One of the best possible introductions to the natural riches of the Caribbean based at the world-famous Asa Wright Nature Centre on Trinidad, together with the wonderful beaches, tropical seabirds and coral reefs of Tobago.
Situated amongst acres of pristine rainforest, the view over the valley from Asa Wright is superb, while the birding - sometimes only a few metres away - is spectacular. One special bird here is the nocturnal oilbird, a fruit-eating relative of nightjars, and one of the only birds in the world to use echo-location.
Tobago, Trinidad's much smaller neighbour, with its lovely beaches, coral reefs and seabird islands, makes a fine contrast for the second part of our stay.
Day1: Fly to Port-of-Spain, Trinidad
Fly London to Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, arriving in the evening.
Day2: Full day birdwatching in the Asa Wright grounds, trails & rainforest
We awake to the resonant calls of bearded bellbirds deep in the forest, and head for one of the prime birdwatching sites of the area - the verandah! From here a first-time visitor may see twenty or more new species before breakfast, with several hummingbirds including white-necked jacobin, Rufous-breasted hermit, and the delightful and diminutive tufted coquette, as well as barred and great antshrikes, and green and purple honeycreepers.
After breakfast we walk some of the trails that cross this wonderfully diverse estate, while we get to grips with our first representatives of the neotropical avifauna. Violaceous trogon, channel-billed toucan, white-bearded manakin, and turquoise, bay-headed and palm tanagers are among the delights in store. It will be a fairly relaxed day as we adjust to the heat, but a hugely productive one. After dinner there will be an evening walk to look for night creatures.
Day3: Full day raptor & forest birdwatching in the Northern Range mountains
We drive up the ridge of the Northern Range of Trinidad. En route we look for raptors, which may include common black hawk, ornate hawk-eagle, and the stunning white hawk. Some of the more secretive forest birds can also be searched for - white-tailed trogon, rufous-tailed jacamar and speckled tanager. We take one or more of the roads over the mountains towards the coast and have a picnic lunch before returning to the centre.
Day4: Birdwatching the Nariva swamp & coastland
We make a full day visit to the Nariva Swamp and east coast. On the way we visit an agricultural research station, with a host of lowland species including savannah hawk, white-headed marsh tyrant, southern lapwing and the delightful green-rumped parrotlet. Nariva, the largest freshwater swamp in Trinidad, also has an excellent mangrove area. Birds include pearl kite, azure gallinule, wattled jacana, and with luck, pinnated bittern. The coast should have brown pelican as well as four-eyed fish!
Day5: Full day exploring the Asa Wright grounds
We spend a whole relaxing day in the centre grounds again, starting with a visit to Dunstan Cave. Here in this beautiful riparian grotto can be found one of the world's few accessible colonies of oilbird. This strange nightjar-like bird lives in caves by day, coming out at night to pluck fruit from trees as it flies, locating the fruit by smell and, uniquely among birds, finding its way around the caves by echo-location. The rest of the day will be spent wandering the trails, with many more species of antbird, tanager and honeycreeper all to be found amidst the lush vegetation. In the evening we visit an agricultural station where we look for nightjars and the remarkable common potoo, its huge eyes gleaming in our spotlights.
Day6: Birdwatching the Aripo Savannah & Arena lowland rainforest
We journey to the Aripo Savannah, the only remaining savannah in Trinidad, and host to many species not yet encountered in our stay. Grey-headed kites, shiny and giant cowbirds, yellow-rumped cacique, blue-black grassquit and ruddy-breasted seedeater are all likely to be seen. A remnant of the lowland rainforest at Arena may also be visited for birds including squirrel cuckoo and white-bellied antbird.
Day7: Waterloo mudflats & birdwatching in the Caroni Swamp & mangroves
We start the day by commuting to Waterloo! This is an area of mudflats on the west coast, with a great range of waders, terns, and other shorebirds. In the afternoon we travel to the fabulous Caroni Swamp, a unique brackish water community with a wide diversity of mangroves. Here we can find anhinga, striated heron, white-cheeked pintail, pied water-tyrant, bicolored conebill and red-capped cardinal. In the late afternoon we take a boat trip, ending with arguably one of the world's finest ornithological spectacles - the sight of hundreds of scarlet ibis, egrets and herons flying in to their roosts in the evening.
Day8: Fly to Tobago
We depart this morning for Trinidad's sister island of Tobago. This island forms the final link in the chain of mountain ranges extending from the Venezuelan Coastal Range, on the very edge of the South American continental shelf. The drier and windier climate together with its location, give Tobago a different range of species to that of the larger island, along with some wonderful seabird colonies.
We start by exploring the excellent Crown Point area for herons including yellow-crowned night-heron, wildfowl and waders. Afterwards, we visit the Grafton Estate, an old house with overgrown gardens, where regular feeding has led to the resident birds becoming quite tame.
Continuing to the north-east corner of the island, we check in to our accommodation.
The raucous calls of rufous-vented chachalacas form our wake-up call. Weather permitting, we take a boat trip to Little Tobago Island. This was the place where the memorable film of red-billed tropicbirds and magnificent frigatebirds was made for "Life on Earth". Red-footed and brown booby can also be found. Our glass-bottomed boat will show us the splendours of a coral reef here, and we can either look down on Angelfish, or up at the seabirds overhead. We return to Blue Waters for an afternoon at leisure, with some gentle birdwatching around the grounds, snorkelling amongst the rocky shores of the bay, or simply lazing on the beach.
Day10: Kings Bay trail & exploration of Blue Waters
We spend the morning walking the delightful King’s Bay trail, with an afternoon at leisure to enjoy the beach by the hotel, and more local exploration, perhaps up to the old cannon and the trail cut into the hillside above the hotel, where dazzling ruby-topaz hummingbirds glint from the bushes in the sunshine.
Day11: Full day birdwatching Tobago’s mountain rainforest.
We travel to the mountains, to visit Tobago's best rainforests today. These areas, at over 700m, harbour white-tailed sabrewing, blue-backed manakin, rufous-tailed jacamar and other Tobago specialities.
Day12: Final morning's birdwatching, afternoon depart
A final morning's birdwatching before transferring back to the airport for return flight to the UK via Trinidad.
Day13: Arrive UK
You should note: January and February are the very best months to visit, with many forest birds including manakins displaying, and seabirds nesting on Little Tobago.
Duration and price including flights from/to UK: 13 daysfrom £4,675 pp
Duration and price excluding international flights: 12 daysfrom £4,075 pp
Located at approximately 400 metres altitude in the mountains of the Northern Range, north of the town of Arima, the Asa Wright Nature Centre was established in 1967. It is a world-class birding destination as well as a being a centre for conservation and research into tropical ecology.
Lying on the east coast of Trinidad close to Manzanilla Bay, the largest freshwater wetland on the island, Nariva Swamp covers more than 6,000 hectares can only be accessed by boat. It is the principal habitat of the rare West Indian manatee, and one of the most diverse ecosystems in the entire Caribbean.
Where: East coast of Trinidad
Ideal for viewing: prehensile-tailed porcupine, red howler monkey, white-fronted capuchin monkey, blue and yellow macaw, orange-winged parrot
Excellent for: River safaris, Birdwatching
Situated on the west coast of Trinidad, this so-called swamp is the second largest mangrove wetland area on the island. Covering an area of more than 5,000 hectares, where the Caroni River enters the Gulf of Paria, it is renowned for the birdlife in its large, pristine mangrove forests.
Where: West coast
Ideal for viewing: little blue heron, scarlet ibis, great black hawk, Cook’s tree boa, fiddler crab
Excellent for: River safaris, Birdwatching
The small island of Little Tobago lies off the northeast coast of its larger counterpart and it is only accessible by boat. A variety of the region's seabirds nest on the cliffs and the island is surrounded by coral reefs – which means there is plenty to see both on land and underwater.
This small fishing village stands on the leeward coast of northern Tobago, overlooking the islands of Little Tobago and Goat Island. It is home to some of the best coral reefs on the island, suitable for divers and snorkellers, and also offers some excellent birdwatching in the surrounding rainforest.
Where: Northern Tobago
Excellent for: Beach stay
The southwestern tip of Tobago – known as Crown Point – is a well-known holiday hotspot due to its picture-postcard, palm-lined, sandy beaches, which are lapped by calm, crystal-clear seas of an almost unnatural turquoise colour. It is also the site of Tobago’s international airport.
Ideal for viewing: hawksbill turtle, blue emperor butterfly, nurse shark, Caribbean spiny lobster, southern stingray
Tucked away in a secluded bay on the northeast coast of Tobago, this friendly hotel is set in lush tropical grounds with views of Little Tobago. The hotel has a fully-equipped dive centre; accommodation ranges from standard rooms to private bungalows, all with en suite bathrooms, air conditioning and sea views.