’s most remarkable birds. This field trip has long been a highlight of Trinidad’s many wonders.
We board a small boat, reserved for our group, to explore a very specialized mangrove forest that contains several genera and species of mangroves, showing classic examples of plant adaptation in this unique brackish water community. We seek out some of its more specialized denizens — Neotropical Cormorant, Anhinga, Striated Heron, White-cheeked Pintail, Large-billed Tern, Pied Water-tyrant, Bicolored Conebill, and Red-capped Cardinal. Our day ends with the spectacular flight of Scarlet Ibis returning to their mangrove roosts at dusk, truly one of the world’s most dramatic natural moments. We bring the rum punch along to celebrate, and as we return to the boat dock we search the mangrove-lined channels for the mysterious sounding Common Potoo.
Fri., Dec. 25 : Christmas at Asa Wright Nature Centre in Multi-Cultural Trinidad
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 colorful birds, agoutis, and tegus!
We spend the morning enjoying gifts from nature, watching and tallying up species that we see from the verandah.
In the afternoon, fueled by a delicious Christmas lunch, we walk down to the Dunston Oilbird Cave, a beautiful riparian grotto located on 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.
Enjoy rum punch and relax in the late afternoon on the beautiful verandah as the birds come to you. Finding butterflies in December reminds you that you are in the tropics.
A special place to enjoy Christmas day!
Sat., Dec. 26 : Birding Trinidad’s Northern Range
Today’s scenic, day-long excursion takes us high into the Northern Range on the Blanchisseuse Road. We make frequent birding stops and then enjoy a local lunch and cacao demonstration in picturesque Brasso Seco (with a group of less than four, we have a picnic lunch). We then continue through the mountains to the village of Morne la Croix for afternoon tea and cakes (yum!) as we enjoy watching parrots head in to roost.
Today also offers the opportunity to examine the strange world of leaf-cutter and army ants, as well as the chance to photograph butterflies, orchids, and other tropical flora.
Sun., Dec. 27 : Final Day at AWNC | Optional Nariva Swamp Excursion
This is your vacation, so you may prefer to relax today and enjoy the verandah and trails again. If you wish, you can go on a full day field trip to Nariva Swamp. This field trip is a chance to see more of the country and its special birds and mammals as we wind our way out of the Northern Range to Trinidad’s East Coast and the Nariva Swamp, the largest freshwater herbaceous swamp on the island. This field trip starts with a stop in the morning at the Aripo Agricultural Station, also featured in our night birds outing — it is a place well worth a couple of stops! Here you may find White-headed Marsh-Tyrant, Pied Water- Tyrant, rare Pinnated Bittern, Savanna Hawk, Bat Falcon, Red-breasted Blackbird, Southern Lapwing, and Green-rumped Parrotlet.
We then continue on to the east side of Trinidad, which hosts an ecosystem very different from that of Caroni on the west side. Here, where the Nariva River reaches the sea, freshwater environments are comprised of herbaceous swamp and swamp forest, dotted with a few patches of mangroves such as the area around Bush Bush Creek. Along the edges are “palm islands,” where the tall Moriche Palm is common. Here too we see a unique mangrove community, made up primarily of the stilt-rooted rhizophora mangrove, which often reaches a height of 80 feet. Limpkin, American Pygmy and Green Kingfishers, Black-crested Antshrike, Green-throated Mango, and a mix of other species can be found.
This field trip to Trinidad’s east coast and the Nariva Swamp is a very full but rewarding day. Along the route, we pass Manzanilla Beach with its swimming beaches and picnic pavilions, and south of here one travels through long lines of coconut trees, often with Yellow-headed Caracara or possible Pearl Kite perched in them. A mangrove area nearby can prove fruitful for the more elusive species such as Silvered Antbird, Bicolored Conebill, and Least Bittern. An expansive open area with small ponds and flooded fields known as the Melon Patch hosts Wattled Jacana, and possible Pinneated Bittern and Azure Gallinule, and — it is possible here to see Red-bellied Macaw. If we do not find some desired species here, there are alternate locations to check while en route back to the Centre.
If there is time, we have an excellent chance to observe both Red Howler and White-faced Capuchin Monkeys at Bush Bush Research Area, a unique upland island within a region of surrounding lowland grassy savanna similar to the Florida Everglades. There, while walking a circuit under the tall canopy, we keep an eye out for Moriche Oriole, White-flanked Antwren, and recently reintroduced Blue-and-yellow Macaw, as well as the forest’s populations of primates.
Mon., Dec. 28 : Departures
Depart at your leisure today.
Cost of the Journey
Cost of the journey is $2350 DBL / $2750 SGL based on double occupancy, from Port of Spain, Trinidad. Tour cost includes airport transfers, accommodations for 6 nights, all meals, professional guide services, park and program entrance fees, and miscellaneous program expenses.
Cost of time on Tobago – please ask us about your options.
Cost of the tour and extensions do 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.
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 December 21 and depart on or after Dec. 28. If you wish to go on to Tobago, we can assist you with bookings and plans.
Items of Note
Wanting to do the Christmas week but still see Tobago? If you plan ahead we can likely find space for you over the New Year at one of two delightful lodges we work with in Tobago—ask us for details.
Photo credits: Banners: Channel-billed Toucan by Steve Wolfe; Long-billed Startthroat by Hugh Simmons Photography; Scarlet Peacock by Peg Abbott; Bananaquit Feeding Frenzy by Hugh Simmons Photography; Bearded Bellbird by Bob Rodrigues; Clear-winged Butterfly by Ray Mendez; Golden Tegu, Caligo Ventures Stock; White Peacock Butterfly by Buck Snelson; Birding at Breakfast by Sandy Sorkin; Tufted Coquette by Rich Wagner | WildNaturePhotos; Number 89 Butterfly by Mukesh Ramdass; Blue-chinned Sapphire by Steve Wolfe Bananaquit Breakfast, Sandy Sorkin (SS); Barred Antshrike, Kim Wright; Tropical Screech-Owl, MB; Birding from the Verandah, Peg Abbott (PA); Lopinot Valley, Mukesh Ramdass; Cacao Beans, Lynn Tennefoss; Exploring the Centre’s Trails, Caligo Ventures Stock (CVS); White-bearded Manakin, Dave Ramdass; Birding at Bellbird Lek, DL; Bearded Bellbird, Bob Rodrigues; Tufted Coquette, RW; Oilbirds, Buck Snelson (BS); Green Honeycreeper, SS; Scarlet Ibis, DL; Red-capped Cardinal, CVS; Butterfly Orchid, BS; Red Howler Monkeys, HT; Yellow-rumped Cacique, Mike Boyce (MB); White-headed Marsh-Tyrant, SS; Ruby-spotted Swallowtail, CVS; Blue-and-yellow Macaw, PA.