CHAGUARAMAS, Trinidad -- An ambitious initiative to transform this 14,500-acre peninsula into a tourism and recreation center in the Caribbean may soon present travel agents with an array of new Trinidad vacation options to sell.

Situated in the northwestern corner of the island, the

Chaguaramas Peninsula is characterized by 3,000 acres of relatively flat lands with five beachfront areas and a mountain system separated by two valleys.

Chaguaramas also encompasses four offshore islands.

A master plan for the area includes the development of resorts, nature reserves and recreational offerings.

"We want Chaguaramas to be a place where locals and foreigners can engage in golf, horseback riding, hiking, nature tours, diving, deep-sea fishing and sailing," said Richard de Lima, general manager of Chaguaramas Development Authority.

Chaguaramas, a 20-minute drive from the capital city of Port-of-Spain, has remained underdeveloped, largely because it was leased to the U.S. by the British government in 1941 for use as a naval base.

The U.S. closed the base in 1967 and handed the peninsula over to Trinidad and Tobago.

In 1972, the CDA was established to develop and manage the peninsula.

The authority's master plan emphasizes preservation of the area, development of tourism and marine resources, establishment of a national park and recreational facilities.

Many of those initiatives have come to fruition, and more are expected to be completed in the next few years.

The peninsula is a national park with a number of designated wildlife sanctuaries.

Chaguaramas Bay has become a yacht haven with marinas, restaurants and bars.

"Our main challenge is to protect the natural resources while development takes place," de Lima said.

The peninsula has a diverse collection of flora and fauna, including palm, coconut and bamboo trees, mangroves, crocodiles, monkeys and birds.

In CDA's proposals, the majority of the peninsula has been set aside for nature reserves.

Other sections are earmarked for ecotourism zones, resort areas and marinas, which will include cruise ship terminals for small vessels.

"We are concerned about the carrying capacity," de Lima said. "To maintain and enhance the environment, Chaguaramas could not hold more than 1,500 hotel rooms."

The CDA envisions a number of small hotels with no more than 250 rooms each.

Projects include a 50-room ecolodge which breaks ground this year with completion in two years.

Another 46-room property is under construction and is expected to open in early 1999.

Larger projects include a proposed 250-room, five-star resort on 500 acres.

The CDA plans to renovate Chaguaramas' historic convention center and hotel, built during World War II.

The hotel features 90 rooms, and the convention center has a capacity for 2,000 people.

The CDA is expanding the existing nine-hole golf course with an 18-hole championship facility slated to open in 2001. The surrounding land will be used for resort development.

The CDA is courting investors to develop other upmarket resorts in areas such as Macqueripe Bay at the northern end of the peninsula as well as ecolodges in the inland areas and secluded inlets.

The four offshore islands will be positioned as getaways for diving, fishing and nature tours, according to de Lima.

"The area is virtually unexplored diving territory full of shipwrecks," he said.

Chacachacare, a former leper colony, is an island targeted for prudent development.

The 900-acre island has a rain forest, a saltwater lake and a 19th century lighthouse.

CDA hopes to find an investor to restore the doctors' headquarters as a hotel.

Also slated for small-scale development are two other islands: Gaspar Grande, noted for its caves, and Monos.

Other initiatives include enhancing the three beaches and expanding the Military History and Aviation Museum.

CDA hopes to expand the hiking trails, restore the village of Mount Pleasant and build an observation tower at Mount St. Catherine.

Until the hotels open, visitors to Trinidad can take advantage of Chaguaramas as an excursion option for nature outings, golf, historic sights, beach outings and dining.

Chaguaramas

Phone: (809) 634-4364

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