Port of Spain Walking Tour

The commercial district may seem overwhelming but there's so much more.

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At first glance, your reaction to Port-of-Spain may be one of disappointment. The coastal waters are muddy thanks to the Orinoco River, and Port-of-Spain itself is a big, commercial port with high rise skyscrapers, totally devoid of any charming tropical island look. You could almost be in crowded Miami or San Juan.

Still, there are a few parts of even industrialized Port-of-Spain that should pleasantly surprise you.

1. Woodford Square: The square is named after governor Sir Ralph Woodford (in office from 1813-28) who was responsible for importing a landscape architect in 1820 to create the country's beautiful Botanical Gardens (see later).

2. Anglican Cathedral: On the South side of the square is the Anglican Cathedral of the Holy Trinity noted for its hammer-beam roof decorated with many carvings. The church was consecrated in 1823.

 3. The Red House: Across from Woodford Square is the Red House, which is painted just that color and very brightly, too. This is where the parliament meets. The huge building, built in 1907 on the site of its predecessor destroyed by a 1903 fire/riot caused by increased water rates. It has to be the most conspicuous building in the entire city because of its color and size.

Why was it ever painted red in the first place? To mark Queen Victoria 's Diamond Jubilee in 1897. Even though there was a chance to change it when the new Red House was built, by then people had kind of grown fond of the garish color.

The Red House gained international publicity in 1990 when the Prime Minister and several Cabinet members were held captive by Muslim rebels for 5 days. The rebels finally surrendered to the army. That's Trinidadian politics: sometimes violent but nearly always loud.

4. National Museum and Art Gallery : Everything from Amerindian archaeology, historic artifacts and documents, local painters and carnival costumes. Open 10-6 Tuesday through Saturday. No admission. Call 868/623-5941.

5. Queen's Park Savannah: Port-of-Spain's most picturesque section is just a little north of the town center, at the 200-acre Queen's Park Savannah situated in the foothills of the Northern Range. Once used to graze cattle, Trinidadians claim this is the world's largest roundabout; at 2-1/2 miles, they may be correct.

In the dry season (January to May), Queen's Park Savannah boasts a striking display of flowering trees, including pink and yellow poui, purple and white petria and the brilliant "Shower of Gold." This big open field has cricket and soccer fields and a racecourse with stands.

The Rock Gardens, locally called the "hollows," are part of the Savannah but below the regular level. These are 2 well-maintained lily ponds with many rustic rocks set in a beautiful flower garden. Picnicking here is popular with locals.

6. The Magnificent Seven: Flanking the entire western edge of the Savannah are several old, elaborately decorated buildings known as the "Magnificent Seven."

7. Emperor Valley Zoo: North of the Savannah but still within walking distance is the Emperor Valley Zoo. The zoo, which covers eight acres, has a good representation of Trinidad 's different mammals, reptiles and birds; it also contains a number of imported species. Ironically, the name comes from the Emperor Butterfly that was common to this valley before development.

8. Royal Botanical Gardens: Adjacent to the zoo is the seventy-acre Botanical Gardens, which have the best single display of orchids on the island. The Botanical Garden displays its most colorful foliage between April and June when plants like the scarlet Isora, bougainvillea, oleander, jacaranda, and the pink poui are in flower.

The gardens with their meticulously designed walkways were laid out in 1820. Besides local plants and shrubs, the Gardens have a good variety of tropical and sub-tropical trees and shrubs from South America and southeast Asia.

The former Governor's House, built on the grounds between 1873-75, is now the residence of Trinidad & Tobago's president. The gardens are open daily from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.

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