Asa Wright Nature Centre and Lodge

Everybody wings it in this lush Shangra-La

THE 24-MILE FROM Trinidad's capital, Port of Spain, up to Asa Wright Nature Centre is not a trip you want to make after dark. The road twists vertiginously around sharp drop-offs, and nighttime is when poisonous fer-de-lance snakes slither across the road. But arrive at Asa Wright's refurbished plantation house in daylight and you'll be in time for a nocturnal delight: the nightly flyby of up to 47 bat species.
In 1967, Americans Don Eckelberry, a wildlife artist, and Emma Fisk, a conservationist, led the effort to buy the 200-acre estate and convert it into a community-outreach center. Run on the philosophy that all profits should be used to preserve more unspoiled wilderness, Asa Wright now encompasses a stunning 1,000-acre valley in the island's northern mountains.
A typical day: Roasted-on-site coffees in hand, guests gather at 6 a.m. on the veranda to watch the sun rise over the Arima Valley and ogle the yellow bananaquits and ruby-topaz hummingbirds. After breakfast, eager bird-watchers, their necks slung with Bushnell binoculars, join guided walks to glimpse the rare ferruginous pygmy owl and 142 other bird species. At sunset, everyone returns to the porch to swill rum punch and wait for the bats to swoop down.

If the atmosphere sounds genteel enough for your grandmother, it is. But then again, Granny probably wouldn't hammer 22 miles on a mountain bike, climbing 2,000 feet into the Northern Range and back to sea level at Maracas Bay, Trinidad's most beautiful beach. It's also doubtful she'd drive 30 miles southeast to the Nariva Swamp to kayak through mangroves and mingle with toothy caimans.
The 24-room lodge is small, and its board of directors intends to keep it that way, recently voting down additional housing in order to minimize guests' impact on the rainforest. But that doesn't mean their ethic isn't spreading: The center recently purchased another 1,000-acre property in the island's Aripo Valley, which is being developed as the Aripo Forest Lodge. Contact: Asa Wright Nature Centre and Lodge, 868-667-4655, www.asawright.org; U.S. booking agent, Caligo Ventures, 800-426-7781. For mountain-biking or kayaking day trips from Asa Wright, contact local guide Gerald Nichols at 868-623-3511. COST: starting at $90 per person, double occupancy; $120 single; includes three meals a day.

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