A Guide to Chaguaramas National Heritage Park

Chaguaramas National Park of Trinidad

Symbols of ChaguaramasChaguaramas is the peninsula at the north western end of Trinidad, located in the County of St. George, in the Ward of Diego Martin, and situated, five miles, a 20 minutes' drive, to the west-north-west of Port of Spain; accessible via the Western Main Road after Carenage and Point Cumana. It is bounded by the Gulf of Paria to the south and the Caribbean Sea to the north. The Peninsula, including the offshore islands of Gaspar Grande, Gasparillo (Little Gasparee/Centipede Island), Monos, Nelson1, Huevos, and Chacachacare, the western part of the Northern Range—an extension of the coastal mountains of Venezuela, which are themselves an eastern branch of the Andean Mountains—Tucker Valley, Williams Bay, Chaguaramas Bay, Pierre Bay, Scotland Bay, and Macqueripe Bay, make up the Chaguaramas National Heritage Park; it is 14,572 acres and largely covered by dry forest: both deciduous and semi-evergreen forests. Tucker Valley comprises most of the flat lowland of the Peninsula the rest being primarily steep mountains.

Chaguaramas—Natural History

There is an attention-grabbing range of wild life on the Peninsula. On the steep uplands in Chaguaramas are found, in the main, semi-evergreen seasonal forest: purple heart, acurel-moussara-jiggerwood, acurel-gommier, moussara-figuier, balata, cedar, cypre, locust, and poui; the upper canopy trees cast off their leaves in the dry season. On the lower lands are deciduous seasonal forests: primarily naked indian-incense-poui ecotone. Along the shores are found dry evergreen forest (littoral forest) composed of seagrape-manchineel, palmiste-balata, balisier, royal palm, and black mangrove.

Chaguaramas is the habitat for 90 species of birds including hummingbirds—blue-chinned sapphire, copper-rumped hummingbird, green hermit, long-billed starthroat, rufous-breasted hermit, tufted coquette, and white-chested emerald—more likely seen on Morne Catherine Road, raptors—black vulture, broad-winged hawk, common black hawk, long-winged harrier, osprey, pearl kite, plumbeous kite, short-tailed hawk, turkey vulture, white hawk, zone-tailed hawk, and yellow-headed caracaras—parrots, toucans, owls, tanagers, trogons, manikins, white-tailed tropicbird, on Chacachacare, and others.

Howler monkeys (Guyanan red howler) are regularly observed and heard roaming in troops of four to 20 and largely staying at the top of taller trees, but other mammals present are, deer, tayra (wood dog or wood chien), ocelot, tufted capuchin monkey, red-tailed squirrel, agouti, armadillo, matte, bats, robison's mouse opossum (locally called manicou), and dolphins, occasionally seen in Macqueripe Bay or accompanying boats en route amongst the offshore islands.

There are 28 species of reptiles and amphibians, including snakes—mapepires (bush master and fer de lance), lora, and tropical racer—lizards, iguanas, spectacled caiman, sometimes seen at the mouth of the Cuesa River, frogs, and green turtles.

Butterflies, e.g., cloudless sulphur, aka cowman yellow (Phoebis sennae), little yellowie (Eurema venusta), monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus), and cramer's eighty-eight (Diaethria clymena), dragonflies, grasshoppers, and wasps are plentiful. There are 39 species of arachnids (spiders (including tarantulas), scorpions, etc.) And, markedly, 30 centimeter long centipedes are seen on Gasparillo Island along with millipedes.

In the shallow water off the coast there are small reef outcrops, patch reefs, in which finger coral are prevalent: small polyp stony coral. Fringe reefs are found around the Five Islands, Monos, and Chacachacare. Ivory coral, non-reef building corals, and black corals are also found. Undersea rocks are often covered with a variety of hydroids and sponges, and, stands of sea grass occupy sands and mud substrates. Octopus, shrimp, lobsters, crabs, and annelid worms are present here along with stingrays, angel fish, parrot fish, snapper, butterfly fish, etc. Whereas, deep-sea fish in the Boca Islands include mackerel, kingfish, wahoo, yellowtail tuna, barracuda, red snapper, and grouper.

The History of Chaguaramas

Chaguaramas has a long history. First, the name Chaguaramas has an Amerindian origin meaning "the Palms" and there are Amerindian sites, on Chacachacare Island, dating as far back as the early to middle first millennium. On his third voyage to the new world, in 1498, it is said that Columbus moored off Chacachacare after sailing through the "Dragon's Mouth" at the western end of the Peninsula. The arrival of the Spanish to Chaguaramas eventually led to the flight of the Amerindians as 300 years of Spanish rule followed, until 1797. After which, and for many years, only pirates prowled in the Bocas at the Peninsula's western end. On Pointe Gourde and Gaspar Grande remnants of Spanish and British fortifications, of the period 1796 to 1805, persist; and Spanish, Rear Admiral Apodaca's fleet of scuttled ships, off Pointe Gourde, is still there since 1797, when the British seized Trinidad from Spain, after the admiral was harassed and outgunned by the British.

In the 18th Century, Tucker Valley was a sugarcane estate and subsequently coffee, cocoa, and citrus were planted. In 1805, the sugar plantations owned by French planters suffered a slave revolt. And then, in 1813, a re-invasion of Venezuela by patriots was orchestrated from Chacachacare Island. In the 1800s there were whaling posts on Monos, Gaspar Grande, and Chacachacare. From about 1866 to 1917, Neilson's Island, called Nelson Island, served as a quarantine depot for tens of thousands of arriving-indentured Indians. And, until the 1930s many of the peninsula's bays had fishing communities.

1924 saw the founding of a Leprosarium on Chacachacare, which was shut down in 1984. However, all Chaguaramas land owners were displaced during World War II as the British leased the Peninsula to the United States of America for use as a naval base. The environment changed significantly during the period as bays were deepened by dredging, land recovered and improved, and roads, administrative buildings, residences, ammunition bunkers, and drainage were constructed. In 1956, the base was scaled back and in 1963 Chaguaramas was reverted to Trinidad and Tobago. Following which, in 1973, the Treaty of Chaguaramas, establishing the Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM), was signed there.

A boardwalk project, envisioned decades ago as a mile-long recreational facility that anyone can enjoy, and on a scale comparable to works undertaken by the American Military in the 1940s, had its first phase opened on May 3rd 2012. Work had begun on August 15, 2011; and a second phase was opened to the public on December 17th 2014.

Chaguaramas Activities and Attractions

Visitors to the Peninsula can get involved in various activities, such as, bird watching and birding, especially on Morne Catherine Road and Tucker Valley Road; hiking at Edith Falls, the trail from Macqueripe to the Golf Course, and Covigne River Trail; promenading at the Chaguaramas Boardwalk, at Williams Bay; fishing at Macqueripe and Tembladora or via sport-fishing charters; picnicking at Bellerand Park, Macqueripe, Samaan Park (Samaan Park is also the trail head for Huggins Ruin), or a rented gazebo at the Chaguaramas Boardwalk; golfing at the Chaguaramas Golf Course at Chaguaramas Golf Club, Tucker Valley; cycling and jogging along Edith Fall, Bellerand, and Tucker Valley Road circuit or at the boardwalkˈs jogging track; mountain biking; swimming at Macqueripe Bay, Williams Bay, and Chagville, and the less frequented Chacacabana, Scotland Bay, and Bombshell Bay; kayaking at Tembladora on the boardwalk; jet skiing in Williams Bay; pedal boat riding at the boardwalkˈs artificial pond; windsurfing at Chaguaramas Bay, boat riding; or zip lining—through ZIP-ITT Adventure Tours—at Macqueripe.

Chaguaramas night life can be very active at several entertainment-spots, The Amphitheatre at O2 Park (formerly MOBBS 2), a popular spot during carnival season, night clubs, and restaurants. Night clubs include Pier 1, The Anchorage, The Base, The Cove, and The Lighthouse at CrewsInn (a restaurant and lounge) and frequented restaurants include Anchorage Restaurant at Hart's Cut, Sails Restaurant & Pub, at Power Boats, The Galley at IMS Yacht Services, and, Jean and Dinah's at Chaguaramas Hotel and Convention Centre (Chaguaramas Convention Centre).

Chaguaramas is the centre of yachting activity in Trinidad and Tobago with the Trinidad and Tobago Sailing Association (TTSA) also known as Trinidad and Tobago Yachting Association (TTYA) at Hart's Cut, Yacht Services Association (YSATT), a marine-trades association, at CrewsInn, and several marinas, CrewsInn Marina, Power Boats, Coral Cove Marina, Peake Yacht Services (Marina), and Island Property Owners' Association Marina (Island Home Owners) as centre pieces.

Other attractions include the tropical forests, Covigne Nutmeg Vale, Bamboo Cathedral, the Huggins Ruins, the Military History and Aerospace Museum (the Chaguaramas Military Museum), World War II ammunition bunkers left by the US military, Callaloo Mas Camp, radar-tracking station, Chacachacare Island Lighthouse Trail, Chacachacare Salt Pond, Gasparee Cave, and, various playgrounds and pools.

Crews Inn Hotel & Yachting Centre, Coral Cove Marina Hotel, Bayview Beach Resort & Marina Limited, and, Chaguaramas Hotel and Convention Center are some of the hotels in Chaguaramas providing multi-room accommodations.

But as Chaguaramas is a mixed use region farms are still in operation, it is the location for the defense forces—Coast Guard and Regiment Force—Institute of Marine Affairs, Chaguaramas Development Authority, hotel school, radar station of the Trinidad and Tobago Airport Authority, banks (Republic Bank and Royal Bank of Canada), fire service station, immigration and customs offices, and several marine facilities including some dockside facilities, for the transfer of bauxite ore between ship and shore.

Chaguaramas Development Authority

Established by an act of Parliament of Trinidad and Tobago, the CDA Act (Chap: 35:02), in 1972, the Chaguaramas Development Authority (CDA) is the statutory body established to carry out the development of the Chaguaramas Peninsula in agreement with the stipulations of the Town and Country Planning Act (Chap 35:01). The Authority is vested with all the lands of Trinidad's North West Peninsula and surrounding offshore islands.

The Chaguaramas Development Authority aims to serve the interest of the people of Trinidad and Tobago and to develop the area, particularly in tourism, as a main element in the economic life of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago. Recent projects undertaken by the Authority includes a boardwalk, ZIP-Line and Canopy Walk and various infrastructural works.

1Nelson Island is by lore and geography an appendage of the peninsula although not identified as an island in the North-West Peninsula by the Chaguaramas Development Authority Act of 1972. The island, located in the ward of Diego Martin and part of the Five Islands, is administered by the National Trust of Trinidad and Tobago. Note, the former ward of Chaguaramas was merged into the ward of Diego Martin in 1891.