At the risk of sounding contrived, touring the Caroni Swamp is something every Trinbagonian should do in their lifetime, and every visitor should prioritise on their visit to Trinidad and Tobago. Towering mangroves climb high above clear, shallow waters. Slumbering animals blend seamlessly into their surroundings. While svelte birds, clambering crabs and elusive reptiles all coexist, each playing a vital role in a fragile but protected eco-system. Even if you’re not an avid outdoors(wo)man, you’d be hard pressed to resist the unwitting charm of this excursion. It somehow manages to endear you with its simplicity while still invigorating you with its edification. Trust me when I say that this mini-adventure should be on your bucket list. Here is a simple guide outlining everything you need to know to tour the Caroni Swamp.
Who to Book With (and How)
There are several operators who cruise the swamp, however I opted for Nanan Eco-Tours. The company has over 60 years of experience and tens of thousands of tours under their belt. Take into consideration the fact that the swamp was recently renamed the Winston Nanan Caroni Bird Sanctuary, in of honour of the company’s founder, and I was convinced these guys knew what they were doing. Fortunately, I wasn’t disappointed. Nanan offers a professional service with a knowledgeable guide who kept us entertained the entire time!
- Booking with Nanan can either be done online (via their website | Facebook page) or over the phone by calling 681-8274.
- Tour times: Tours depart daily at 4 pm
About the Swamp
An expansive 40 square km of tidal lagoons, mangroves and marshlands, the Caroni Swamp and Bird Sanctuary is the largest wetland mangrove in Trinidad and Tobago. Located on Trinidad’s west coast, between the Caroni and Madame Espagnole Rivers, the swamp supports a rich biodiversity. This lush habitat is a protect area that provides shelter for a wide variety of animals, from opossums and racoons to crustaceans and reptiles. Its mangrove trees also serve as ideal nesting grounds for approximately 157 species of birds, including one of Trinidad and Tobago’s national birds, the brilliant and beautiful scarlet ibis!
What to Expect
A Knowledgeable Guide
Affable and vigilant, our guide Ali was a 20-year veteran of the swamp and Nanan’s tour operation. His keen eyes were able to spot even the most perfectly camouflaged animals and I truly appreciated his efforts to get the boat as close as possible to every creature he spotted – even the creepily coiled cascabel snake that at one point was directly overhead! He took the time to explain the story of each organism, from the minuscule crabs rapidly scaling the mangroves, to the red, white and black mangroves that lined the waterways. Patient and attentive, he answered all questions and he even threw in a good joke or two for good measure.
Amazing Wildlife Encounters
Snakes and crabs and caimans, oh my! You’ll catch a glimpse of all of these creatures, and more, as you cruise along the swamp. With a guide as observant as Ali, you’ll get a closeup look at many intriguing species. Before this tour, I never even knew the silky anteater existed, but thanks to him, I was able to catch a long look at this little fur ball contentedly curled up in a tree. I had also never been within such close proximity of a live (and long) snake, but there it was, wrapped around a branch a few feet away from my head! And to think there are hundreds of other species for you to observe, including an impressive list of birds that call the swamp home. From the stately flamingo to the elegant egret to the vibrant scarlet ibis – the swamp is a bird watcher’s paradise!
Spectacular Roosting Ritual
Sunset is a magical time at the swamp. Sit still long enough and you’ll witness the magnificent site of thousands of scarlet ibises returning to roost. The birds leave their nest at sunrise every morning and spend the day feeding. Some limit their hunt to the perimeters of the swamp, while other ibises are believed to travel as far as the Venezuelan mainland. This daily mass migration creates a spectacle that even non-birdwatchers like myself can get excited about. Just picture it…over the course of an hour or less, the once bare, bright green trees become increasingly decorated with the vivid scarlet red of these gorgeous birds. Trust me when I say that no image you have ever seen, no video you will ever watch, can do justice to this miraculous ritual being played out right before your eyes.
Pesky Insects (Not Cool)
The only downside to the tour? Vicious breeds of swamp insects that seem immune to all forms of repellent. According to our guide, the movement of the boat through the water stirs up the pests and they cling to the outside of the vessel. Once the boat settles for the scarlet ibis viewing, the mosquitoes take the opportunity to feast on all that stagnant new blood. Unfortunately, they also stick around for the entire return trip. My only piece of advice? Continue to apply layers of insect repellent generously and frequently throughout the journey. Hopefully it will reduce your risk of exposure to these elements.
What to Bring
The tour is approximately 2.5 hours long and takes place aboard a spacious boat with comfortable seating. There are no specific requirements as it relates to the supplies you should bring, however I strong recommend the following:
- Capture the moment! You definitely want to walk with a camera – preferably with a long-range lens – to capture the beautiful sights and scenes.
- Get a closer look! Bring binoculars to get a better look at the scarlet ibises in their nests as the boats are positioned a safe distance the island so as not to disturb them.
- Be comfortable! Flat shoes aren’t required but are ideal to ensure you board and disembark the boat safely.
- Stay hydrated! Walk with water because unfortunately, the tour doesn’t include beverages or food of any kind. Speaking of…
- Don’t starve! Pack some snacks and other beverages to keep you entertained while you take in the beautiful ibises returning to roost.
- Keep cool! Pack a cap or hat, along with sunglasses, for those moments when you’re not protected by the shade of towering trees.
- Protect yourself! Insect repellent is an absolute must – get the strongest you can find because those swamp bugs mean business.
It was fascinating to discover a world this verdant mere meters away from the bustling Uriah Butler Highway. However, it was the close proximity to civilisation that made the escape into the jungle-like wetlands, even more endearing. My little girl gang appreciated the experience much more than we could have anticipated and I’m sure your crew will too!
Have you ever visited the Caroni Swamp? What was your favourite part of the excursion?
Like it? Pin it!