In many people’s minds, a trip to the Caribbean is about the beach, a chair, and an alcoholic drink. They envision white sands, blue waters, and attentive service. It’s all generally true…except in Trinidad. While the country is technically part of the Caribbean, its geological history is different from the other islands – Trinidad used to be part of South America. As such, its landscapes, including the beaches, are not what you see in the “Come Frolic in the South!” postcards and commercials. Trinidad’s beaches are more rugged. The sand is golden brown instead of white, the water is the deep blue of an ocean instead of clear turquoise, and the lush green vegetation tends to be all around. I love it.
Maracas is arguably the best easy-access beach in Trinidad. It is on the northern side of the island, on the other side of a mountain range, but it is still relatively close to the capital, Port-of-Spain. The drive is a bit of a scary one but assuming all goes well, it takes about 45 minutes to get there. It is a bit of a nerve racking drive not only because of the tight windy roads in the mountains where there can be landslides on one side and no railings leading to the deep valley on the other – but also because of Trini drivers who seem to sometimes have a death wish. However, despite contending with all of that, the drive is a beautiful one that passengers in the car can admire (drivers, pay attention to the road itself!).
Near the top of the mountain, before you start driving downhill, there is a lookout where you can catch your breath. You can also buy a snack from the candy and preservatives stalls that are set up every day. They have all sorts of candies as well as local Trini preservatives, including different mangoes, salt and sour plums, chow made from various fruits including pineapple, cerise, and pommecetay, tolum, sugar cake, guava sweet, guava cheese, channa, chillibeebee… The list goes on.
Once you’re refreshed and ready to take on the windy roads (downhill this time), it is not long to the beach of Maracas. There is a parking lot that costs about TT$5 (if there is an attendant) though locals tend to park along the road to avoid the charge. If you didn’t put on your swimsuit on under your clothes before leaving your accommodations, there are facilities in which you can change (and shower) – that costs TT$1 per use.
Maracas Beach is a pretty wide beach enclosed by hills on either side. You can just imagine the boats and ships of history sheltering here from ocean storms. The waves are generally calm-ish but in the past few years, the current seems to have intensified and the waves have gotten stronger. There are life-guards at certain times of the day and there are flags lining the beach to indicate safe areas to swim. But people tend to ignore the flags which seem to be red half the time. Basically, know what you can handle and don’t go out too far – that is the key to enjoying and surviving Maracas. And don’t be macho either – the waves and current can be seriously no joke at this beach.
If the water doesn’t tempt you, spread your beach mat out along the sand or rent a chair for TT$20. Note that there aren’t many shady spots anywhere and the few that do exist are under palm trees – hopefully a coconut doesn’t fall while you’re under there… If you’re feeling peckish, check out the many food stalls, especially one that sells shark and bake (essentially a fried shark and fried bread sandwich). In fact, a trip to Maracas pretty much demands a shark and bake – traditionally, one cannot have one without the other. If you are not hungry (scandalous!), there are normally a few stalls selling souvenirs and jewelry, supposedly made by the seller.
The best time to go to Maracas is during the week, morning and early afternoon. Early morning on the weekends can be great as well. And my criterion for greatness is lack of people. But if you like being surrounded by crowds, lunch time onwards on a weekend or a public holiday is the time for you. But keep in mind what a traffic jam on a windy mountain road would look like… Anyway, whatever you choose, enjoy the lime*!
*lime / limin’ is Trini for hanging out