Reed Travel Features
PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad -- The diversity of flora and fauna
found on the islands of Trinidad and Tobago have earned the dual
destination a reputation as a naturalist's paradise.
Clients traveling to Trinidad and Tobago between March and
September will have the opportunity to view one of the
destination's most interesting spectacles -- the nesting of the
endangered leatherback turtle. Although there are nesting sites in
Tobago, including Stone Haven Bay, Englishman's Bay and Castara
Bay, Trinidad is regarded as the best island for leatherback
turtle-viewing, according to Courtenay Rooks, a naturalist who
heads Rooks Tours of Trinidad.
He arranges turtle excursions for individuals and groups as well
as a number of other nature tours in the destination, all of which
are commissionable to travel agents at 10%. "Trinidad is the best
place in the world to see the leatherback turtles because we are
reasonably close to the beaches where they nest," Rooks said.
The leatherback turtles can be found nesting on beaches in other
countries such as Guyana, Venezuela and Mexico, but accessibility
for tourists is often a problem, he said. For example, in Guyana,
Rooks said, nature enthusiasts must take a plane, then hike for two
hours to the beach where the turtles nest.
From Port of Spain in Trinidad, clients can be on the beach
viewing the turtles after driving one hour and walking 100 yards
from the parking lot. Beyond easy accessibility, Rooks said, Matura
Beach, situated on the eastern coast, and Grand Riviere Beach,
located on the north coast, have the world's highest density of
laying female leatherbacks.
Rooks arranges programs at both beaches, although the favored
site for viewing the turtles is Matura Beach, he said. At Matura
Beach, Rooks works with Nature Seekers, a community conservation
group that conducts turtle-viewing tours. "Nature Seekers' program
is being used as a model internationally for beach conservation of
turtle nesting sites," Rooks said.
Because the turtles come onto the beach to lay their eggs at
night, a basic turtle-watching tour runs from 6 p.m. to 1 a.m.
Rooks picks clients up at their hotels. Once at Matura Beach, a
one-hour drive from Port of Spain, Rooks' groups are met by a
Nature Seekers' guide and given a briefing about the leatherbacks
before joining one of the turtle-watching groups.
Only 100 people, divided into groups of 25, are allowed on
Matura Beach per night. The size of Rooks' groups averages from
three to six people, he said, and the tours are limited to 16
participants. "With small groups, I can give more personal
attention," he said.
The best months for turtle-watching are May and June, when there
is a 90% chance of seeing at least one turtle, according to Rooks.
He said 25 to 30 turtles may come onto the beach, but the average
is five to 15 per night during the two peak months.
A female leatherback turtle, which ranges in length from
four-and-a-half feet to seven feet, lays hundreds of eggs in one
nesting season. The eggs take approximately 90 days to hatch, and
the best months to see the baby turtles emerge from the sand are
August and September.
The cost of a basic excursion with Rooks Tours is $35 per
person, including transportation, the guided tour at Matura Beach,
drinks and snacks. For an extra $10, clients also will receive
dinner. Rooks can arrange customized excursions that incorporate
hiking and evening bird-watching before viewing the turtles.